Can Apologies Wash Away Racism?

By The News Mar 09, 2007

…Some politicians would have you think so as leaders on the left and right propose state-sponsored apologies for slavery and the near extermination of Native Americans. Sen. Sam Brownback and Rep. Stephen I. Cohen are proposing two of the most sweeping apologies in American history.

Cohen, a Tennessee Democrat, has introduced a resolution apologizing for all of the wrongs suffered by blacks at the hands of the U.S. government, especially slavery and segregation. And Brownback, a Kansas Republican, is pushing a measure offering "an apology to all native peoples" for hundreds of years of government hostility and oppression.

Why Now? One AP news story offers its interpretation: "Because revelations about the past are pushing some people to think about race in America in new ways. Plus, echoes of racial bias remain all too obvious, and politicians may be grasping for new ways to show concern." While this soft response to discrimination and inequality embedded in our American structural DNA is fine and dandy, a real apology demands action. In school, when a kid steals from another kid, she has to say she’s sorry AND return the items. The real apology comes not in the rhetorical gesture, but in the restoration of stolen goods.