Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Sorry, but I'm Not Sorry!

Thank you, US congress. In the midst of the morass you have made of things in the last two years, you're still getting your priorities upside down. You may actually set a record: most "non-binding" resolutions in history. When the Democrats won power in both houses of congress in 2006, those who support the Left saw it as a moral victory. Surely Pelosi, Reid and company would usher in a new world order, complete with looser abortion laws, greater inroads for homosexuals, and gigantic increases in government spending, financed by more taxes on those evil rich people who seem to make money, no matter what we do.

Instead of doing any of these things, Congress has continued to play the "non-binding resolution" game. They've passed resolutions against the war, against Bush, in favor of his indictment, against Republicans, against apple pie, and against hot dogs. Well, most of those things anyway. Now, they are set for a pivotal moment in history: they are poised to offer a non-binding apology for slavery! This is the stuff that single-digit approval ratings are made of!

Please indulge me. It's not that I'm in favor of slavery or anything. I'd like to think that if I had been a wealthy Connecticut land owner in 1788, I would have opted not to have slaves. But the bottom line is, I don't owe anyone an apology. I'm not responsible for my Saxon ancestors who brutally overran the agrarian Celts before the first millennium was over. I'm not responsible for anything they did, even if they are my great X 10 grandparents.

If I had a time machine, I might try to go back and find my ggg grandparents, and tell them to let their slaves go. Maybe I could help them get to the underground railroad, and follow the Drinking Gourd into Canada. Maybe I could have been Harriet Tubman's right-hand man. But the truth of the matter is, what's done is done, and I can do nothing about it.

If it had even been closer. If my own father or grandfather had kept slaves, I might feel an obligation to apologize. I might even want to sell what I own and help pay reparations, especially if some of those slaves or their children were still alive. But that's not happened.

All slaves and slave holders have been dead for generations. There are no slaves left to apologize to, and no slave owners to make the apology. When any major group, be it social, religious, or political, seeks to make an apology on my behalf, I get a little ticked. But now, congress, which has done nothing but twiddle its thumbs, has decided to issue an apology for slavery.

Don't get me wrong. I'm sorry for slavery. I'm sorry for the way our forefathers ripped valuable land away from the Indians and took it for themselves. But there are differing types of "I'm sorry." Sometimes, we intentionally hurt someone. We rob from them, or do bodily harm, or spread malicious gossip about them. Or we may just lie to them. In that case, we say "I'm sorry," which can be translated as "Please forgive me." Then, there's the moment when we are getting to our seats in a crowded theater and accidentally step on someone's toe, or we momentarily block the view of "Coming Attractions." In that case, we say "I'm sorry," and what we mean is "Excuse me." Then, there is that moment when one of our friends comes to us and tells us of the discovery of an illness that will require surgery, or of the loss of a beloved pet or family member. When we hear that, we say "I'm sorry," and that could probably best be interpreted as "I sympathize with you."

I cannot figure out what level of "I'm sorry" congress seems to be trying to use. If it's "Please forgive me," I can't join in. I've never had slaves, never been in favor of slavery, and have absolutely no control over my ancestors, of whom there may not have been slave holders anyway. After all, there never were that many slave holders in America. Even in that evil, slave-owning Confederacy, over 80% of the soldiers that died fighting for states' rights had never owned a slave, and had no plans to. So I can't figure out any reason to truthfully say "Please forgive me." I did nothing wrong. And neither did you, unless you are reading this, are over 150 years old, and were in the top 10 per cent of the socioeconomic class of the US when you were young.

If it's "excuse me," I can't join in. I haven't even accidentally had slaves. I'm rather timid, and have a problem even telling my children to run an errand for me. I don't think I've stepped on too many toes, literally or figuratively, but have found that, when I do, as in these editorials I write, I really don't want to say "excuse me," because I don't want to be excused. All the toes I step on are on purpose, and none of them has had anything to do with slavery.

If it's "I sympathize with you," I can't go there either. If I found a genuine former slave, someone who had the scars of cuffs on his wrist, or of lashes on his back, I would be able to show compassion and sympathy for what he had gone through. But I think all those people are dead. In what I believe theologically, they are in a state of eternal bliss at this moment, and even if they could hear the "I'm sorry" from congress -- on YOUR behalf, by the way, it would mean nothing to them.

I think that, as long as we're in the non-binding resolution business, I would like to propose one to my own congressman, if he's listening. How about a "Let bygones be bygones" resolution? Let's realize that the past, however evil it was, cannot be changed, and that often, it is in the midst of a series of evil things that good things are brought about. As I think of how many Americans of African descent have contributed to our culture, of how pleased I am to know personally many people of African descent, I'm willing to forget the endless procession of time and circumstance that has brought about what got them here. For all I know, I myself may be a product of slavery -- some tiny event in history may have spurred the conception of a now-remote ancestor. And I know for sure that I'm a product of the taking of lands from the American Indians. I have the blood of at least two tribes coursing through my own veins. So I really didn't need Senator Brownback's apology to us, er, them recently. What's done is done.

At a time of record low approval ratings -- just in case you're interested, Bush is 3 times as popular as congress, and even Dick Cheney is twice as popular -- maybe congress is looking for any friends it can find. But remember, potential friends of congress. This resolution will be "non-binding." And it will do about as much good as it would do to dig up your great-great-great-great grandfather's grave and chew him out for maybe having slaves.

Let the healing begin.

1 comment:

tamrionbooks said...

Too bad more people...especially in Congress...aren't reading this.