Saturday, August 2, 2008

Important: Sign this Petition!

Click here to sign the petition.

On July 29, 2008, the U.S. House of Representatives made an official apology to African American descendants of the people whose freedom was forcibly taken from them in the name of slavery, the most shameful and inexcusable component of American history. An apology also was made for Jim Crow segregation, an unjust and inhumane policy that not only segregated black Americans from others, but which set the groundwork for a less overt, systemic discrimination that many blamed for the inexcusable deaths of thousands in the Gulf Coast Hurricane Katrina disaster.

The House apology has been expectedly controversial. Some people feel that it is too little, too late, coming 140 years after the official (if not practical) end of slavery. Some feel it was a political tactic to keep sponsoring Representative Steve Cohen (D-Tenn) in office, as he will be opposed in the upcoming election by an African American candidate. And some, like Otis Page of Wilmington, Delaware, feel the apology is "a waste of taxpayer money" because slavery "wasn't my fault and I never supported this condition anyway."

I admit to having felt that way when I was younger; while sympathetic to the pain that African Americans must feel today, I felt that I never would have supported the institution of slavery and I was a different person born into a different world. While feeling guilt, part of me admittedly felt that that guilt was misappropriated, as no part of me had any role in slavery. That argument is valid, but it's simply insufficient; it doesn't change the systemic social and economic punishment that is invisibly inflicted upon descendants of those whose freedom was violated by America's laws and actions.

Institutionalized slavery happened. That's never going to change. I have enough black friends to know that its repercussions are still felt today by way of unspoken discrimination, general maltreatment and, in the most quantifiable way, the vastly disproportionate numbers of black men in prison compared with other ethnic groups, and often serving much longer sentences for the same crimes that white people get away with.

Our way of life here in the United States simply has to change. We're at our most vulnerable place, economically speaking, than we've been in in decades, if not centuries. We're in a state of economic and social recovery, and we need to be honest with ourselves to work out everything from the mortgage crisis to slavery and its modern-day reverberations.

We need face the truth. And we have the opportunity to let the House apology serve as a springboard to let the American people speak out in support of not only an apology for our history, but a collective statement acknowledging the great mistakes we have made in repressing black and other minorities, and encourage the Senate to join in with an apology and go a step further by issuing an official statement declaring that this absolutely never will happen again. While unlikely that it would, the current presidential administration has taken great liberties with loopholes, and who is to say that another, more perverse president could not find a way to make excuses for some variation of this behavior in the future?

But it's more than that. Congress and even the White House can represent American voices with statements such as the House's apology, but the real test comes down to what individual Americans do. Do we really care, or are we satisfied with a broad and generally ineffective "We're sorry"?

Are we really sorry?

There's a way to find out: Add your name to the petition at the American Slavery Petition. The petition commends the House for taking an important first step, encourages the Senate and White House to answer to the House apology with their own, and demands--through the voices of as many names as are on the list--further action and examination into the effects of slavery and, finally, a statement not only by American representatives, but by all Americans who believe in freedom, that this country will never accept slavery within its borders, and will do all it can to discourage it elsewhere.

The most important part of this petition is the names of American people who acknowledge what this country did. Admitting fault honestly is the first step to progressing beyond a problem. While I cannot state for sure whether I, as a white man, would have taken part in slavery had I been alive two hundred years ago, I can acknowledge that my country, which is as much a part of me as my genetics, committed this atrocity--and I can vow never to accept it into my life.

The goal of this petition is a lofty one: to gather the electronic signature of every American who has access to a computer. Every time another thousand signatures is added to the petition, it will be forwarded to Congress and encouraged to be made public. This is our chance to speak for ourselves, rather than waiting for our governmental representatives to speak for us.
Click here to sign the petition, and use the comments on this blog to voice your opinions. Be honest about how you feel so that others can understand all sides of the issue.

Click here to sign the petition.

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