Monday, February 25, 2008

On Healing a Nation

Until I saw the heartbreaking documentary Rabbit-Proof Fence some years ago, I remained largely ignorant of the plight of the Aboriginal people in Australia.

To this population, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd speaking on behalf of the the parliament and government issued a formal apology for the government's removal of Aboriginal children from their families into internment camps, orphanages, and other institutions. He said, in part:

"And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.

We the Parliament of Australia respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered as part of the healing of the nation."

While a formal apology will not magically heal those who have been wronged, perhaps an important step in healing pain is a state-issued acknowledgment that sometimes human beings do horrible things to other human beings with the sanction and/or complicity of the state. Because despite the macho "patriotic" blustering of some leaders who act as though their state can do no wrong, it doesn't change the fact that a state is only as perfect and fallible as the human beings who run it. Which is to say, of course, that a state is imperfect.

See, part of the values I learned growing up was that when "mistakes are made," an apology is in order. Which is why I think we're long overdue for the US government to issue a formal apology to Americans of African descent for its sanctioning of and complicity in slavery. No, none of us were alive during slavery. I was neither the enslaved nor the slavemaster. Neither were you. In fact, let's just stop a minute with the White defense mechanism and acknowledge that the legacy of slavery remains. As one writer puts it:

"Slavery gave way to Jim Crow, lynchings, poll taxes, redlining and educational and job discrimination. Although illegal now, these tools perpetuated a racial hierarchy that affects every American today, no matter how subtly. Just compare any rates of achievement, poverty, imprisonment by race; blacks are nowhere closing to catching up."

I find it telling that the only government resolutions our government is interested in are ones pretty much saying how awesome we are. You know, like House Resolution 888, the one "affirming the rich spiritual and totally fundamentalist Christian religious history of our nation's founding," a resolution championed by the Christian Right that is unsupported in historical fact and is really another step in the creation of a repressive and intolerant Christian Nation.

Now that that's all settled, who's going to step up and propose a symbolic measure that's actually rooted in reality and supported by historical facts?

You know, a long overdue government atonement for slavery. It is something simple that our government could do at little cost to anyone, yet it could go a long way in continuing the long healing process that we pretend we are so over.

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