Apologizing for Slavery. Does it matter?

Sorry, John Mace, that quote came from smiling bandit.

That’s OK. I said pretty much the same thing, anyway. :slight_smile:

But I’d like you to answer the question I posed earlier. I have ancestory who died fighting for the Union Army. Should present day Blacks offer me a “thank-you” for that? I’d be embarassed if anyone did.

Of course profiting and owning of other humans being is a horrible thing. Those that do such things should be punished, and if they truly feel it, should apologize. But having a memo released from a faceless company to apologize for something they had nothing to do with, seems very silly and empty to me.

It makes the company seem like they did something wrong, when they did nothing. So the apology is more of a face saving, PC bowing act, then any real contrition.

A conversation with myself.

“Ooo, boy. Now you’ve done it. You went and fired off another one of your damn knee-jerk angry black man sarcastic posts about Wachovia’s apology BEFORE you actually read the fucking article!”

"I know…’

“So see, now your dumbass done found out that the article does mention reparations after all, right there in the second half of the article!”

“I know…”

“Annnnnnd you found out the only reason this statement was made in the first place was to comply with local Chicago law that all companies have to disclose ties to slavery! Seems to me any idiot would figure out the best PR spin to put on this, in one of the blackest cities in the fucking nation is to make an apology out of it so’s not to piss off your African-American customer base!b And the whole reparation thing is just background that doesn’t even necessarily tie in with this subject, which is why it’s so damn puzzling it’s in here at all, really.”

“I know…”

“Ah. Ah. Ah. Don’t talk yet. AAAaaaaand NOW – now, because you couldn’t reign in your temper, we’re about about to clowned in Great Debates the minute they find out you havn’t read the fuicking article before you posted. ME!! Clowned!! In Great Debates!! I fucking hate getting clowned in Great Debates. I’m gonna look like a bitch. Do I look like bitch?”

“I know…”

“You better say ‘no.’ Well, shit… I guess ain’t nothing else to do but wait until **John Mace, Wesley Clark ** or Anaamika catches you in that bald-faced lie and tears you out a new one. You got five minutes… 10, tops… for the pile-on. Just you wait. Dumbass.”

“I know…”

… Half-an hour passes…

“Let’s read the new posts… okay, Anaamika is missing the point, as usual. No surprises there. **Hippy Hollow ** is being all leftie… John Mace is blathering… **Wesley Clark ** can’t be bothered to edit that long ass post of yours and resorts to some non-essential argument about modern day slavery not being apologized for, either… give me a break. smiling bandit is confusing an inappropriate apology with an proxy apology on someone’s behalf, which IS an appropiate action. Hey. This is weird. None of these motherfuckers have said anything to your lying ass yet about reparations not being in the article. Goddamn, they didn’t even notice! I’ll bet none of these motherfuckers read the article in its entirety, either! You’s a lucky motherfucker, motherfucker!”

“I know.”

Who is talking about individuals apologizing for slavery? It’s a corporation who’s existence is partially owed to businesses that profited from slavery. Its apology is more a recognition of the role slavery played in its development and a regretful note that it benefited from such a horrible institution. If Wachovia is going up to individual black people and saying “Sorry!” it would be stupid. Are they doing that? Now, does Wachovia (or its CEO or Board of Directors or whoever) honestly care about all of this? I think very little of most big businesses’ “morality,” so I’m not expecting much heartfelt feeling. But still, they did it and didn’t have to.

I like their apology because it raises the subject of how much modern America benefited from slavery and how we should look at the subject. I don’t think it hurts to discuss this.

And I’ll shut up because I also didn’t read the article…

I don’t know Mace, if there was a John Mace Company that fought against slavery, that helped transport slaves via the underground railroad and did everything they could to end slavery, would it be silly for some African-American organization to recognize and reward the John Mace Company today, which still fights for freedom for that achievement?

That’s not the same as grabing a random Mace on the street and thanking him is it?

How would it be still fighting for freedom against slavery in the US?

But Watchovia isn’t still profitting from slavery today. Slavery was an integral part of the American economy for many years. There is virtually no group of people today, including descendants of slaves, who have not profitted from that institution. I actually think it would have been appropriate, at the time, to offer some compensation. But we didn’t do it. Sure, we fought a bloody civil war to end slavery, but we should have given the freed slaves some sort of boost-- maybe the infamous 40 acres and a mule. At this point, though, we’re too far removed.

If your comfort comes at the direct cost of his, then yeah.

:slight_smile: I enjoyed reading that.

Well, yes and no. If you- PERSONALLY owned slaves at one time in your life, then hell yes, you owe them an apology- and maybe more.

But I owe no-one an apology for something my Great-grandfather might have done. (To make things clear, my family- I am pretty sure- have never in Historic times owned slaves. Serfs, yes; slaves, no).

Sure- one of Wachovia’s predessors Companies owned slaves. Wachovia didn’t. What’s more important- none of Wachovias current Officers, BoD or Shareholders were around when they did so. If they did- they’d owe a whopping apology- and maybe more.

But you shouldn’t apologize for something you didn;t do and had no control over.

I am not going to apologize for the fact my Great-Grandfather kept serfs in Oppression. Not only was it not considered such a bad thing then, but I have absolutely no control over what he did, nor do I get to pick my Ancestors.

Get over it.

Now- there ARE slaves now. Yes, now, in Africa, and a sort of slavery in India & that area, and something pretty close to it in China. Rather than worry over what our Great-grandfather’s did- lets work to stop this immoral practice NOW! If Wachovia wants to do something about Slavery- let it send a nice sized donation to one of the various groups trying to stop slavery in the here-and-now. Not apologize for something they had no control over (and was perfectly legal, THEN).

I said freedom, not freedom from slavery in the US. There’s still slavery in the rest of world. There’s still injustice and unfairness in the US.

Secondly wealth is often acquired. I know we love the stories of the self-made man, but most of us who have “wealth” got it from our ancestors, whether it’s a business, or a contact or cash. For Watchovia, that initial boost came from slavery, one of the original sins, so to speak.

Profit is a relevative term. Sure in the broad sense that slavery is what made the United States a world power, sure… we all profited from slavery; but that a damn broad brush, to be painting with.

The real questions is, do you believe that all Americans, especially those decended from slaves profited equally from slavery. If your answer is yes, you have a strange definition of ‘profit’.

Askia, although your last post was done somewhat tongue in cheek, you should probably make it a habit in Great Debates to not characterize your fellow posters in insulting terms, even when you are “talking to yourself.”

They’re not called Walk All Over Ya for nothing. Business decision that will likely backfire. That’s all.

Of course not. But why is that the “real questoin”? The real question is how much freakin’ time has to pass before people simply get on with their lives? And judging 19th century people by 21st century standards doesn’t make sense.

I don’t want to get hip-deep into this debate, but you do realize that it’s only been 4-5 generations since slavery ended, right? And perhaps 2 since integration? And that for a lot of that time, sharecropping created de facto slavery for blacks on the former slave plantations?

It’s really not been that long a time. To paraphrase Thurgood Marshall when asked why he was not a believer in ‘gradualism’ during the *Brown v. Board * proceedings: ‘I am a gradualist. I think that 90 years is pretty damn gradual.’

We’re not so far from under the wings of slavery as you’d think.

That said, i think we, as Americans, have a visceral reaction to apology as a sign of weakness. I won’t defend the utility of the firm in question’s actions, but assuming it’s in good faith, I find nothing wrong with their apology, especially since they can directly trace some of their current assets to the slave trade.

When Clinton went around apologizing for slavery, do you think black folks were thinking ‘Holy Shit! Now I get my forty acres!’
No. In my experience, they were very pragmatic as to the real world implications of the statement. There’s nothing that can make up for the atrocities committed against them…all you can do is communicate that, on some level, you ‘get it’- or perhaps concede that there’s no way that you can get it. Then, you can move on.

And now, the last of the Monologues.

“But I shouldn’t apologize for something I didn’t do and had no control over! I wasn’t even born. Hell, my grandparents weren’t even born!”

“Riiiiight. Even if it was admittedly wrong and shameful. You don’t think an apology is appropriate?”

“I doesn’t matter if it was wrong or shameful. It wasn’t me or any of my ancestors. I didn’t do it, I shouldn’t be made to say it!”

“Funny how everyone I talk to is so damned certain none of their ancestors ever owned black slaves. Fine. We’ve established that’s how you feel. But I asked if an apology was apporopriate.”

"What point would it serve? It’s too late now. It’s been 200 years. Any apology would be meaningless. I’d be dead embarrassed if anyone tried to thank me for my ancestor’s role in the Civil War. "

“That’s you, though. Doesn’t really make it meaningless if it’s earnest. Other people just as proud of their Union ancestors might actually enjoy the acknowlegdement from african-Americans of their ancestors sacrfifice, just as there are black people who would appreciate an apology from descendants of slaveowners and representatives of big businesses on a personal level… not that THAT’LL ever happen. Let’s pretend for a minute that the amount of time passed is meaningless, which, frankly it is to some people. It’s a gesture. It’s an official acknowledgement of wrongdoing. People say Never forget the Alamo… Never forget the Holocaust… Never forget Wounded Knee. Slavery is our Holocaust. So: Is the apology itself appropriate? I remind you that you already said anyone living who actually owned slaves should apologize and maybe more. I got a memory like a pissed off wife.”

“Fine. It’s maybe appropriate.”

“Okay, then! The government has already apologized. Businesses like Wachovia have apologized for their firms’ involvement. Who else benefitted from slave labor besides the government and big businesses? Think smaller now… southern… think verandas and sassafrass… and the people who live there now…”

“See… this is the part that pisses me off. I do not own slaves. To the best of my knowledge my ancestors did not own slaves. It’s a fucking crying shame it happened but it has no impact on me, now, two centuries removed. This was not my crime or my mistake. In fact, it was legal.”

“It used to be legal to beat your wife with a skinny stick and have sex with her wthout her consent. You saying that’s okay, too?”

“Women aren’t asking for a wholescale apology from men for that.”

[Ignores good point, blusters on.] “Shee, yeah, right. Heh. Right. Men may not be apologizing verbally, but we’re are paying for that shit everyday. You’ve heard of alimony? Child support? Paycheck garnishment? Property dissolution? It’s the men who can manage to keep their wives happy who avoid that shit.”

“Where are you going with this? You’re starting to drone and I don’t think you’re doing a very good job anticipating both sides of the argument anymore. You wanna wrap this up, August Wilson?”

“Fair enough. Okay:Two centuries later you are still descended from a slaveowning society that directly made you a beneficiary of slave labor and first class citizenship and the entitlement of feeling 100% American. Individual slaveholding families – vastly white – and American society as a whole thrived and prospered from the misery as an exploited people. Other whites benefitted peripherally – but you still benefitted. Even a no-property white trash was better’n a nigger. I mean, you ARE white, right? You acknoweldge that in the War’s afternmath and after Reconstruction and Jim Crow and the pains of the Civil Rights movement America was essentially a white man’s paradise and an outgrowth of defacto slavery all across America right? whether or not you individually feel any sort of remorse, guilt or responsibility for slavery’s legacy is irrelevent: as a society we ALL bear some onus for what happened during and after slavery. Reparations are a separate issue, but an apology to descendants is never gping to be seen as meaningless. It’s the ongoing reluctance to do so that’s troubling.”

tomendebb It was just jokes! I meant no offense! Tongue in cheek! Hell, I told myself to hose off and go get laid earlier! Wait. This is because I said, “motherfuckers,” isn’t it? Dammit, I knew I shouldn’t have typed, “motherfuckers.” What the motherfuck was I motherfucking thinking typing “motherucker” like some dumbass motherfucker. Mother fuck-a-duck, I gotta motherfucking quit that shit.

People keep saying that this apology will open Wachovia up for suits. Where is this idea coming from? It’s no secret that most of the big-name companies of today had ties to slavery, and I’d imagine that if anyone really wants to sue one of them for damages it’s not very hard to find records showing these slavery connections. So why would an apology open up any more litigation floodgates that public information does not? That sounds like nonsense to me.

And second question: Why is it that whenever there is a thread about slavery so many posters forget that a corporation is really no different than an individual? If the drug company Pfizer released a new vaccine today that caused people to develop fibrosarcoma 30 years from now, it doesn’t matter:

 * if production of the drug had stopped shortly after it came on the market.
 * if other drug companies had sold similar vaccines.
 * if at the time the drug was put on the market, it was in compliance with all regulatory requirements.
 * if the CEO of Pfizer at the time had nothing to do with Pfizer when the vaccine was made. Maybe he/she wasn't even in diapers when the vaccine came out. Maybe they were in college getting high on another kind of drug. So what? *It doesn't matter*.

The company still bears some responsibility.

In Wachovia’s case, the utility in offering an apology is not that high, granted. But saying that the company has nothing to apologize for since none of the people in charge were around during slavery is humorously weak.

Johnny L.A.

Thanks for the gratuitous info. When it’s time for the Revolution, you’ll be spared.

IIRC, the US has yet to issue an official “mea culpa” for slavery. Clinton apologized to Uganda, but the descendants of American slaves have not had that courtesy.


I thought this earlier, and I am loathe to invoke other examples of genocide, but as Askia noted, I seriously doubt anyone would suggest that it is inappropriate for agents of the Third Reich, or companies involved in profiting from actions against Jews, gays, and the numerous other groups to apologize for their actions and in some instances, inaction that led to the suffering and deaths of people. It helps if that apology comes when those who have directly suffered as a result are alive, but the descendants of those people still live with the horror of those actions.

Furthermore, as Stonebow’s excellent post notes, as much as most Americans would like to believe slavery and its ugly legacy was a long time ago, it really wasn’t. Census data shows that African Americans are far worse off than Whites in virtually every demographic category - incarceration rates, mortality, infant mortality, HIV infection rates, high school graduation, etc., etc. I suppose some people are comfortable making arguments that some inherent weakness exists among African Americans that explains these trends, but I think intelligent people would suspect that other factors are at play. Most obvious to me would be the fact that until 1865, no opportunities existed for African Americans to accumulate wealth or political power - and let’s not act as if the day the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, everything was hunky-dory; in several states in the South there is a holiday “Juneteenth” that celebrates the late arrival of the news of emancipation - and throughout Jim Crow, there was a government-sanctioned effort to maintain the status quo. So when did everything get all “equal” and fixed, exactly?

My field is education, so I can recommend James Anderson’s respected The Education of Blacks in the South to debunk the myth that the end of slavery = equality for African Americans. There is no way in hell one can argue that equal opportunity or a level playing field existed for African Americans in education for the duration of the period covered in the book (early 1800s to 1935). Any cursory look at funding in schools predominantly attended by students of color and those predominantly attended by White students will reinforce that while in some instances, great progress has been made, in others, we haven’t progressed at all.

Stonebow’s point about apology = weakness in the American mind is one I tend to agree with. Funny how we’re taught as little kids, the two most important words you can say is “I’m sorry,” but as we get older we learn how to rationalize despicable behavior.

To answer your question, John Mace: I don’t have a chip on my shoulder for every White American who had relatives who fought for the Confederacy. While I appreciate the collective efforts of the Union Army to preserve the Union, let’s not go overboard and say that Union soldiers necessarily were fighting to free enslaved African Americans. If your relatives were abolitionists who fought for the freedom of African Americans and also in the Civil War, well of course I’m thankful. I think (and I hope!) most Americans are. I don’t know if this is clear, but if it isn’t I’m happy to think more about it and explain what I mean.