Monday, March 19, 2007

Why is an apology for slavery controversial?

From Cracker Squire, Bill Shipp:

The governor is flapping around like a headless chicken begging the feds for money to keep alive Georgia's health insurance program for needy kids. The transportation nightmare in metro Atlanta could not get worse. Water polluters and land despoilers are pushing enough legislation to fill two freight cars. Loan sharks with fresh ideas for predation are circling the statehouse. The tax code, the criminal defense system and flagging economic development require immediate attention.

So what issue has many legislators most riled up this year? For too many lawmakers, it is none of the above. Instead, the hubbub concerns a demand for an apology for slavery and a proposal to set aside April to remember the Confederacy.

For the moment, ignore the Confederacy. Instead, ask yourself: why is an apology for slavery causing any "hubbub?"

In a sane world, it would be a given: the state of Georgia, erstwhile proponent of slavery, would apologize to its victims. But in this world, the idea that Georgia might apologize for slavery is controversial. Why? Is there something controversial about the idea that the state should apologize for its crimes? Or is it something else?

Back to the Confederacy. Again, Bill Shipp:

Then there's the idea of setting aside April to commemorate the Confederacy and, as Republican Sen. Jeff Mullis puts it, "the cause of Southern independence." I've got a better idea. Let's set aside April to conjure up the ghosts of Jefferson Davis, Alexander Stephens, Robert Toombs, John B. Gordon and similar souls and ask them a few simple questions such as: "What in tarnation were you thinking? Why would anybody engage in a war that he knew the smaller, poorer, agrarian Confederacy could not win - a war that would cost the South hundreds of thousands of lives and leave our region destitute and laggard for more than a century?"

I am a fairly well-schooled fifth-generation Georgian, and I am still baffled about leadership that marched us into a disastrous, unwinnable war and why we continue to honor those leaders for doing so.

Notably absent among the reasons why Georgia might not wish to honor its former leaders: that they were fighting to enslave their neighbors. And it is absent for the same reason there is "hubbub" over an apology for slavery: because to apologize for slavery is to admit that the halcyon days of the antebellum South were coincident with the enslavement of its people.

Of course, everyone knows this to be true. But for some, it's a cool sort of knowledge; it's a distant, unpleasant fact, easy to ignore, especially for those who live in the fugue state that permits the idea of a "Confederate Heritage" month. For them, the idea of an apology for slavery causes a bit of "hubbub." And in part, it's because of them that this apology is so necessary.