The Senate has unanimously passed a resolution apologizing for slavery and segregation. Lead sponsor Senator Bill Harkin (D – Iowa) explained that he wanted it to be passed in time for Juneteenth, the holiday that commemorates the abolition of slavery.
The House of Representatives issued an apology last year, but the Senate’s resolution addresses the issue of reparations — by shooting it down. The resolution contains a disclaimer which reads:
“Nothing in this resolution– (A) authorizes or supports any claim against the United States; or (B) serves as a settlement of any claim against the United States.”
Senator Rep. Stephen I. Cohen (D-Tenn.), who began pushing for an apology over a decade ago remarked, “there are going to be African Americans who think that [the apology] is not reparations, and it’s not action, and there are going to be Caucasians who say, ‘Get over it.’ . . . I look at it as something that makes people think.”
The government’s apology is certainly better than nothing, but it serves as a reminder of how slow society has progressed. After all, the Emancipation Proclamation was issued almost 150 years ago. While some may argue that slavery is in the past, it has undoubtedly left a legacy through Jim Crow laws. Mere decades ago, African Americans had to pay a poll tax or pass a literacy and comprehension test in order to vote. Many experienced segregation, often relegating them to the poorer schools, poorer neighborhoods and inferior public facilities. Many were barred from holding public office or serve on juries. And Oscar Grant, Sean Bell and Rodney King are only a few examples that racism is alive and thriving.
Should African Americans get their forty acres and a mule? While Japanese Americans received $20,000 for being forced into internment camps during World War II, Hawaiians were only granted an apology for the U.S. conquest of their kingdom, as well as Native Americans. Somehow the idea of reparations seems only like a pipe dream.