Please note: I'm going to tread very delicately here, but know that you may get your hackles up and feel the need to rant. Before you post a comment, which I encourage you to do, please read carefully, and then read again, and then read again. Then, if you want to comment, I ask, if you must, to please do so respectfully.
Yesterday, in my new feature "In the BIN," I called attention to two bloggers who have engaged the issue of race and racism as a means of opening the door to dialogue. I've watched with interest the comments that have come into Creole In D.C.'s blog. It was rather distressing last night to note on Creole's blog that her objective--opening a conversation--has not been achieved as she had hoped and has resulted in "slings and arrows" being "slung and shot" across cyberspace between blacks/ African-Americans/ persons of African descent and whites/ Caucasians/ persons of European descent.
One recurring theme I've seen is that many people feel white people should apologize to black people for slavery. In many respects, I wholeheartedly agree. And so, right here, right now, let me say, as a white person of European descent, I am ashamed and sorry that my ancestors enslaved your ancestors. I am sorry that my ancestors built their wealth on the backs of your ancestors. It was wrong. It was shameful. And there is no pride to be derived from it.
Likewise, I'm ashamed that the religion of my upbringing saw fit to deny many of the blessings of my faith to its black members because it taught and bought into the doctrine that said God cursed Cain with a dark skin for killing his brother Abel. For decades, my faith denied certain rights and privileges to its black members because it didn't want to side with the abolitionists and risk not obtaining statehood, when in truth, it was polygamy that denied them statehood. For decades after the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation, my faith continued to deny certain rights and privileges to its black members because it didn't want to upset the segregationists. Finally, in 1978, my faith--largely as a result of social pressure to extend civil rights to all of its members--extended all the rights and privileges, all the blessings and authority, that were already the purview of white, Asian, and Latino members to its black members. What a blessed day, but what a shame that it took so unnecessarily long. For that, I apologize to my black brothers and sisters of faith.
Having said that, and not wanting to diminish it, I want to ask this: is it possible that, having apologized, we can begin to talk to one another in a manner that allows white people to ask questions without being presumed ignorant or racist and can black people answer those questions in a manner that builds bridges and creates a conversation?
I am reminded of a conversation I had years ago with a German national. His parents had belonged to the Hitler Youth and his grandfather had fought with the Nazis. For decades after World War II, Germany and its citizens carried a burden of collective guilt for what it did to the Jews of Europe. For decades, Germany and its citizens apologized, often and sincerely. And rightfully so. At what point do we, the supposedly civilized nations of the world, accept their apology and begin reconciling and moving on? I would ask the same of race relations between whites and blacks. How long, how often, and how sincerely must we apologize for the ways in which we have wronged not only blacks, but the indigenous peoples of this country? As individual citizens, we cannot make reparations. That rests in the hands of our legislators. But, we can apologize and are apologizing and we can open the door with sincerity to begin talking about how we are different and how we are the same, as well as why those differences and similarities exist.
The heaviest burden for apologies and forgiveness lies not entirely on the shoulders of the apologist or the sinner, but is a shared burden on the shoulders of the one who has been wronged and sinned against. In the Lord's Prayer, we pray, "Forgive us our trespasses, Lord, as we forgive those who have trespassed against us." I can apologize repeatedly and often for the transgressions of my ancestors and of my faith. Those apologies are sincere and heartfelt. But, we cannot begin to have the dialogue or the conversations that will heal wounds until those we have so egregiously trespassed against say to us, "I accept. Let us draw the line here and begin anew." Those of us who have apologized will not soon forget our transgressions and those of us who accept the apologies must set them aside with grace so that we can begin, in grace, to help our transgressors understand who we are, why we think and behave as we do, what we value and why, and so forth. More than that, many of us want to share in the joys and sorrows, the triumphs and defeats, the color and the diversity that make you who you are not only as a person but also as a people. We can't do that, though, if we keep shutting each other out and pointing fingers. Many of us want to end discrimination and fulfill Dr. King’s dream of “judging you not by the color of your skin, but the content of your character.” Please help us to do that.