YES! We’re Very Sorry
Sometimes sorry can be the hardest word to say.
But sometimes it’s a no-brainer.
So it was a popular notion on Jones Street that the state of North Carolina should apologize for its role in the American slave trade and practice, as well as the gross inequities and injustices of the Jim Crow era.
It’s an idea, it seems, whose time has come among state legislatures – Virginia and Maryland have already done it and seven other states have similar resolutions in the pipeline. The issue is being looked at nationally as well.
Both the NC House of Representatives and Senate last week submitted bills to this effect, each giving a brief outline of forced servitude’s role in the history of our state. The senate bill goes so far as to suggest that “schools, colleges, and universities, religious and civic institutions, businesses and professional associations… do all within their power to acknowledge the transgressions of [North Carolina].”
The word on the bill is “urges.”
And this is a fine thing, we guess, as far as symbolic gestures go. Because pretty much everybody, save for a few extremist racial groups and some whose personal fortunes trace back to the plantation system, agrees that slavery was a bad thing, and that we’re sorry for it. We have no problem with putting that in writing.
It’s true that a few on the YES! Weekly staff can trace their ancestry back to the days of slavery, and at least one of us is verifiable progeny of a North Carolina slave-owning family.
The rest of us are the descendants of immigrants who not only did not own slaves, but were themselves possessed of a diminished social status. Irish and Italians, in particular, were heavily discriminated against when they came to this country in waves both before and after Abolition, though their collective experiences pale in comparison to the slave trade.
Either way, we apologize.
But we don’t know how much good it will do.
Slavery became deeply ingrained in North Carolina culture over 300 years or so and the effects are still seen today in cities with imaginary racial boundaries, county governments that use race as a wedge, companies that racially discriminate and individuals who play out roles that should long ago have been recast.
Sure, apologies are in order and long overdue. But a simple apology – even a complex one – cannot alone take us from the path history has set us on.
So before the generations of guilt are assuaged and the backslapping begins, we should look at how much – or how little – progress has been made in our state, how far black folks have come since they were brought here against their will to build North Carolina’s economy and infrastructure, and how far the community has yet to go.
With this official apology, we will have the words of reconciliation. But, to quote seminal funk band Chocolate Milk, “Actions speak louder than words.”