You may have caught Ben Ferguson's comments on the radio the other day as he chastised Congressman Steve Cohen for "pandering to black voters" by pushing for a congressional apology for slavery and Jim Crow. Ferguson took this beyond the issue of pandering and tried to argue on the merits of such an apology with comments such as, "I wasn't even born then." and "Why don't we give everybody reparations if we have to give them to blacks."
After listening to Ferguson and his callers it was clear this was more than an issue of an opinion. This was about their perceptions on the importance of history.
I went and checked out the online comment section of the Commercial Appeal to see how readers felt about this issue. There were clearly strong feelings on an apology for slavery and Jim Crow. I would say 85% were against such an action. This made me wonder why. I mean it's an apology for one of the worst atrocities committed by the United States. Millions of innocent people under this democracy were enslaved, murdered, beaten and raped. Then the descendants of those who were enslaved would suffer though a century of humiliation by “Separate but Unequal Laws.” Why would anyone have a problem with an apology for such wrongs? In my view this objection has little to do with the issue of an apology, this has everything to do with an uncomfortable feeling that some whites still harbor toward blacks.
Now I’m not talking about the actions or even reactions of some whites but that inner most feeling that over the years they have learned to control though politically correct indoctrination. That inner feeling that is so tamed that no noticeable expression of doubt is seen. They can even look themselves in the mirror and say things like: "I don't see color." or "I feel we should just move on and forget the past."
This denial by some whites place Black Americans in a state of total confusion and frustration. Say what you will but at least with “Bull” Connor the segregationist police office of the Civil Rights Era you knew where you stood. Today many blacks feel that this overt hatred has been replaced by cold indifference. So much so Americans can watch the nightly news and hear of one black child’s death after another and show as much emotion as you would while watching water boil. But let a puppy be set on fire and there is an uproar that is deafening. Is it justified for us to be outraged over such a heinous act of animal brutality? Of course, it is our humanity for even the smallest creature that defines us, but I question have we lost our sense of priority?
As an African American I believe how America defines its past will have an important impact on all our futures. I agree history should not be used as an excuse to justify ones own personal failures, or to manifest a hatred toward others, but whites must understand slavery and Jim Crow makes up much of African American's history and to try and forget it is to try and forget African Americans.
For those who think the past is irrelevant you should talk to officials in Japan who have been criticized for trying to favorable rewrite their role in WWII, or the Iranians growing fervor over their Persian History.
So what are we going to do about this? Mr. Ferguson said people of his generation (he is 24 years old) don’t carry those racial feelings like generations before him. True but not for one moment should he believe that what is not spoken is not felt.
It doesn't surprise me in the least that a Jewish Congressman would get this. Jews and African Americans have a deep connection to history and an appreciation for the saying, "Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it."
Congressman Cohen was correct for calling for an apology for the atrocities committed by this Country. For it is when we speak these feeling and confront them do we truly make progress.