Yesterday, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a resolution apologizing for two and a half centuries of slavery in America. When I read the news, my first thought was – wait, they hadn’t done that yet? The House passed its own version of an apology last year. The Senate version states that the resolution cannot be used in support of claims for reparations.
Others will disagree, but I am underwhelmed by an official congressional apology. It’s important for Americans to own our history and acknowledge that our nation was built on the backs of slaves. But I think it advances the notion that racism began and ended with slavery – institutional racism in particular. How about an apology for Jim Crow? Welfare reform? Do apologies have a positive impact on the day-to-day lives of African Americans? How about doing something about the prison industrial complex? Or the fact that black men make 78 cents and black women 65 cents for each dollar that white men make? I feel like these apologies for slavery allow white America to continue believing racism ended long ago; “get over it!”
On a more positive note, the Senate’s resolution coincides with Juneteenth, the commemoration of the end of slavery in the United States. The celebration originated on June 19th, 1865, the day Union soldiers landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and the enslaved were free. Also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, June 19th was coined “Juneteenth,” and the yearly celebrations grew with more participation from descendants. Juneteenth was a time for gathering family members and praying. Today, Juneteenth is a state holiday in 31 states. A number of National Juneteenth Organizations, along with older organizations, continue to celebrate African American freedom whilst promoting and cultivating knowledge and appreciation of African American history and culture.