The Atlantic on the History of Apologies for Slavery and Discrimination

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Aug. 6 2014 6:24 PM

The Atlantic on the History of Apologies for Slavery and Discrimination

rtr41bi
The government of Benin's former president, Mathieu Kérékou, center, apologized for the country's role in the slave trade.

Noel Koku Tadegnon/Reuters

Should the United States government consider paying reparations to black Americans for the historical crimes of slavery, Jim Crow, and segregation? No? What about just apologizing, using only words? Still no? Okay! This is all hypothetical, then, but: The Atlantic has an insightful and informative piece up today by Theodore R. Johnson about situations in which nations have apologized, officially, for their role in the perpetuation of slavery and discrimination.

Specifically, Johnson looks at Ghana, Nigeria, and Benin. Ghana, Johnson writes, has made its apology into something of a tourism pitch:

The initiative, called Project Joseph after the biblical character sold into slavery by his brothers, sought to portray Ghana to black Americans as Israel presents itself to the Jewish diaspora. Ghanaian tourism companies even offer “ceremony of apology” packages that black Americans can purchase to accompany visits to ancient slave castles.
Advertisement

In contrast, a contrition initiative in Nigeria was not well-received:

...in declining to apologize, one elder told a Nigerian newspaper that his people were “not apologetic about what happened in the past,” explaining that the slave trade was “very very legal” when his forebears were involved in it.

And Benin's apology was put in spiritual terms:

[President Mathieu Kérékou] and members of his government appealed to the religious conception of forgiveness to frame the act of reconciliation as a divine pursuit that would make whole the relationship between offending states and the victims’ offspring. “We cry forgiveness and reconciliation,” said Luc Gnacadja, Benin’s minister of environment and housing, on a visit to Virginia in 2000.

Johnson suggests that Benin's model might appeal to America's spiritual sensibilities—but notes that even that even Benin's heartfelt-ish admission was part of a wider effort to repair its reputation amidst problems securing foreign aid. Ultimately, Johnson concludes, the United States government won't apologize to black Americans unless forced to do so by the same kinds of strategic realpolitik interests that led it to abolish slavery in the first place. Read his whole piece here.

Ben Mathis-Lilley edits the Slatest. Follow @Slatest on Twitter.

TODAY IN SLATE

Frame Game

Hard Knocks

I was hit by a teacher in an East Texas public school. It taught me nothing.

Republicans Like Scott Walker Are Building Campaigns Around Problems That Don’t Exist

How Can We Investigate Potential Dangers of Fracking Without Being Alarmist?

The Best Way to Organize Your Fridge

If You’re Outraged by the NFL, Follow This Satirical Blowhard on Twitter

Video

Hidden Messages in Corporate Logos

Subtle cues from FedEx, Amazon, and others.

Sports Nut

Giving Up on Goodell

How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.

Chief Justice John Roberts Says $1,000 Can’t Buy Influence in Congress. Looks Like He’s Wrong.

A No-Brainer Approach to Fighting Poverty: Better Birth Control

  News & Politics
The World
Sept. 16 2014 11:56 AM Iran and the U.S. Are Allies Against ISIS but Aren’t Ready to Admit It Yet
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 16 2014 12:43 PM Middle-Class Incomes: Still Dead in the Water
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Sept. 15 2014 11:38 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 4  A spoiler-filled discussion of "Listen."
  Arts
Behold
Sept. 16 2014 12:59 PM Ethereal Views of Earth From Way Up High 
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 12:33 PM Slate Exclusive: Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 16 2014 7:30 AM A Galaxy of Tatooines
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.