By Ida Hakim
Has America suddenly developed a 'soft heart', like old Pharaoh of the Bible, when Egypt was beset with plagues?
Has our nation suddenly awakened, ready to acknowledge its history and build a more just future for these grandchildren we're about to leave it to? Or are we expected to accept a series of empty gestures in response to demands for justice and pretend that it's all better?
This decision was a surprise to many of us who support reparations for slavery. Over and over in the past, we have heard even the simplest proposals for an apology dismissed for fear that they will open the door to reparations.
The U.S. delegation refused to participate in the 2001 World Conference Against Racism where reparations for slavery was on everyone's tongue. The U.S. tried to derail the process as the UN recognized Afro-descendant minorities and acknowledged the absence of their most basic human right to their original identity. For more years than we can count, Congress has tabled Chairman John Conyers' (D MI) HR-40, which would merely study reparations. As recently as 2000, another white Congressman, Tony Hall (D OH), had his bill apologizing for slavery rejected.
But now here it is -- an apology for slavery introduced by a white Freshman Congressman, Steve Cohen (D TN) who is defending his seat in the majority black Memphis Congressional District he first won as the only white candidate in a twelve-member field in 2006.
It's difficult to trust the intent of a gesture while faced with ironic contradictions, but let's be hopeful.
Black reparations leaders and organizations have, for many years, been discussing what it would take to repair damages, compensate victims, restore identity and provide restitution. Some believe than an apology could be a precursor to a national dialogue on reparations. So, to the US House of Representatives we say, "Thank you, whatever your motives. Now let's move ahead to the real conversation."