April 06, 2007

Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word

Elton. I always had a soft spot for this tune for some reason. It's sad & a bit bitter but the melodies (& harmonies) flow so nicely over the chords that when orchestrated right it's really a thing of beauty. Course it's been trashed by untold thousand of second rate piano players doing dinner sets in hotel lounges, but if you can erect a sufficient mental block for those renditions then it's really a nice tune. The premise of the song is simple; a guy misses someone he cares deeply for & longs for reconciliation. The absence of that person in his life overshadows the wrongs done to initiate the separation. Not a new thing to lament over but he does it in a way that makes it more than just random whining about a lost love. Here's Elton doing the tune from a 1976 BBC broadcast (which is nice because it's just Elton - piano & voice). Here's a vid of him doing the tune (accompanied by an orchestra) at his 60th birthday concert. (I was always a sucker for a nice string arrangement.)

I always disagreed with the idea that saying sorry was the hardest thing to do (albeit sometimes it's not easy). I always thought asking permission was far more difficult. But despite the difficulty involved it doesn't mean anything if it's done insincerely or if it's not done in the appropriate context by the responsible party.

"RALEIGH, N.C. - The North Carolina Senate apologized Thursday for the Legislature's role in promoting slavery and Jim Crow laws that denied basic human rights to the state's black citizens."

If they were really concerned about Jim Crow then they'd wipe the last of it off the books. In NC you must obtain a permit to purchase a pistol even for a private transaction. This was instituted because the legislature was kind of nervous about all those newly freed slaves being able to buy a pistol. Instead of ditching the constitutionally questionable directive they simply made the enforcement equal. It is a may-issue type permit & a sheriff (who had to sign off on it) could deny you for any reason. Being black was often a good enough reason. Since I've been alive they've treated it as a shall-issue system in practice, only denying folks for questionable behavior (criminal convictions & the like) & have (as far as I can tell) dropped the race requirement.

But it's still an affront to the Right to arms. Besides, would you feel okay about a Jim Crow law if no one, white or black, was allowed to drink from a "whites only" water fountain? Or would you rather they just got rid of the asinine law altogether?

Anyway, The NC legislature is a little bit late. As far as I can tell no sitting representative or senator had anything to do in any way with slavery.

"Any conflict or wrongdoing can never have a closure until there is an apology or reconciliation has occurred,' Jacumin said."

That much is true. & I'm not opposed to the idea of an institution admitting errors in the past, even the distant past. But typically I never felt that one person could effectively apologize for another. If I stand your sister up on a date you cannot make atonement for me or convince her of my regret. If I happen to die then my children or grandchildren cannot make an effective apology for my actions. So the current legislature in NC can't really apologize for the actions of a previous one, especially when all of the previous legislators are deceased.

Admitting that slavery was wrong & that the government of NC was wrong in supporting that most peculiar institution as well as the Jim Crow laws that sprang up in its wake is well within their scope & is proper for them to do. But they cannot really apologize for actions they had no direct part in.

The NC legislature has enough that they actually can apologize for, it's just that slavery isn't one of their errors.

"North Carolina Democratic Party leaders apologized in January for instigating a bloody race riot in Wilmington in 1898, which left as many as 60 people dead and helped the party gain political power."

Again that isn't something that anyone alive can apologize for. Admitting the actions were wrong is within their ability & it's certainly proper to do so, but how can one person apologize for the actions of others?

This "riot" in Wilmington though deserves a little explanation. It was not just a "riot", it was (to my knowledge) the only successful coup d'etat in the history of this country. Basically a group of white supremacist Democrats took over the local government (which was Republican & biracial) through the use of violence. The Democrats were in control at the state level & they looked the other way. The feds didn't do anything either. Here's the Wikipedia page on The Wilmington Insurrection of 1898 for those who'd like to now more.

I'm a North Carolinian. I think what happened in Wilmington in 1898 was abhorrent on many levels & is one of the darkest blots on my state's record. But I cannot apologize for it because I did not have anything to do with those actions. I can't even apologize for not trying to stop it because I wasn't alive then. Hell, my eldest grandparents weren't alive then.

Again admitting it's wrong is something I would not question (either in the sentiment or the appropriateness of such measures) but an apology cannot be made by those who did not participate (or fail to participate) in the actions in question.

"Black members of the Senate said they were pleased to see the resolution pass, but added that lawmakers also need to help improve the quality of life of blacks who still suffer from the effects of slavery and discrimination. They called for improvements to the state's education system and giving black-owned businesses more access to state contracts.

'This is a noble gesture but I urge you, don't let it end here,' said Democratic Sen. Larry Shaw. 'There's plenty of work to be done."

Sadly that's what it comes down to. such "apologies" are used to pave the way for government programs under the guise of making atonement for past sins.

I'd argue with anyone that slavery & its effects (including but not limited to Jim crow) have had a disastrous influence on the Black community in America (not just the south). some of those effects are still being felt. But government intervention in the form of increased assistance will only exacerbate the problems that are trying to be addressed. The damage done was cultural & as such government cannot repair them. What government can do (& should do) is to ensure that there are no outside influences hampering those repairs. In other words government's place is to stay out of the way & keep other groups out of the way of the Black community's attempts to right themselves from the damage that was done to them through a government backed cultural wrong done to them.

The Klan is showing up in Black comm8unities? By all means the government should send agents to prevent any crimes being perpetrated by them. Banks are charging usurious rates to Black folks while give prime +2% to White folks? Then agents should be sent in to correct the practice. But increasing the amount of Black businesses that receive government contracts? Nope; that's not a proper or helpful function of government. Bids should be placed & the most appropriate bid (in terms of price & proposal) should be accepted regardless of any other factors.

The consequence of these state issued "apologies" will not be a reconciliation or forgiveness for crimes of the past. whether intended or not it will be used as a stepping stone on the path to increased government involvement in the Black community. I would submit that government involvement in the Black community is what caused the damage in the first place & I sincerely doubt that increased government involvement, no matter how noble its intended goals will cause more harm than good.

NC has enough things it can apologize for & make atonement for right now. These are things which the current legislature could do something about (such as the pistol permit law) & it could bring about a meaningful increase in the liberty of her people. Making apologies for actions that it has & had no control over is not one of them. Increasing the level of Marxian activity from the government in an attempt to make amends for past crimes is definitely not going to be helpful if the real goal is the life & liberty of her people.

& no; as much as I'd like to I cannot apologize for the legislature of NC's actions, past or present. I have enough actions of my own that I'm actually responsible for to apologize over that I simply don't have time to make apologies for others. I will say that they're off the mark though in thinking they can apologize for slavery (& to some extent Jim Crow) but it's not my place to apologize for their actions. It's too bad they don't have the same understanding of what an apology is & where it should come from.

So if "sorry" really is the hardest word then I'd submit that "sincere" & "appropriate" are the hardest contexts to say it in & seemingly beyond the grasp of the NC legislature.

Posted by Publicola at April 6, 2007 06:10 PM | TrackBack