It is easy to seek current retribution for past wrongs, but there should be no apology for the slave trade, or any other historical atrocity, for a number of reasons.
First, we cannot take it upon ourselves to apologise for the values and beliefs of people of a bygone age. That is to imply our superiority over their judgement based on limited knowledge of the reasons for their actions. Yet they were the best judges of their times because they LIVED in it and based their decisions on the nature of THEIR society, whether it is agreeable to us or not. Just as we are now living in the 21st century and are making decisions based upon what is appropriate to us, and the knowledge we have, so every age bases its actions on the beliefs, resources, information and aspirations they have.
For example, the fact that Bush and Blair were wrong to go into Iraq will not be decided in 200 years time by a different world. We will make that judgement now, based upon our values of what is ethically right and wrong for us as a people in this time and space. Should we expect a future American president and British prime minister to publicly apologise to the future Iraqi people for what is happening now? That would be very silly because they would be taking upon themselves power which they do not possess over our age, dictating to us what they believe to be right by THEIR ethical standards and interpretation of our actions, not ours; depriving us of the right to decide our own destiny. Any apology should be made by our leaders, in our time and age, because they carried out the deed and were sure of the reasons why it was necessary.
The Value of Each Era
Each period of time has led us, in turn, to this one through exploration, education and innovation. Every era is thus a natural phase in our evolutionary development, teaching us something new as mankind advances. Therefore every age is essential in our unique emotional and professional journey. We cannot judge a past age by our standards because that age did not have our knowledge or resources. We are learning all the time, improving from past actions, with the hope of not repeating the mistakes we make along the way. To use our current knowledge to denigrate a bygone age is rather foolhardy because without the experiments of that age we would not be where we are now.
Improved information and education ensure our growth, one which should give as a greater understanding of, and compassion for, the past.
Seeking apologies for past acts might be fashionable but they cannot be sincere because they are simply guilt by proxy, being made purely for appeasement or a superficial notion of 'justice'. They are not for remorse or real regret because the pain, magnitude and true consequences of the act can never be understood by anyone outside that age. Apologies are also highly selective. We only apologise for those atrocities which carry the most condemnation or voice. What about all the other wars and unjustified killings in history? Who is going to apologise for those? And why are only European peoples being asked for an apology regarding the slave trade? What of the African chiefs and leaders who sold their people in slavery? Who is asking current Africans for an apology, or doesn't their part in it matter too?
Apologies are inappropriate in these instances because it is not the apology that is important, but moving on in the future, being better people because of what happened. What is the point of an empty apology without anything else to change the status quo of inequality and disrespect, of resentment and recrimination, continuing prejudice and discrimination? It merely accords history more precedence over the present and future and prevents any real change in both perception and respect.
What matters most now is a clear acknowledgement of the past by everyone, especially the part such atrocities play in hampering the progress of a community, in robbing it of opportunities, and a genuine desire to to learn from such acts. Not to deny it, mask it, bury it, justify it or pretend slavery never happened. It really, really did and one group of people benefited from it, while one group suffered from it, purely through their colour. The main action now is to appreciate the enormous consequences of slavery through the years to our current time, and to make a major effort to reduce the inherent bias. That should make the present and future a much richer experience for all concerned, as one people in a genuine spirit of reconciliation.
©Elaine Sihera (Ms CYPRAH) 2012
Emotional Health and People Management Consultant
"Happiness is a state of being. We are the ones who decide whether we wish to be happy or not, by the script we use inside our heads."