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Is There a Right to Forget? 541

reparations are presented in this manner, an opposing majority will simply block reparations supporters.

However, there are plenty of alternatives that would provide restitution in a more forward-looking manner: a domestic Marshall Plan, a small business development fund, a full employment economy, a scholarship fund, an overhaul of public school funding and curriculum, and enhanced political representation, just to name a few. These plans begin from current inequalities—whatever their cause—and would help build a more equitable society.60 Such forward-looking measures might be more appealing to critics of reparations, since they can be supported for reasons other than compensation for historical injustice.61 Any agreement that will be reached regarding an apology or even restitution for slavery will have to be constructed so that different groups can agree to it for different reasons.

However, these forward-looking programs, despite their focus on ameliorat- ing persistent economic and social inequalities, may not satisfy those who support an apology as an ofcial recognition of the injustice of slavery. As Rodney Roberts observes,

rectication calls for an apology. Since restoration and compensation can address only unjust losses, an apology is necessary in order to effect rectication, because it is the apology that addresses the matter of righting the wrong of an injustice. What makes an injustice wrong is the lack of respect shown when one’s rights are violated. Hence the righting of the wrong is accomplished by way of an apology, that is, an acknowledgment of wrongdoing, which includes the reafrmation that those who suffered the injustice have moral standing.62

As such, an apology is one way to create a polity in which black Americans are equal moral, civic, and political members from the start and to recognize that this equality was denied at the founding of the US and delayed from Recon- struction to the present. An apology is important. But since an apology is an admission of wrongdoing, Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-IL) is correct to argue that it must be followed by some concrete forms of restitution. It is precisely because an apology would open the door to substantive forms of restitution that the US government will continue to refuse both to the descendants of slavery.

VII. Conclusion

As we enter the 21st century, we are faced with a call to adopt two different moralities. One is that individuals ought to be free to forget where they came

(Footnote continued)

“chasm” as a difference of 40 points or more. See their Contemporary Controversies and the A m e r i c a n R a c i a l D i v i d e ( L a n h a m , M D : R o w m a n & L i t t l e e l d , 2 0 0 0 ) , p . 9 . 6 0 Representative Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-IL) supports these types of policies because they would put substance behind a symbolic apology for slavery. See “An Apology for Slavery?

Contrition Carries Conditions,” June 17, 1997.





j e s s e j a c k s o n j r . o r g / i s s u e s (August 2002). 5, 6 1 I borrow the backward- and forward-looking distinction from Bernard Boxill. See Blacks & Social Justice, revised edition (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littleeld, 1992). For varieties of restitution, including compensation and apology, see When Sorry Is Not Enough, Parts 6 and 7; Randall Robinson, The Debt (New York: Penguin, 2000); and Williams, op. cit., Chapter 6, in which she argues for enhancing political access and representation for h i s t o r i c a l l y e x c l u d e d g r o u p s . 6 2 Roberts, op. cit., 2001, p. 358, italics in original.

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