Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The logic of the apology

Toyin Agbetu, a human rights activist, held up a commemorative service marking the end of slavery 200 years ago earlier today. Toyin shouted that the Prime Minister should apologise, just a few metres away from the Queen. He was led out and then arrested. The Very Reverend Blair shook his head, with a pained expression etched across his face.

The issue of issuing apologies for crimes from previous generations is a difficult one, not least because prima facie, the logic of the apology is that it is the perpetrator and only the perpetrator who can apologise for any committed action. Of course, if the action is in recent history, then one can justify accepting an apology by a representative, specifically a representative delegated to do so by the perpetrator. However, when the perpetrators are long dead, it is not possible for any apology to issue forth in this way. More to the point, an apology from someone not directly responsible or delegated runs the risk of sounding trite - something said to quiesce, to stifle or to silence as a superficial gesture, rather than a genuine act of contrition.

The flipside of the argument is that the perpetrator remains one and the same entity: the Anglican Church, Parliament, the British Government and so on. In addition, one need not necessarily be delegated to apologise; apologising on behalf of someone is an act that may originate in the representative rather than the perpetrator, just as the family of a murderer may want to apologise to the bereaved. If one can apologise on behalf of someone else - even against their wishes - then why can one not apologise on behalf of previous generations?

It is precisely this ambivalence about the genuine significance of the apology, and which causal logic is valid (direct apology, representational apology, apologising on behalf of) that leads some to apologise for the slave trade (such as Ken Livingstone, on behalf of London's involvement), and others to fall short, with expressions of remorse and regret, as with Tony Blair.

Those who demand that Tony Blair and others should apologise (such as Toyin Agbetu) confuse the refusal to apologise with the notion that the issue is not being treated as seriously as it should. For them, expressions of remorse are a lesser act than a full blown apology. In fact, I find myself agreeing with Blair (yuch, weird feeling). An expression of remorse and deep sorrow can be seen as the equal of an apology, if one takes the line that it is only valid that direct and representational apologies can be genuine apologies.

Perhaps most importantly, the issue of whether expressions of remorse are a diluted form of apology should not cloud the more pressing issue: how to end modern day slavery, such as the trafficking of young Nigerian girls to work as sex workers in Italy, Spain and the UK.


Akin 9:20 pm  

This is really where is gets to me, all this activism that achieves nothing dignified but put all backs up.

And Mr Toyin Abetu represents whom exactly or does being a human rights activist give him the power of attorney to speak for all that suffered? No, he does not have the clout for that position even if he was the only human left on earth.

And when an apology is given are the perpetrators and their descendants suddenly absolved completely to get on with their lives?

With a few coerced words that would make anarchists revel and belittle the real issues, would the pains be assuaged, would the chains fall away, would history be written anew?

Only today, Shinzo Abe apologised for the existence of "comfort women" it does not even begin to bring the slightest iota of comfort those women, but it is a start.

We need to deal with a contemporary type of slavery like you said and this what those busy-body activists should be up to not all this cheap publicity seeking that would no doubt milk away support and financing from their cause if anyone for once thinks disrupting church services is the way they intend to achieve change.

It makes real activists cringe in utter disgust and promote a parochial view of slaves being uncultured anti-social dehumanised commodities of trade - they were flesh and blood human-beings like you and I - Mr Toyin Agbetu did their suffering or memory no justice at all.

BOBBY 9:20 pm  

I think an apology at this time will be useless...whats important is whats being done to rectify the social and mental stigma that Racism has caused...

What social programs, educational programs, development programs, career programs are being put in place for the people of color...who have experienced physical and mental slavery...


And someone should go and tell TOYIN to go and get Nigeria to teach the history of Slavery in the Classroom or get Nigeria to recognize Slavery existed and the impact that it had on our society and the Americas/Europe...then he can start fighting Blair after that is done.

I dont see why the Ghanians are so on point and we are there yarning okpata about Mary Michell Slessor stopped the killing of twins in calabar and Lord Lugard naming Nigeria...like who fuckign cares. Hiss!

Chxta 10:43 pm  

It remains my humble opinion that any apology for the slave trade would be utterly incomplete without one from Africans who sold their brethren to the European traders.

In any event blacks need to learn to move on. It gets my goat to see people still mouthing off about the economic impact and all that, like European countries weren't also depopulated during the same period, first by the plague, then by emigration to the New World, then by their own wars, the list goes on...

We need to learn from the past, and put measures in place to ensure that such things can never be repeated. But most importantly, WE NEED TO LEARN WHEN TO MOVE ON.

Fred 11:20 pm  

By the way, who is responsible for trafficking those young Nigerian girls?

Anonymous,  1:20 am  

I am descended from one of Nigeria's most prolific slave traders. My ancestors built their fortune by enslaving their own people.

I guess I unknowingly benefit from that fortune today.


There, am I forgiven now??

Get over it. The past is just that. We cannot repent our Fathers' sins.

ijeoma obu iheoma 1:31 am  

an apology is needed. In fact the colonialist should apologize every year, for the state in which they left the third world. THey should also apologize, for the ridiculous institutions such as the imf and world bank, which all serve to entrench the debased condition of the third world. THe western world should apologize, because they still benefit from the institution of slavery. Sure slavery is a historical reality. but only a fool thinks that history is isolated.
an apology does not absolve. However it goes a long way. And if an apology is not so important why, deny the apology. Obviously, there is a reason why they refuse to apologise and recant. Because they know.. what it symbolises. and i must say.. that activism acheives a lot. A lot of the freedom which we celebrate today was acheived through the activism of ordinary people. So to discard activism is kinda illogical. anyways.. this na my 2 cents.. great post though..well written

ijebuman 10:39 am  

An apology is pointless when what is happening today in Africa is no different from what happened during the slave trade period. Back then human beings were the main commodities of trade but today it’s our resources (oil, diamonds, cocoa etc) that is traded away with hardly any benefit to Africa. (We don’t even get to determine the price)

Africa's relationship with the rest of the world is still exploitative and until that changes, 'apologies' , 'remorse' or 'regrets' is just talk and we all know how cheap that is..

Thliza 2:43 pm  

Colonialism or slavery is the shared objectives of the West and Africa – although the West had the upper hand! So, if Tony Blair or the Queen of England etc should apologized on behalf of their forefathers, who will do so on behalf of our forefathers who sold their cousins, uncles nieces etc, who are/were themselves our forefathers?

Anonymous,  2:58 pm  

This is what gets me highly irritated about these called "activists". Who appointed Toyin whatever his name is to spea on my behalf. It's this sort of behaviour that sets back any kind of progress that black people have made.

I agree 100% with Akin's post. Black people should wallowing in history and start dealing with present. The same opportunities that surround everyone else surround black people as well.

We should take a leaf out of the Asian's book and start your own business. We only become a force to be reckoned with when you become a wealth generator. Black people should revel in their uniqueness and use that to get on in the world of business. If they don't wake up and take advantage of opportunities that exist right now, then they only have themseves to blame

Anonymous,  4:17 pm  

It is regrettable to see such self-hatred and ignorance from chxta especially after he had recieved some education on this on a different forum.

The point of the apology is the systemic governmental endorsement of slavery by the british government. It does not matter how long ago it was, the government is culpable for the sins of its past leaders because they represent the british interest. The same government that refuses to apologise for sins from its past would still want contracts honored that was signed by its past leaders, NO?

Chxta 7:14 pm  

I wonder who this anonymous is that continues to resort to the emotional blackmail that the pro-apology camp always resorts to instead of rebutting the points brought forward on an intellectual level...

For the sake of clarity, I will again reiterate what I said earlier on my own blog (and on CyberEagles and NaijaRyders): an apology won't change anything. In any event if we are to force an apology from Europe, then we must force an apology from Africa as well. That is justice, not self hatred.

The Law 7:15 pm  

Ok, so some people's great great great great great great great great grand parents were made to endure, nay, survive the hell that was the Trans-Atlantic voyage into slavery in the "New World", and for hundreds of years thereafter, were made to call some white asshole massa, say yassuh, boss, and so on. They had to work the cotton fields, for outrageous hours for no pay, and whenever massa felt like it, he'd take one of the incredibly luscious nubians working his field to bed for some extra-curricular activity. And on account of that, people are demanding "reparations" and "apologies".

Er, reality check.

No one alive today personally suffered slavery in its trans-Atlantic form, no one alive today knows anyone who suffered slavery in its trans-Atlantic form, and no one alive today was affected by slavery in its trans-Atlantic form.

To even suggest the slave trade as an excuse of any sort for the degenerate behaviour of some black youths today is the ultimate bleeding heart exercise.

The Koreans don't blame the Japanese for their every misfortune, in fact, South Korea has gone on to build on of the world's strongest economies.

It is my humble opinion that most African Americans are lazy mo'fos, and the sooner they get off their collective asses instead of looking for things to blame for their situation, the better they'll be.

Lolita 9:14 pm  

Well, it is shocking that some people feel that an apology is unnecessary!

Very shocking indeed!

It is never too late to say "I/We are Sorry", especially if those affected still feel slighted.

For those of you who think that Africans had a hand in the problem, there is a difference between knowing where you are going, agreeing to go there, being paid and treated with dignity and being tricked, lied to, tied up and shackled, led into boats, beaten, starved...do I need to go on?

A very shameful act!

If Blair and the Queen feel regret, one would argue semantics, then what’s the big deal? They should write a letter of apology and send the letter to every African nation that they raped, plundered and pillaged from. Give back all the stolen art. Lend their technology and know-how to re-build these Nations free-of-charge.

The person who mentioned the comfort women, do you know that the comfort women demanded an apology? Do you know that the Japanese refused for the longest time to apologize, so if indeed Shinzo Abe did apologize imagine the satisfaction that those comfort women have received. I was a little confused about your argument though because you acknowledged that it was a start.

Nobody said an apology changes anything but it is a beginning, it is an admission that the act was wrong and should never have happened. It is an attempt to show remorse for the pain the wrongdoing caused the person wronged.

As much as I dislike apologies after the fact, especially in the case of thoughtless rants(people saying stupid things without thinking then apologizing afterwards, the stupid thing has been let out, it can't be like it was never said); I dislike it even more if I want, expect and deserve one and don't get it.

Bitchy 12:10 am  

I got off my arse and emailed Time Out about this subject today. Some random punter had written a piece about all the stuff being organised in memory of the abolition blah blah and ended it with -

"Britain's key contribution to the slave trade was globalisation on an unprecedented scale, but the fact is that slavery had existed in Africa and parts of Asia long before the West arrived".

I couldn't let it slide. To compare the minimal systems of slavery already existing in Africa to the fiendishly-executed suppression of a race and continent is ridiculous and stupid.

The problem with this whole issue is the varying attitudes of those arriving in the wake of such a disgraceful legacy i.e. the new generation of Brits. They can really piss you off sometimes by their nonchalance. I'm not in the least expecting them to apologise for it every second of the day, but at least show some interest!!

I endorse the approach of my friend Tony B (I pity the man abeg... he needs a homie n'est ce pas?) But I don't agree with the black people who yell "Move on!" or "Get over it!" We shouldn't flog a dead horse, True. But then neither should we be indifferent simply because it didn't happen to us.

ijebuman 10:52 am  

The people saying forget about it and move on seem to have forgotten that we're all still suffering from the legacy of slavery. If racism no longer existed or the west's exploitation of Africa has not continued till today, then maybe we can all move on

If the apology is no big deal then why is it so difficult for the British government to say sorry, if it doesn't change anything then it shouldn't be too difficult. Why is Blair using so much spin to avoid doing the honourable thing?
I said in an earlier post that an apology means nothing as long as Africa is still exploited by Europe, but an apology is a start and an acknowledgement of the harm the Europeans did to Africa.

If Africa had a lot of political and economic clout do you think there'll even be a debate about an apology, Blair et al would be falling over themselves to apologise.

We can't move on or forget about it when attempts have already been made to rewrite history by claiming that Africans were selling each other before the Europeans came, and the Europeans just joined in the party.. I'm not even going to spend too much time on this but i suggest people do a bit more research and understand the nature of 'slavery' before the Europeans arrived.

Anonymous,  11:09 am  

@ all yall, did africans sell their brothers to europeans or not? if yes then they should apologise to us first

Anonymous,  12:10 pm  

yes Africans sold their brothers and sisters to Euro-slavers. End of story. But it doesn't mean that apology or at the very least remorse is not in order.

Some people argue that if there was no buyer there will be no seller. The argument works both ways: no seller no buyer. Simple.

Moving on is not the same thing as
forgetting. Remembering is an invitation to stop modern day slavery in all its technicolours.

great poster jeremy

BBC,  4:37 pm  

I call myself "BBC" British/Bajan Canadian, Born in England of West Indian parents, and grew up in Canada.

I have to say SHAME to those of you who are part of the black race and believe that we were not affected by the ills of slavery.

How dare you "the law" say that no one alive today suffers from this past atrocity…that is simply not true. I AM affected, but I don't allow it to act on my life in a negative way. My cousin is a young woman whose great (yes that is one) grandmother was born into slavery....sure as generations pass it gets easier, but we still struggle from the affects that racism from slavery has brought on us as sub-human.

I have educated on the Underground Railroad here in Canada, and while my ancestors were not affected by American slavery, it still cuts so very sharply in my being, as slavery in the US ended a long while after the British.

If you are descended from a slave trader anonymous, then lucky for you that you and your ancestors, have not had to endure the feelings that a lot of your brothers and sisters have and do still deal with. In the same breath though, SHAME on you. WE know to take your comments with a grain of salt because frankly I would not look to you as an authority and just the words and wisdom of a fool. (You know what the say about arguing with a fool right?)

I agree we should try and get over these terrible feelings and for the most part, we do well in concealing a lot of what we feel, we will never ever let it be forgotten, but we must strive to bring each and everyone of us up, and help ourselves not to hate ourselves or each other.

How long?

How long must I hear that you are not directly affected by the slave trade because of its abolition over 200 years ago? I am here because of IT.

IT cuts like a knife in my psyche – while I choose not to dwell, I still live with IT all of my days. IT is like the N in the “other” word you thought of for me.

How many of MY African ancestors were NOT strong enough to make it across the sea of whoa? Those “foolish” enough to survive, descendants still struggle in about 80% of our population. Our self hate is not because we want too but because of the shame that you and YOURS put on US.

I don’t hate you; I can’t because still in the grand scheme of it all, I am here because of yours, because your blood also pumps through my veins.

My ancestors would be proud to see what their blood and skin have brought me too, but for as long as I live I must struggle and remember.

How dare you absolve yourself for the sins of your father, he begat you - good or bad.

How long must I dwell and wonder about my family history and how long should you be reminded of the massacre of my people that yours caused and my plight?

Forget 70 x 7 …

FOREVER we must remember, and you must be reminded!!!

Me...the ORIGINAL woman - a phenomenal woman....LP aka BBC

Lola 4:48 pm  

Such an interesting topic really. I don't think apologies by some random white guy (random in that in the course of history, it coulda been another guy being prime minister) really does anything at all. What I think matters is that we all should educate ourselves about slavery and the real legacies of slavery, of discrimination, of racism. I can't talk too much about europe cuz i wasn't there but in America, that thing is very real. I'm always arguing with people about this. I mean what is a generation of fatherless people going to turn into? What is a generation of crack mothers and crack babies going to turn into? what about a generation of uncle toms? Or where did "high-yellow" come from? These legacies are real and lasting. It is real on the AFAM side and it's real on ours, different manifestations, but still real

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