I watched one of the more curious events in recent history this afternoon – the Australian Prime Minister formally apologizing for what were some pretty disgraceful actions by literally stealing aboriginal people from their families and moving them to other locations such as orphanages. Out of that comes the term “Stolen Generation“.
Obviously, I’m not totally versed in the history or the story behind why the government decided to do this, but it is, to me, right that the government should apologize for their actions. The fact that they did this, and it was officially sanctioned government policy to do something like this was reprehensible. Another thing that should be remembered is that there are people who are still quite young – the youngest members of the group would be around 40 years old – which makes the whole thing an extremely personal thing.
While I was watching the ABC stream of the apology, one thought came into my mind, and that was the fight that has been going on in this country over getting reparations for descendants of former slaves during the two centuries or so that it was permissible here. Someone might thing that this is me trying to compare apples and oranges, but there are one or two similarities. Mostly, it has to do with the fact that it involved taking people away from their homeland, and that it affected people who were of a different race to the majority.
However, where the arguments for an apology stand up, they fall down for reparations. When it comes to slavery; yes, it was allowed by the government, but there was no edict from them saying the people *must* be taken in as slaves. Unfortunately, that was something that individuals chose to do because they, honestly, didn’t care about these “strange” people from Africa. Yes, there were efforts by some slaves to become free, which were very successful (see the Underground Railroad), but at times there were some regrettable things that the government did to keep slaves as slaves (such as the Dred Scott case, which said that even free blacks could not be citizens and that slaves were actually property).
If there were to be an official apology issued by our government, I think it would be for decisions such as Dred Scott, because of the effects that it had on people of the day, but now that well over a century has passed, and the last actual slaves (or first generation children after slavery) have now passed away for quite a long time, possibly the argument is reduced for offering reparations.
I know that I’m not answering anything in this, and maybe I’m opening more cans of worms than is necessary, but if a descendant of a slave owner decides to offer descendants of their ancestors’ slaves reparations, they should be able to, but it doesn’t have to be a big deal involving lawsuits and messy legal battles.
In the end, when it comes to slavery, the responsibility ultimately comes to the descendants of the owners of slaves to determine whether or not they feel that they are responsible for their ancestors’ actions. Personally, I think that it should almost be one of those “it’s in the past, let it go” situations, but again, the more you think about it, the more your position almost seems to soften on it.