The Breakfast Table

Truth, Reparations, Reconciliation

Dear John,

I haven’t read the news about the Genome Diversity Project, but you reminded me about the UN Conference on Racism in Durban. What do you make of the U.S. pulling out its “mid level” I don’t think it even crossed the mind of anyone in the Bush administration that it might be offensive to the 35 million African Americans who have a vivid, painful, and profound historical relationship with racism. I would think a country that overcame at least the horrific aspects of its own aparteid would have much to contribute to such a conference. That it is a country as uniquely powerful and influential on the global stage is that much more disappointing.


The idea that the U.S. is ducking the question of reparations I find equally disturbing. I suspect the idea of reparations is going to be very much a part of our national discourse for years to come. To anyone interested in the idea I would point them toward Wole Soyinka’s The Burden of Memory, the Muse of Forgiveness, in which Soyinka examines the results of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Committee and its decidedly mixed results. Speaking largely about the African continent, Soyinka ends his argument by calling for “Truth, Reparations, Reconciliation.” We here in the U.S. stumble over the first requirement. Truth leads to acceptance of responsibility for your actions. This is what we teach our kids in grade school and at the dinner table. The idea is that this makes them responsible citizens of the future. The consequences and evidence of slavery are all around us and pervades every aspect of life in this country. Until we face up to that and accept responsibility then we can’t provide for the peaceful enjoyment of our prosperity, and the lives of our children and grandchildren become encumbered by the social problems of racism that we inherited and that we drag around with us like a sack of cotton.

As for the Arab countries’ pushing for language that condemns Israel, one of the tenets that makes this a great country is the idea of free speech. To pull out because we couldn’t control the speech of other participants is to my mind hypocritical.

I see it as a missed opportunity. A failure of imagination and global responsibility on our part.

Until tomorrow,