If only we had treated the freed slaves like we treated the conquered Japanese

apologizing for slavery

There is a lot going on in the world today.

A lot.

It is hard to keep up with, but as a Christian who is deeply concerned about how we can build the church and engage productively with our communities, I feel like it is important to stay engaged.

And to look closely at the things we share and the arguments we make.

Like this meme floating around facebook right now.

It hurts my heart to see this because it minimizes so many issues in the world, toys with your emotions and does not really put forth an actual argument. It is just an analogy with two beautiful little girls that immediately tug at your heart strings, circumventing the need for a rational argument. But is apologizing for slavery the same as the Japanese apologizing for Pearl Harbor?

Let’s look at it a little more closely.

What happened after Pearl Harbor?

Pearl Harbor was a devastating attack on a nation that did not want war. 2,403 American lost their lives, another 1,178 were wounded. But we did not just sit back and take it. The debates about whether or not we wanted to involve ourselves in a foreign war ended and we went to war. The war cost millions of lives, destroyed economies and altered the political map.

And what of Japan? We declared war. We interred the Japanese, even those loyal to the United States. We dropped two atomic bombs, one on Hiroshima and one on Nagasaki. We annihilated their country.

They lost their government. They lost their military. They lost their economy.

We didn’t ask for an apology. We asked for complete capitulation. Then we rebuilt them.

How did Japan react?

They did a little better than apologize for Pearl Harbor. On September 26, 1971 Emperor Hirohito –the emperor in charge when Pearl Harbor was attacked-thanked the United States.

The emperor thanked us for our assistance rebuilding his country after war. 

Between 1946 and 1952, the US government invested $2.2 billion (roughly $18 billion in today’s dollars) into rebuilding the Japanese economy. We oversaw the writing of their constitution. We put a democratic process in place. We allowed the emperor to remain in power. We assisted their rise to world power status as a peaceful nation that became one of our strongest allies.

What if we had made a similar investment in black communities after the Civil War?

What if we hadn’t burned down black Wall street? Hadn’t taken Seneca Village for Central Park? Hadn’t instituted Jim Crow laws? When left alone, black communities showed amazing resilience and an ability to build wealth and community, but our nation was there blocking them at almost every step.

What if we had just left them alone to prosper? And what if we treated those we enslaved and later freed with the same compassion, foresight and commitment that we showed a nation that attacked us, declared war on us and that we eventually conquered?

Do we need to apologize?

If we had treated the freed slaves the way we treated the conquered Japanese, there wouldn’t be much need to apologize.

I don’t know how important an apology is to our current state of affairs. I don’t even know how useful it would be. But if our black community would like an apology and it would help in any way to heal the racial divide, I am sorry. I am sorry their ancestors were kidnapped and trafficked. I am sorry for the abuses they underwent on the voyage here. I am sorry they were bought and sold at auction like cattle. I am sorry they were humiliated and beaten until they knew nothing but serving their master. I am sorry they were bred like livestock. I am sorry their families were torn apart. I am sorry that the Civil War that freed them was not enough to give them true liberty in a nation founded on the principle that all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights. I am sorry that segregation happened. I am sorry that the party that was created to abolish slavery, led the nation to war to gain their freedom, and fought for Civil Rights is now the party that defends the Confederacy, says their struggle is over and seems unwilling to listen to their continued experiences. I am sorry for the racist comments they endure. I am sorry that their experience of America has not been the same as mine.

I am sorry that once they were freed, we were not able to treat our own people with the same standard we treat conquered nations.

If it helps, I truly am sorry. And I truly wish I could understand more and that I could do more.


Follow me


June 11, 2020