Monday, April 09, 2007

Me So Sorry

In the latest episode of American Race Theatre, someone has made an ill-advised comment about a marginalized group in society, been hit with the usual thunderous chorus of, "Say you're sorry" and then proceeded to offer the apology. In this case, Don Imus has made remarks on his radio show referring to women on a basketball team as "nappy headed hos". I know that there are also people calling for him to be fired, but I'm not going to get into that in this post. If you don't know what I'm talking about, you can read about it here. I'm not interested in picking on Imus or what he said or trying to discern if he is a good or bad person because of his remarks (I'll leave that up to God). This episode does dramatize something that I've been thinking a great deal about these days: the power that has been given to apologies in race relations. I don't want to suggest that apologies have no constructive role in the process of healing (I am after all a social worker), however it concerns me is that apologies can become a substitute for meaningful change regarding race in America. It seems that virtually every day on the news, there is a white male (usually) saying that he is sorry for hurting the feelings of this or that minority group because of saying something that they should not have said. After awhile I've started to experience this as a kind of empty ritual. Yet both for those who demand the apology and those who offer it, there is the implication that the apology actually accomplishes something. It's as if for some folks, if you say you're sorry the blind will see, the sick with be healed and the infirm will arise and walk. This is what I would like someone to explain to me, how do these apologies (usually televised by the way) change a single condition under which far too many minorities live in American society? Are the hungry fed, are the poorly educated better educated, do disparities in health care and outcomes disappear because of another round of the "Me So Sorry Game"? Racial unity and justice are not just an issue of national group therapy and a round of hugs, but rather about Power, who has it, who doesn't and what you intend to do about it. Racial unity and justice are about transforming the social order in such a way that a person's skin color is no longer a negative factor in their quality of life as an American. I'd rather put my energy into working toward fundamental change, change that involves people becoming better people and creating a better society, rather than simply feeling better, which is what apologies are supposed to offer. It's this kind of change that the Baha'i Faith is all about:

Let there be no mistake. The principle of the Oneness of Mankind—the pivot round which all the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh revolve—is no mere outburst of ignorant emotionalism or an expression of vague and pious hope. Its appeal is not to be merely identified with a reawakening of the spirit of brotherhood and good-will among men, nor does it aim solely at the fostering of harmonious cöoperation among individual peoples and nations. Its implications are deeper, its claims greater than any which the Prophets of old were allowed to advance. Its message is applicable not only to the individual, but concerns itself primarily with the nature of those essential relationships that must bind all the states and nations as members of one human family. It does not constitute merely the enunciation of an ideal, but stands inseparably associated with an institution adequate to embody its truth, demonstrate its validity, and perpetuate its influence. It implies an organic change in the structure of present-day society, a change such as the world has not yet experienced. It constitutes a challenge, at once bold and universal, to outworn shibboleths of national creeds—creeds that have had their day and which must, in the ordinary course of events as shaped and controlled by Providence, give way to a new gospel, fundamentally different from, and infinitely superior to, what the world has already conceived. It calls for no less than the reconstruction and the demilitarization of the whole civilized world—a world organically unified in all the essential aspects of its life, its political machinery, its spiritual aspiration, its trade and finance, its script and language, and yet infinite in the diversity of the national characteristics of its federated units.

It represents the consummation of human evolution—an evolution that has had its earliest beginnings in the birth of family life, its subsequent development in the achievement of tribal solidarity, leading in turn to the constitution of the city-state, and expanding later into the institution of independent and sovereign nations.

The principle of the Oneness of Mankind, as proclaimed by Bahá’u’lláh, carries with it no more and no less than a solemn assertion that attainment to this final stage in this stupendous evolution is not only necessary but inevitable, that its realization is fast approaching, and that nothing short of a power that is born of God can succeed in establishing it.

Shoghi Effendi