If we keep in mind the truth of that statement by one of the south's great writers, we'll be able to answer the call to action issued by Dr. Larry Griffin, one of the south's great sociologists, at Centenary this past Thursday.
I know a lot of people couldn't attend, being in the middle of a work day and all, so for those of you are interested me to sum it up. I'd then like to propose something, inspired by his analysis.
Dr. Griffin began with a quote from William Faulkner, about how the past makes us who are, and how contemplating it can make us wish we were someone else, and lead us to ask for forgiveness.
Dr. Griffin described how growing up and going to college in Mississippi in the 50's and 60's was a formative experience, but it's taken him a while to realize how that's so, for better and worse. He said it has taken him a long time to get where he is today: giving a speech like this at a place like Centenary.
Dr. Griffin first pointed out that many societies have made transitions from illegitimacy to legitimacy. Those societies have to peace with a past of violent oppression and injustice.
A common feature of societies that have successfully completed transitions is that the previously oppressed take their turn in power. This has not happened in our region. Whites maintained political control after slavery, and immediately after the end of segregation.
Societies such as Poland after communism, Chile after Pinochet, Guatemala after the death squads, Cambodia after the Khamer Rouge, and South Africa after apartheid have also used mechanisms aimed specifically to restore faith in the goodness and justice of the society.
- Public trails of especially culpable individuals
- Truth and reconciliation commissions offering public forums for confessions and requests for forgiveness
- Apologies of organizations for their complicitness in the injustices of the previous era
- Reparations paid to ancestors of victims
A key part of Dr. Griffin's talk was reminding us of the grim past for which our society and its organizations might want to apologize. For example, we might want to collectively apologize for the over 4,000 African-Americans who were lynched, or for the daily humiliation and degradation blacks had to suffer through segregation.
So, should our society, as a whole, apologize? Should our state? Should our city? Our historically white universities and colleges? Companies?
In my next post I'll talk about why we'd want to apologize for something that happened a long time ago, doesn't seem relevant today, and might appear to only make things worse.
As always, feel free to comment.