Drake speaks about apology for slavery

This paper was published on September 24, 1997 by The Cavalier Daily, Inc., at the University of Virginia.
Cavalier Daily Associate Editor

Avon Drake, a Virginia Commonwealth University political science professor, says President Clinton's "authentic racial discourse," including a national apology to black Americans for the horrors of slavery and its aftereffects, is little more than superficial political posturing.

Drake spoke to a small crowd congregated in Minor Hall last night about the issue. He delivered a resounding "No," concluding that a simple apology for slavery without economic reparations would be utterly useless.

Clinton "wishes to have a legacy going down in the books ... with the African-American community," he said. The apology "is more political than substantive. ... We must demand reparations without any second thoughts whatsoever.

"Any sincere apology for slavery must include a black economic community enhancement program at the forefront," he added. "A national apology won't do. ... The time for black people's accepting white people's warm apologies is over."

Drake also advocated a straightforward discussion on race relations _ between the races.

"The centrality of the black/white relationship which built this nation mandates our calling to this discussion," he said. "Blacks ought to engage whites in a frank discussion on ... racial preferences."

Drake's comments touched a chord with some audience members who agreed that an apology does not approach the crux of the problem.

"I don't think an apology is necessary," Black Student Alliance Chairman Pat Collier said. "It distracts from the real issue, race relations."

The requirement for an honest discourse on race relations, Drake said, was frank examinations and clarifications of two very sensitive issues: slavery and affirmative action.

"Slavery did not benefit some whites, it benefited all whites, and it benefits many whites today. [In ways like] skin preferences, universities and the labor market," he said.

As for the ubiquitous affirmative action issue, Drake reminded the audience that affirmative action is not a quota system for people of color or a way to provide undeserving jobs and scholarships. In fact, he asserted, it refers to "policies and practices of the government to distribute or redistribute benefits" originally designed to provide benefits to white settlers in the colonies.

As early as the 17th century, Drake said, lands were seized from American Indians and given to settlers. The Homestead Act of 1862 provided land, homes and farms to between 400,000 and 600,000 white settlers before the Civil War.

"Little was done to ameliorate social engineering as a result of affirmative action for white settlers that left blacks ignorant and landless," he said.

This paper was published on September 24, 1997 by The Cavalier Daily, Inc., at the University of Virginia.
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