This is already a week old, but did anyone notice that the very same day US Congressman Mike Honda (D, California) issued yet another call for Japan to issue a more concrete apology to former comfort women, New Jersey became the first Northern state in the United States to issue a formal apology for our state’s history of slavery? Although four Southern states of Virginia, Maryland, Alabama, and North Carolina had previously issued similar resolutions, the fact that many Northern states still allowed slave-holding well into the 19th century has been largely ignored. New Jersey, for example, did not finally ban slavery until 1846. There has been no such resolution at the federal level.
While it might be nice to see the Japanese government officially acknowledge past crimes in more specificity, perhaps the US Congress should apologize for slavery at the national level before its members go overseas to demand that foreign governments do the same thing. Maybe by setting a moral example, Mister Honda might convince a wider audience of his credibility.
Oh, and as for the Japanese government’s previous apologies. While they were a good start, they really could be more specific. Take a look at the actual text of last week’s New Jersey slavery apology resolution and think about how they compare.
Update: I feel like I should add that I don’t consider a simple apology in and of itself very worthwhile. The important thing about the New Jersey resolution is not so much that it apologizes, but that it lists both the actual crimes and in historical context and legacy in a decently comprehensive outline, and then also explicitly calls for continuing education on the subject. Let me quote the “statement” at the end of the resolution.
This concurrent resolution issues a formal apology on behalf of the State of New Jersey for its role in slavery and discusses the history of racism and inhumane treatment toward African-Americans in the United States from the arrival of its first settlers to the present day. It calls upon the citizens of this State to remember that slavery continues to exist and encourages them to teach about the history and legacy of slavery and Jim Crow laws.
While I think it was sloppy phrasing not to say something like “continues to exist in parts of the world,” resolutions like this are important not because they can make people feel good about their awesomeness in making said apology, but because it can contribute to the education of the populace.