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Apologies Aren’t Always Appropriate

I’m sorry. I don’t know what I’m sorry about, but there must be SOMETHING I owe you an apology for. Maybe I said something on the show you didn’t like. Maybe I am not as handsome as you always envisioned me to be. Or it could be that I cut you off in the supermarket last night and didn’t even know I was doing it. So…I AM sorry.

Apologies are hard when they are generic. Apologizing the way I did above is not as powerful or sincere as if I had apologized to the face of the individual that I actually offended.

But everybody does it. Family. Friends. Customer service reps. Politicians. If you listen carefully enough, all you hear all day long are apologies.

Now Alabama Governor Bob Riley has signed a resolution apologizing for slavery. It states among other things that the House and Senate “express our profound regret for the State of Alabama's role in slavery and that we apologize for the wrongs inflicted by slavery and its after effects in the United States of America”.

That sounds good on paper. But there is no one currently in the Alabama House or Senate who is guilty of slavery. And there is no one in Alabama who is currently enslaved. So how sincere and appropriate is this apology?

Don’t get me wrong. Slavery—wherever it is practiced—is an abomination. PERIOD. To enslave an innocent fellow human being for whatever reason is one of the greatest crimes we can commit. But perhaps some apologies come too late. What good is an apology when the people who are the ones who should be apologizing are long gone, as well as the people who should be receiving the apology?

I can apologize to you that I stole your wallet, but it would not be appropriate for me to apologize for a deceased relative who stole your deceased father’s wallet. I did not steal it. And no one living in Alabama is a slave or a slaveholder.

So Alabama has become the fourth state to issue such an apology. It will not be the last.

It is a shame that a formal apology was not made sooner, when it WOULD have been appropriate and desperately needed.

I’m sorry to have to break that to you.