Written on: February 10th, 2016 in Helping Our Neighbors
The noted abolitionist Lydia Maria Child famously said: “Law is not law, if it violates the principles of eternal justice.”
For more than eighty years after its founding, and for all of the colonial era that preceded it, the governing documents and philosophies of this land officially condoned a practice that directly contradicted those principles.
I am not going to attempt to tackle the complicated, and likely impossible, question of the range of actions our country might take to annul the sins of our past or to address the extraordinary damage they have done through our present.
But one thing we can and must do is to issue a formal apology for slavery, because it’s not enough to simply know that slavery existed.
Today, I signed a joint resolution passed by our General Assembly to have Delaware officially deplore, and apologize for, the reprehensible actions of generations past, because it is essential that we publicly, candidly, and wholly recognize the everlasting damage of those sins.
It’s damage that reverberates widely to this day in a country where more than 150 years after the abolishment of slavery, and decades after the official end of the Jim Crow era, being black in Delaware and in America means your likelihood of success and prosperity is less than if you are white.
The damage reverberates when we read that one out of every six black men who today should be between ages 25 and 54 have disappeared from daily life — either because of early deaths or jail sentences.
It reverberates when we realize that the income gap between black and white households is roughly the same today as it was in 1970.
It reverberates in the finding that whites born into good neighborhoods tend to remain in them and blacks are likely to fall out of them.
It reverberates in schools where the achievement gap between white and black students persists and in overcrowded prisons where the number of African-American inmates tops 80 percent in some cities.
For generations, our country denied and actively contested a basic fact of humanity: that nothing about the color of one’s skin affects that person’s innate rights to freedom and dignity. As we recognize those core values, we also admit that our history of discrimination, degradation, and depravation is a direct cause of many of the challenges we face 150 years after the ratification of the 13th amendment.
This resolution does more than write a footnote into history books that describe the atrocious conditions that some Delawareans inflicted upon people of African descent.
It marks an important moment in owning up to our responsibility to fix the long legacy of damage that continues to result in inequality and unfair obstacles for countless citizens because of their race.
That doesn’t mean we know or have the ability to implement every possible solution, but we will certainly make more progress if we understand and affirm the full extent of our problems – because despite past severe injustices and despite many failed attempts to better serve disadvantaged communities, we can have faith in our state, and our nation.
We can have faith in Martin Luther King’s timeless axiom that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.
I have faith when I see the passionate efforts of people from all background and viewpoints who work to address the needs of our inner-city students — and when once-struggling schools now earn national honors.
I have faith when I see parts of our prison populations decline and more people recognize that the appropriate method of corrections for some individuals can’t be found in a jail cell.
And I have faith when we see diverse groups in our state rally to acknowledge and confront the continuing presence of discriminatory behavior.
The great Maya Angelou eloquently said: “History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again. Lift up your eyes upon the day breaking for you.”
Delawareans have a lot to be proud of in our history, but we also know that it is not perfect.
Let’s affirm that we accept it all, face it with courage, and always look forward to the opportunities of the day before us. In doing so, we take another important step in our never-ending mission to fulfill the principles of eternal justice for all people.