The Florida Senate did a good thing today, and you won’t see me write those words very often. They approved a resolution apologizing for the state’s history of slavery.

In a somber Senate chamber, legislative historian John Phelps, a former House clerk, read a summary of state laws from the 19th century that strictly regulated the rights of slaves, freed blacks and those of mixed-race living in Florida.

This is a good thing to do, but before the state Senate throws its shoulder out patting itself on the back for passing a symbolic resolution that it should have passed a long time ago, let’s ask–what about the way the state, the nation for that matter, treated African-American citizens in the years since slavery? Shouldn’t there be a series of apologies for Jim Crow? For the systematic denial of human and civil liberties to people who were, as defined by the Constitution, full citizens?I bring this up because I have heard racists, when arguing against programs like Affirmative Action, say things like “slavery ended a long time ago,” which is accurate, but also a lie of omission, because African-Americans didn’t even begin to approach full citizenship until about 50 years ago, and in many ways, there’s still a long way to go.

I also bring this up because race is a troublesome topic to discuss. A lot of white people are nervous about broaching the subject, especially if they oppose racism, because they’re afraid of saying something insensitive or stupid, and being tagged as a racist. I worry about it myself. But I don’t let it stop me, because the only way I’m ever going to get better at weeding out the racial hangups I have is by trying to talk about it, and taking my lumps if and when I say something dumb.

The post I did last night on my blog about Al Sharpton and the NAACP’s involvement in the Dunbar Village rape case is an example of being really, really nervous about writing a post, about constructing my sentences carefully, about getting the facts right, because it’s a sensitive issue. And one of the comments on that post shows why–some people don’t read carefully, and see what they want to. In this case, a commenter saw it as a chance to slam African-Americans in general, which is absolutely the wrong thing to take out of that post.

One of the good things to come out of this year’s presidential race has been a more open attitude toward talking about race. We’re struggling with it as a nation, stumbling, fumbling, but at least we’re talking now, instead of acting like it all ended a long time ago. The Florida Senate did a good thing today. Now let’s move forward in history and start talking about the continued and ingrained racism that affects lives now.




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