WASHINGTON -- I have never been among those who demanded an official apology for the institution of slavery in these United States.
I fear that such an apology would be only lip service and would enable millions of contemporary Americans to absolve themselves of any blame for the residuals of slavery that are still very much a part of American life.
Yet, I have no quarrel with President Clinton over what he said about slavery or about U.S. neglect of Africa.
In fact, I am incensed that some right-wing politicians and publications are pretending that Mr. Clinton committed heresy when he expressed his shame about slavery and U.S. inaction during times of genocide in Africa.
I would like to think that the assaults on the president come only from those who grasp at ridiculous chances to discredit him. After all, most critics of his African remarks reveal their political bias by throwing in the gratuitous argument that he ought really be apologizing to Paula Jones, Kathleen Willey and Monica Lewinsky.
But I see in some attacks on the president's comments in Africa a thinly veiled contempt for Africa and black people in general.
Pat Buchanan, who laced his presidential campaign with rhetoric about his angst over seeing the sons of slaves "playing bongo drums on street corners . . . in my city [Washington, D.C.]," now accuses the president of "groveling" before Africans because he dared to say that "the U.S. has not always done right by Africa."
You see where Mr. Buchanan is coming from when he writes: "When Europeans arrived in sub-Sahara Africa, the inhabitants had no machinery and no written language. When the Europeans departed, most of them by 1960, they left behind power stations, telephones, telegraphs, railroads, mines, plantations, schools, a civil service, a police force and a treasury.
"After Europe let its colonies go, many descended into chaos within a decade."
Why doesn't old Pat just flat out say that the "superior" Europeans did "inferior" Africans a favor by imposing colonialism? Then he can extend that "logic" by arguing that all of the slaves brought to the United States, and their progeny, were and are blessed to endure servitude beneath the superior white slave masters because slavery gave us black people a chance to absorb some European intelligence and civilization.
Thomas Jefferson had the guts to call slavery a wretched abomination when it had wide support in America; can anyone expect William Jefferson Clinton to do less than deplore it in 1998?
The Washington Times takes umbrage at Mr. Clinton's statement that "the American government for many years, in effect, was complicit in the apartheid of South Africa." The president spoke the truth. The Times tries to justify U.S. support for or condoning of apartheid with the argument that "Mr. Mandela's African National Congress was dominated by communists."
That argument has been debunked by both President Nelson Mandela and the passage of time. And it is odious to suggest that the United States was right to stand against people who suffered the most brutal oppression, including murder, because of the color of their skin just because right-wingers thought those victims were not friends of this country during the Cold War.
These strident critics of the president's remarks in Africa are making Bill Clinton look like a saint.
Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.
Pub Date: 4/02/98