Tuesday, July 08, 2003

Message to war-torn, famine-stricken, AIDS-ravaged Africa: "Hey guys, sorry about that whole slavery thing."

As nice as it is to see that Bush's history studies have included a unit on the North American slave trade, it's hard not to want to smack him for this speech.

"At this place, liberty and life were stolen and sold," the president said. "One of the largest migrations of history was also one of the greatest crimes of the century."

Mr. Bush condemned slavery in unflinching and strikingly religious terms that seemed to be aimed as much at an audience at home as to the small crowd on the island that listened to him under the blazing sun.

"For 250 years the captives endured an assault on their culture and their dignity," Mr. Bush said. "The spirit of Africans in America did not break. Yet the spirit of their captors was corrupted.

Is it worthwhile to nitpick that there's a slight difference between a century and 250 years, or that mass kidnapping can't really be called migration? But those are just distractions from the real problem here. Could this speech be more condescending? "Hey don't worry that we're not committing any real help now. Just remember that we are really, really sorry about kidnapping your ancestors for slaves."

And could someone please tell him that invoking names of famous Americans and African Americans doesn't make a whole lot of sense in Africa?

Mr. Bush credited African-Americans with "exposing laws and habits contradicting" the ideals of God and political freedom. And he cited the contributions of both black and white people, from Frederick Douglas and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to John Quincy Adams and Abraham Lincoln, to ending slavery and addressing its legacy.

I think he missed the chaper where slavery continues long after the trans-Atlantic slave trade is over and American abolition didn't have a huge affect in Africa.

It's fascinating how in trying to prove how much he cares he ends up showing how little he understands. By now this is no longer surprising, but's still disgusting. It's not that the discussion of the slave trade has no place in how to solve the current problems, but it's never contextualized. The standard set by the slave trade made way for colonization, which in turn made way for Cold War maneuvering, which has a lot to with what's happening now.

It seems as though Bush's words rang pretty hollow live as well.

It was hard to get much sense of the reaction here to Mr. Bush's visit. His motorcade into Dakar from the airport this morning passed hundreds of Senegalese people, most of whom showed little emotion. The president's speech this morning on Goree Island was to an invited audience that did not fill the available seats and that applauded politely.

UPDATE: Apparently I misspoke. Bush wasn't giving a half-assed apology but rather a half-assed NON-apology.That first line should instead read, "Hey guys, slavery sucked so we'll kind of apologize but not really."

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