It all began when I ended an exasperated jeremiad against the self-abasing vapidity of the official components of our last Canada Day celebration by wondering if American authorities risked being infected with the current Canadian need to spend our national holiday wallowing in the mud of historical embarrassments. I said:
Perhaps this mania will be contagious. Perhaps we shall, later this week, hear G. W. Bush declare how proud Americans should be that some of them feel rather awkward about their forbears having whipped, raped and worked to death so many black folk.
A few days later, to my horror, I had to announce that the contagion had already spread:
[L]ook at the helpful suggestion the United States Senate is passing on to the President. I really must stop thinking aloud; I'm clearly more influential than I want to be...
Still, the U.S. Congress had materialised my sardonic musings only imperfectly; the infection was weak. Now, it has achieved a full-blown splendour, as it appears that American federal politicians have decided to declare their official sorrow at the undisputed fact that their nation was a brutal racist gulag for millions of their citizens--on a scale that makes Apartheid South Africa look like Disney's conception of a NAACP theme-park--from the post-Reconstruction era until the late Eisenhower years, with the eager collaboration of shamefully and callously inert federal and judicial authorities.
To put that despicable inertia into context, we need to remember that, incredibly and despite several determined attempts, no Congressman was ever able to convince Congress to place a federal ban on lynching. In America, racist mob violence was not only tolerated but was enabled by the land's highest governmental authority. No Western nation has ever come closer to a Thousand-Year Reich.
Now, as American blacks tread daily over the red-hot coals fanned by centuries of violence and systemic contempt, I wonder how many will be prepared to take comfort in the fact that a few Capitol Hill hacks are "sorry" that their wretchedness is the tragic product of a protracted, officially-sanctioned catastrophe of colossal proportions. Some may be tempted to call this inane apology an "empty symbol"; that would be clumsily inapt. A hollow statue of the Buddha is an empty symbol, but it is also a beautiful embodiment of the divine for millions of people. Let us not demean empty symbols: Congress's act is merely empty.
Will the Curse of Dred Tory continue? May I expect to read on Monday that Congress has espoused my next suggestion? If so, let the suggestion be this--that Congress sweeten its apology for slavery by extending to Canada the honour of an official acknowledgment of the heroism with which, as the terminus of the Underground Railroad, we welcomed tens of thousands of their fugitive slaves as political refugees and bestowed upon them the civil liberties unavailable anywhere in their own nation. Such an acknowledgment becomes urgent, as American willingness to watch their historic Underground Railroad sites crumble into dilapidation may soon wipe out the whole era from what small space it occupies in their collective memory.
Alas, I do not suppose that the Canadian contagion will spread quite that far. Nevertheless, it is really quite touching to see that, when it comes to cynical, opportunistic political correctness, the Americans are, for once, willing to learn from their betters.