Apologizing, race relations and the American Dream - Abdullah Ahmad

...continued from page 1

Clinton had warned that the United States was in danger of becoming two nations, one Black and one White, and he would like the United States to become "the world's first truly multi-racial democracy " If there is a multicultural democracy in this world today, then it is the United States argued Glassman, and I agree with him up to a point. He said during the last 15 years, the number of blacks with university degrees rose by 139%.

American leading politician General Colin Powell, by polls, entertainer Oprah Winfrey, by income, and sports figure Michael Jordan or, may be, Tiger Woods, are Black - or, as the latter properly prefers it, multi-racial. All these achievements would have been unimaginable a few years ago.

It is a good gesture on the part of Clinton and Congress. At the same time no one should be under any illusion that an apology alone is going to heal new and old wounds or improve race relations. It will help only if the government at all levels focuses more clearly and sincerely on the difficult and urgent task of improving race relations by uncovering and punishing discrimination, improving inner cities, housing, health service, education and enlarging equal opportunities.

The American society that Clinton seeks and which every American also cherishes is a colour blind nation if it were possible. If that is the endgame, then the people must reject racism to make the United States a truly healthy and vibrant multi-cultural democracy. At present the United States remains conspicuously divided along racial and economic lines. The economic disparity can and must be narrowed so that there will be more integrated living. As it is, everyone is equal but separate. I am optimistic it can be done, and will be done to achieve the American Dream.

At the other end of the globe in Australia, Prime Minister John Howard has refused to apologise to 100,000 aborigines taken from their parents and placed in White foster homes in an effort to give them a better future. He won't, he says.

He is wrong. The Economist says an apology to the aborigines would serve two purposes: "First, it would soften the sense of grievance of those who suffered at first hand the effects of an inhumane policy, which ended only in the 1960s. It would. in other words, perform the same task as everyday apology offered by one person to another after an admitted mistake.

"Second, it would, in a small way, change Australia's sense of itself so that such policies would less likely to happen in future. Postwar Germany's readiness to express remorse for Nazi wrongs has been an integral part of the evolution of a benign Germany democracy. Postwar Japan's reluctance to be as abject or explicit remains a stain on the national character."

If an apology would do some good like promoting goodwill and ease healing, then I think Clinton and Congress should issue a statement, but don't ignore the hard and difficult task ahead if he wants racial harmony and solidarity to be part of his legacy.

Dato' Abdullah Ahmad is Malaysia's Special Envoy to the United Nations

(This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of SUN )