In the news this week, the PM of the United Kingdom has given an unqualified apology for Bloody Sunday. I’ve also been reading about apologies for civilian massacres in Guatemala during the civil war. Both stories talk about how much it meant for the survivors to have the government stand up and say that what happened was wrong, and that the victims were innocent.
These stories caught my attention because we were talking about apologies for past wrongs at our Jean Vanier talk the other day. Jean Vanier spoke in his lecture about forgiveness: he said that to forgive a group, you had to start with an individual, so that you had a real human to deal with, instead of just considering the whole group as a faceless mass. As an illustration, Vanier talked about a young black woman who had hated all whites for all the oppression they had caused, and continue to cause, until she made a white friend in high school and realized that that individual, at least, was a person just like her.
And, while I hesitate to weigh in at all, from my position of privilege, I couldn’t help but wonder – while there are many things that we privileged whites have to own up to and apologize for here and now, is it fair, or productive, to hold me responsible for the abuses of generations past? Is there a statute of limitations on apologies, or is it better late than never, even if 200 years have passed? Our histories are important, especially in a multi-cultural experiment like Canada, and I don’t doubt that we have to name our mistakes, and accept them as part of our communal story, but how do we strike the balance so that we can do that, without forever looking back?