The Politics of Official Apologies


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It suggests, at their worst, such apologies can be misused to pander to various electoral groups. Identity politics describes the process by which minorities — including ethnic groups, aboriginals, religious organizations and in some cases women and homosexuals — sometimes demand greater respect, recognition and aid from society.

Key ethnic group leaders, such as S. Given the pressures, the B. It should perhaps come as no surprise that one key academic research paper on public apologies is titled Just Pretending. The paper explores the hypocrisy inherent in governments apologizing to minority groups, especially aboriginals, without introducing the reforms that could actually bring them long-term justice. Another important study of political apologies, led by Craig Blatz at the University of Waterloo, suggested yet more downsides to official displays of regret.


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Indeed, white Canadians were more pleased than anyone with the apology. Go figure. But there was a more disturbing finding by the intrepid Waterloo team. In other words, the researchers found this political apology and others may not have even accomplished the stated goal — which is to encourage members of a supposedly aggrieved minority to feel a more integral part of the wider community. If the discovery of the B. You are commenting using your WordPress.

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You are commenting using your Twitter account. You are commenting using your Facebook account. Notify me of new comments via email. But can apologies also be divisive? Not many Canadians have explored the potentially dark sides of political apologies. Until now. Premier Christy Clark in Chinese outfit.

The Politics of Official Apologies

First they must decide whether to do anything at all, and if so, what and for how long. The same is true in long-established democracies. Yet in older democracies, these decisions are in need of more explanation precisely because the claimed injustices, many dating back to national beginnings, are seemingly too deeply and complexly implicated in founding and settlement to be effectively remedied by actions taken today. Despite differences, both the old and the new share this fundamental similarity: There are injustices that are seen to require attention and action, even if they cannot be fully remedied.

This all underscores the point that an explanation of apologies in long-established democracies requires analytics similar to those employed in the study of transitional justice: identification of the independent variables and causal mechanisms that lead to demands or offers of apologies. The first set of actors is mobilized minority groups. This sharp differentiation between minority and majority group members on the one hand, and 29 30 Elster As scholars have documented, these policies were driven, in significant measure, by economic imperatives.

State policies sought either to assimilate Aboriginal peoples or physically eliminate them, thereby facilitating alienation from their lands. Finally, differences in political standing between indigenous peoples and African Americans distinguish their experiences, historically and presently, and bear directly on their political objectives. American federal authorities, for example, 31 32 33 34 Cornell 40—5. Wolfe Australian scientists were not alone in their views about Aboriginal extinction. As Patrick Brantlinger analyzes, from the late eighteenth century to the twentieth century, European and American beliefs and theories about extinction explained and justified the decimation of indigenous populations.

Brantlinger McGregor Indeed, much of the legal and political contention today in all four countries centers on determining the content and scope of Aboriginal rights, native title, and self-government. In contrast, the political status of African Americans was determined first by slavery and then by a racial caste system.

Apology to Australia's Indigenous peoples (2008)

Enslaved persons were thought of and treated as property, not as citizens, thereby evading the prevailing legal assumption that American citizenship was acquired through birthright. Such was not the case with free African Americans, whose citizenship should have been unassailable, given they that were either born in free states or of free parents or had been manumitted, and were not slaves or Native Americans. Wilkins Kettner The Civil War amendments, specifically the thirteenth — which abolished slavery and involuntary servitude — and the fourteenth — which affirmed both national and birthright citizenship while also guaranteeing enjoyment of the basic rights of life, liberty, and property and equal protection of the law — seemingly settled the basic principles of American citizenship.

As is well known, de jure racial segregation in the southern American states and de facto segregation throughout the rest of the country vitiated, to varying degrees, these constitutional rights and privileges until the mids. The second set of actors is state officials: elected politicians, government officials, and political appointees.

In several of our cases, either a government official or a legislature enabled an official commission and charged that these bodies investigate a given issue. Members of these commissions have included government agency heads, judges, elected politicians, minority group leaders, and scholars.


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The third set of actors is intellectuals, principally historians, who have emerged as important players because their scholarship contributes both to the public record and influences public opinion, to varying degrees. Their participation extends far beyond serving on the aforementioned official commissions. Historical scholarship has often corresponded with, or is at least perceived as corresponding with, a political viewpoint, which has led in turn to charges of bias and partisanship.

Furthermore, recent interpretations of Australian history that emphasize Aboriginal dispossession not only seemingly challenge the moral authority of the state, but also support the pivotal High Court Mabo v.

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Queensland decision affirming native title. In general, indigenous groups are opposed to formal equality because it establishes symmetrical terms of citizenship, where indigenous peoples are treated the same as and assumed to have the same political allegiances as everyone else. But, of course, their claims to sovereignty and unjust dispossession distinguish them from every other group of citizens.

On this view, 41 42 43 44 Bonnell and Crotty Elster Cairns Their desire for change is rooted in a deep sense of grievance of having been subjugated and disregarded.

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Attending to their grievances, as they see it, requires both apology and concrete political and economic alterations. Their larger political strategy is, in some respects, backward looking, although the ultimate desired goal is to reshape their political future.

Apologies, then, are logical, although not inevitable, outgrowths of this larger strategy. For African Americans, the circumstances are different, and the demands for apology and reparations are rooted less in dissatisfaction with the goals of formal equality than with their nonachievement and limits. African Americans are still not treated like everyone else, usually in negative ways. Demands for an apology and reparations might be viewed as reactions not only to the failures of formal equality such as those of civil rights laws , but also to the inability of circumscribed race-conscious policies to remedy persistent and deeply rooted inequities.

They are dissatisfied with the current state of affairs and desire to alter policies toward Aboriginal peoples. The decision to offer or decline to offer an apology can suggest a marked change in government policy. Political ideology points the direction of such change. In general, liberal parties, in keeping with their view of the sanctity of individual rights and the virtues of limited government, have advocated for undifferentiated citizenship and against group rights for indigenous peoples. Christian and Campbell ; Bennett 57— Today, Australian Prime Minister Howard ignores calls for a treaty and recognition of Aboriginal group rights.

He refuses to apologize largely because an apology would signal agreement with Aboriginal demands. In contrast, labor parties, in keeping with their commitments to collectivism and social equality, have been more supportive of group claims. It is important to note, however, that for much of the twentieth century, political parties in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States paid little attention to indigenous issues.

Bennett Turner 1— For certain state actors, an apology is the morally correct action in light of the historical record. Drawing from social identity theories in social psychology, researchers have found that when persons identify with a group, and accept that their group is responsible for harmful actions against another group, they feel guilty, even if they themselves are not personally responsible. But the Congress as an institution bears responsibility. House of Representatives H Branscombe and Dooseje 3.


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McGarty et al. Research on the attitudes of ordinary Australians confirms that individuals who did not believe that their group was responsible for Aboriginal disadvantage neither felt guilty nor were supportive of apology. Democratic institutions best enable, imperfectly and incompletely, the expression and pursuit of preferences. These treaties and arrangements anchor minority claims in institutional processes and not mere complaint.

[PDF] The politics of official apologies - Semantic Scholar

They also provide the language and implements needed for effective mobilization by highlighting the relevance of historical claims of injustice to contemporary politics. Indigenous groups refer to broken treaties and to designated bureaucratic policies, constitutional protections, and laws. Howard Each family of freed slaves was to be given 40 acres and a mule. In , Republican representative Thaddeus Stevens proposed a slave-reparations bill that did not pass.

We are different, but this difference does not preclude a dichotomous approach to the enjoyment of human rights, both individual and collective. It should be understood that our rights are different from but equal to the rights of nonindigenous people. The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission is empowered to handle complaints, review legislation, and conduct research, all in light of the Racial Discrimination Act of and other laws.

The Politics of Official Apologies The Politics of Official Apologies
The Politics of Official Apologies The Politics of Official Apologies
The Politics of Official Apologies The Politics of Official Apologies
The Politics of Official Apologies The Politics of Official Apologies
The Politics of Official Apologies The Politics of Official Apologies
The Politics of Official Apologies The Politics of Official Apologies
The Politics of Official Apologies The Politics of Official Apologies
The Politics of Official Apologies The Politics of Official Apologies
The Politics of Official Apologies The Politics of Official Apologies

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