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Sorry Excuses

Valley leaders say a simple apology could ring hollow if not followed by meaningful reparations to those truly in need

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor

A SAMPLING OF AFRICAN AMERICAN OPINION in the Silicon Valley shows that while many are dead set against an apology for slavery, there is strong sentiment for some form of reparations. "I don't think that the country today should apologize for something that ended more than 100 years ago," says Tommy Fulcher Jr., chairman of the San Jose Chamber of Commerce. "If the people of that time had done that, well, maybe it would have meant something to me. But now? It doesn't mean anything."

San Jose Human Rights Commission chairman and high-tech corporation executive Craig Mann agrees. "I guess some people feel good about an apology," he says. "Others say, 'So what?' I'm in the 'so what' camp. I'd agree with an apology only so long as it's coupled with actions and measurable results. Otherwise, it's just hollow." Mann says that he can only speak on this issue as an individual and not in his capacity as Human Rights Commission chairman, since the matter has not come before the commission.

Another human rights commissioner, also speaking as an individual, agrees with Mann. "If it's not a true apology, then I don't want it," says Warren Vincent, explaining that a "true apology" was one that didn't have to be asked for. "Anyhow, what the hell is an apology? I know what you did, and you know what you did. I won't say it's a stupid policy. It's just not necessary." Vincent says that there are too many serious problems that the nation should be dealing with to be wasting time with apologizing. "Let's look at what's happening in the medical schools or the law schools. [African Americans] are being cut out of the mainstream of life. They should do things like get rid of the glass ceilings. But an apology? I get a sore spot about that. It's crap."

But both Fulcher and Mann say that the problem with reparations is in the implementation.

"There is no question that this country got a giant economic boost from the unpaid labor of slaves," Fulcher says. "The problem is, how do you identify the people who that debt is owed to? I'm not sure that I would trust some members of an economic development bank--who I don't know and who I didn't choose--to receive something that's due to me and to apply it in my best interest. If it's due to me, give it to me."

"The question of reparations is not if they should be given, but how it is packaged, and who it is distributed to," Mann says. "There should be a needs assessment, just as there should have been a needs assessment for affirmative action. It shouldn't go to people who don't need it. Does Michael Jackson need reparations?" Faced with the counter-argument that Jackson might not apply because he no longer thinks that he is black, Mann breaks up laughing. "Hello!" he says. "OK, true. But well, Bill Cosby's kids, they don't need reparations. So there has to be some formula to choose who gets them and who doesn't."

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From the Oct. 2-8, 1997 issue of Metro.

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