26 September 2016
A sincere apology requires acknowledgment of personal wrongdoing, while reparations may just involve paying off someone who has been wronged. In Chapter 5 Spelman describes these difference when she states,
Even if those responsible for the payments are also the guilty party, neither an admission of such guilt nor an expression of sorrow of regret for their deeds is necessary in order for reparations to be achieved. The reparations process has determined that a certain sum is due the payees, the payers only have to produce that sum. It doesn’t matter whether they feel remorse for their actions (80).
She is saying that reparations are an easier way for people to repair things because they are not putting themselves in a vulnerable state. An apology provides an expression of guilt and regret while waiting for the person who is receiving the apology to respond. Apologies are a two way street because the person receiving the apology may forgive and move on or simply not accept it.This is why it is a lot easier for people to try to just fix their wrongdoings with money or other types of reparations.
Reparations may seem to fix a situation when a person thinks that money can fix anything everything. However, that is not always the case because how can someone be sincerely sorry if they can’t even express their regret? One of my friends had a boyfriend that cheated on her. He thought that buying her expensive gifts and taking her out to dinner would be able to fix the situation because he thought it would show that he cared about her. It was a lot easier for him to just spend money on her then actually open up and explain how sorry he was. Maybe he thought it would help alleviate some of the guilt he was feeling without having to express his emotions. Apologizing would definitely have put him in an extremely vulnerable state because expressing sorrow for a fault he committed was extremely difficult for him. Yet, if he had given a heartfelt apology for what he did, this would show more maturity and responsibility for his actions. Spelman states, “if reparations means from the side of the payers not having to say you’re sorry, it also means from the side of the payees not being called upon to forgive, not being pressed to forgo resentment” (82). Spelman is simply trying to illustrate here that if there is no apology given, no forgiveness has to be given either. Even though spending money on someone might show that you care for them, it does not show any personal or emotional sorrow to those who suffered the injustice. This supports Spelmans concept of apologies requiring a person to expose his or herself to the possibility of being rejected or ignored which is why many people choose to try and use reparations as a substitute to expressing how they feel.
Money cannot bring back people who have lost their lives or even bring complete comfort back to those who lost someone close to them. Another example of someone choosing to pay for their mistakes instead of apologizing would be when NFL linebacker Ray Lewis was involved with a murder trial in which he was originally charged with stabbing and killing two people after leaving a party. Lewis ended up paying the families of the victims a large sum of money to try to make them feel better, but it would never bring the two men who were killed back. Their families would never get to see them again. They never had the chance to say their final goodbyes. Simply paying them might have shown he cared and felt remorse but no type of emotion or thoughts of sorrow were necessary for him to do this. This further supports what Spelman illustrates throughout Chapter 5 which is the difference in scenes between reparations and apologies. An apology leaves room for the recipient to answer and forgive while a reparations do not involve as many feelings or emotions. Therefore no forgiveness is necessary because he never admitted and apologized for the atrocities he brought to the family.
As a kid growing up, I was always taught that “actions speak louder than words”. Yet I don’t think that this is always the case. I think apologies speak a lot louder than paying people off. Any time I would get in trouble for something like fighting with my sister, I was taught that I had to say sorry like I meant it. I would have to explain what I was sorry for and promise that I wouldn’t do it again. Likewise, if two kids get in a fight on the playground, an adult doesn’t teach them to go buy each other stuff in order to fix the situation. The kids are taught that they have say they are sorry and that they won’t do it again. So where does this idea come from that paying people off will fix the problem? I think that as people get older and their problems become more complicated, they feel intimidated and are unable to apologize which is something that they learned how to do as a child. Personally if someone wronged me, I would much rather have them apologize to my face than have them just buy me something.
Even though Spelman seems to favor apologies over reparations, she makes it clear that an apology is only sufficient if the person apologizing is responsible for some type of inexcusable action. Spelman says, “Money cannot substitute for the admission of inexcusable wrongdoing entailed by apology, but an apology without acknowledgment of the multiple costs of oppression and exploitation seems unknowing and insincere” (90). She is saying here that you can’t try to apologize for something that you haven’t done. It is completely meaningless to a person who has been wronged when someone else tries to apologize to them for something someone else did. In 1997, Spelman described how President Bill Clinton apologized to the victims of slavery almost 30 years prior. While this may offer some comfort to these victims it is extremely misleading to all those who who were hurt when someone else tries to apologize to them who had nothing to do with the situation. They can’t forgive someone for actions they didn’t do, so what is the point of apologizing if there is not a chance of forgiveness?
Repair is a necessary part of life and as humans we encounter so many different types of repair every single day. Whether it is as simple as an apology repairing a friendship, or as complex as a repair job on a car , it is inevitable, repairing is constantly happening all around us. We live in a broken world where it is part of the human condition to want to fix everything to make it perfect. Spelman talks about the different means of repairing throughout the book and emphasizes the differences between reparations and apologies. Even though reparations and apologies both aim to fix a situation, the degree which they are able to do this differ. Spelman explains how reparations means “not having to say you’re sorry”(78). How can someone completely forgive someone else for an injustice if the person who commits the wrongdoing can never even apologize? Therefore, this never completely repairs the situation if the wrongdoer is never forgiven. Reparations may be able to make a situation better, but a genuine apology shows so much more responsibility and remorse.