Should you apologise for the crimes of your ancestors? And should the state make financial reparations to atone for such crimes?
These two questions have arisen after Jamaica’s National Reparations Commission called upon the British prime minister, David Cameron, to ‘apologise personally’ because ‘his forefathers were slave owners’. Jamaica’s president, Portia Simpson Miller, has also raised the issue of Britain paying financial reparations to Jamaica, as recompense for Britain’s role in the slave trade.
The two answers here are – obviously – no, and no. First of all, you can’t apologise for something you didn’t do. It’s an effortless and insincere gesture, serving only to make any ersatz penitent appear virtuous – saying sorry for a bad thing you have actually done takes real courage.