Take Your Apology and…


By: Warner Todd Huston

You know, outrage can be a good thing. It is often times useful for people to get outraged over a past slight so that a community might be spurred to action to correct real societal ills. But is the hanging of a “witch” or two over 300 years ago something we should waste our time being outraged over now?

Well, it seems to be a good idea as far as one outraged woman in Connecticut is concerned. Three years ago, Debra Avery discovered she was a direct descendent of one Mary Sanford, a woman hanged for being a witch in the Connecticut of 1692.

Yes, I said 1692.

Armed with the sudden knowledge that she is the eighth-generation great-granddaughter of Mary Sanford, Avery decided to take her case to the state legislature to have her ancestor exonerated. She claimed she was on a “personal mission” to wipe out a stigma on her family name. Legislators in Hartford said that they were considering a resolution to free descendants from that “stigma” of witchcraft accusations.

You’d be excused if you just rolled your eyes at the silliness of it all and you’d also be exhibiting the proper reaction to the whole business.

Let’s be honest here. There IS no “stigma” to being descended from a person accused of witchcraft and hanged, burned at the stake, dunked in a river, or even made to wear a pointy hat and carry a broom, for that matter. Maybe if it happened 10 years ago, Avery might have a case, but not since it happened over 300 years ago.

In fact, for her entire life our nouveau outraged Mrs. Avery never had the slightest clue that she was related to someone hanged as a witch. She was born, went through school, passed through adolescence, got married and had kids, all without ever knowing she had any “stigma” hanging over her head. She never knew a thing about this past until she got interested in her genealogy.

But, here is the thing about “stigma.” It isn’t something hidden. It is something right out in the open, so much so that everyone around you holds it against you. It is a blot on your name that everyone mutters about behind your back, a flaw or a mark that is plain to see. In fact it was once a word that meant a brand seared into the flesh of a slave. It also defines the marks in the palms and feet of Christ that occurred from his crucifixion. These are all public, obvious, known things.

So, the question becomes: if 300 years went by before anyone found out your family had a member hanged as a witch, is that a stigma on your name?

I’d have to say no, wouldn’t you?

So, what we have here is a woman that turned her little genealogy hobby into a waste of time for a state legislature. We have a busy body mother and wife who is wasting the time of everyone around her over her faux outrage about something that happened in a long lost age, over ideas and concepts that have long since passed into obscurity and derision, and over a slight that no one on the planet but she has any interest in.

This is the sort of outrage that is wasted energy. But it is the same sort of outrage we see constantly inveighed by people who want apologies for things that have been so well repudiated, things that even bring about revulsion now. Such absurd outrage causes people to wonder what the big deal really is at this late a date and serves to trivialize what really happened.

This is the same sort of faux outrage we see from black Americans who want “apologies” or even reparations for slavery. It is foolish to imagine that an “apology” given 150 years after the end of a thing is in any way meaningful. No one is left on any side of the issue to either honestly offer or graciously accept such an apology. It happened. Deal with it.

Let us apologize for Jim Crow laws. There are still people alive today responsible for those laws. But, it is a waste of time to apologize for people that are long dead over ideas and actions long discredited by the largest number of people in society today. An apology is meaningless unless given by those responsible for a slight to those who were on the receiving end of that slight.

There ain’t any witches being persecuted by the state in 2008. Just as there are no black slaves, no interred Japanese Americans, and no signs warning that “Irish need not apply” in any storefront windows anymore. Catholics can vote. Jews can hold public office and women can own property.

I’m not “sorry” for anything that happened in the many generations that came before me. Yes, there have been a LOT of stigmas from the past. But it’s how we deal with what we do today that matters. What is past, is past. We must learn from it, understand it, see how it is we got here from those decisions made by our ancestors. But it is senseless to apologize for it. We are not responsible for it. It just IS.

So, Mrs. Avery, I find it very interesting that your ancestor was accused as a witch. It is horrible that she was hanged for such a stupid thing. It was absurd of our ancestors to believe in witchcraft. But I see no reason to apologize for something that causes you no ill will from your neighbors and for something that hasn’t happened to anyone else for 300 years.

I do, however, think you owe all of us an apology. You should apologize for wasting our time and the tax money used to fund the government that wasted its time on your silly resolution. And you should apologize for forcing us all for taking time away from important matters.

So, how about it Mrs. Avery? Are ya sorry? If not, you should be.

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