What happens when a government apologizes, and what does it mean for a government to apologize for violence, abuse, and oppression? Apart from concerns about sincerity, who has the power to apologize, who crafts the exact wording, who is commiserating, and who stands to gain or lose? Are these apologies meant to rearticulate a fractured national public around emergent mass feeling, producing a quasi-assimilationist frame in which everyone will presumably think and feel the same way about the past and inhabit a reconciliatory mood? To what extent does this genre of apology operate as a technology of rule that further strengthens the power and legitimacy of national elites or undermines the capacity of victimized, marginalized, or aggrieved populations to act and feel unapologetically demanding, mournful, or angry? Do these apologies create clean slates, make for more perfect unions, and recast perpetrators or privileged national subjects as innocent or forgiven? Is white guilt a mobilizing force for social justice or a kind of wallowing? Do these apologies perhaps benefit white people by “restructuring” a “sense of national subjectivity,” as scholars have argued for Australia’s annual apologies for the institutionalized mistreatment of indigenous people, where “sorry people” who feel a “bad conscience” and “shame” acquire, as a result of the apology, “a lifeline through which a legitimate sense of belonging in the nation may be restituted”?
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