Toward a rhetoric of symbolic reparations : overlapping genres in George W. Bush's apology for slavery.
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Wagner, Zachary R.
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In 2003, George W. Bush apologized for slavery at Goree Island in Senegal, which was the site of the largest market for slaves during America's slave period. This apology contains both a mythic and a mundane frame for understanding the crime and sin of slavery, clearly separated by Bush's language choices. Examining both frames allows the best understanding of what Bush attempted to accomplish, displacing blame for a spiritual crime onto a mundane world. This conception allows him to create an America which is mythic, rewrite the historical narrative with black agency responsible for emancipation, and begin a process of identification which is at the heart of reconciliation rhetoric. He both atones and engages image-restoration discourse, and in doing so, avoids many of the criticisms leveled at other examples of both his epideictic discourse and general presidential rhetoric regarding slavery. The literature base surrounding the idea of reparations for slavery presents a clear space where this apology needs to go in order to move past the legacy of slavery and begin the process of reconciliation. I will examine here both the historical and current meanings of reparations, and show how Bush effectively engages reparations rhetoric. This form of symbolic reparations is important, because it is distinct from presidential apology, atonement, jeremiad, reconciliation, and other genres, even though it mixes many of the strategies normally associated with one or more of those forms. Understanding the message is critical to unraveling a complex historical narrative of race regarding Bush, and understanding the current state of United States relationship with slavery.