We must atone for our history. We, who had nothing to do with it, we alone can redeem it.
Beyond the fundamental exploitations underlying Western civilization generally — of nature, women, and the poor — the original sin of Americans, specifically, is our treatment of Native Americans and Africans who forcibly became African-Americans. If we could redeem those histories with five hundred years of nation-wide tribute to their lost possibilities, it would be a worthwhile way to spend half a millennium. But that assumes there can be any redemption from conquest, genocide, and enslavement.
What we can do is confess our sins, become living acknowledgments of our past, and commit ourselves to creating a world as far from that past as possible: a world in harmony with nature, with people, with itself.
First, we must be educated in the brutality of our history. For example, how can we as a society intelligently discuss “affirmative action” today if we do not acknowledge the far more affirmative actions through which the U.S. has favored some people historically? The affirmative action programs of the past include conquering native tribes and giving their land to white people, enforcing white men’s claims to own black people, and giving men but not women a say in government.