Calling all white people, part 12: Approaching your apologies

Calling All White People, Part 12

(A periodic attempt to mobilize white people for something other than supporting just other melanin-deficient folks and maintaining a status quo of a nation geared toward whiteness as the baseline and the norm)

By An Average White Guy

TODAY’S EPISODE: Don’t offer sorry “I’m sorries”

[To find other installments of “Calling All White People,” click here]

So, in matters of race (and other social) sensitivity, recent weeks have seen some major fails, both in behavior that ultimately led to wounded feelings (and in one case I note below a wounded body) and then apologies that mostly left the upset parties feeling less than warm and fuzzy. I mean, there’s been the Pepsi commercial that reduced protests by marginalized people (including Black Lives Matter actions) to style, fashion and fun. And the United Airlines debacle of assaulting and dragging of an Asian-American physician off a flight. Then there was a longtime natural birthing advocate/expert dropping the ball entirely in answering a question related to birth outcomes and Black women. Furthermore, Shea Moisture, a hair products company that got where it is largely thanks to the support of Black women now seeming to turn its back on them disdainfully in its continuing plan to branch out to a wider (read: white women) demographic (and for guys who are mystified by that final item, here’s a dude-specific explanation).

We seem to pretty much be in the Era of Non-Apology Apologies, ever since this or that celebrity or politician or blogger or whomever on any given day or week in recent years has done something stupid and then said “I’m sorry” in some way that seemed to express rather minimal remorse.

But let me just say a few things. And, just like I think apologies should be short and sweet, I’ll try to keep this particular blog post short…ish.

First of all, if you’ve pretty much pissed off an entire demographic, particularly if it’s one that already gets significant crap socially on the regular and/or has a history of dragging people on social media when they screw up royally (and yes, the Black community, by and large, qualifies in a big way in these two respects)…well, you want to be very, very, extremely, awfully very diligently damn careful about how you apologize.

The truth is, if large numbers of people in a certain group are coming for you online, for example, because of something you’ve said or done (and they aren’t known whack-jobs like PETA, Stormfront, the Trump administration, etc.), you probably said or did something wrong. Hence, you probably owe an apology. So, that being said, you should actually *be* apologetic.

Unless, of course, you don’t care (in which case you probably already stopped reading this column on general principles) or sincerely don’t feel you did much wrong or even a single thing wrong (in which case be prepared to meet criticisms of you point-by-point and calmly acknowledge where you admit were wrong and solidly defend where you think were right…and be prepared to get dragged harder by at least some, if not all, of the people who called you out to begin with).

But, assuming that you really do feel bad about insulting, demeaning, marginalizing, or hurting the feelings of a group of people like, say, Black people, LGBTQ folks, Jews, etc. (or if you simply have a public image to uphold and a public relations situation to fix and you just want to *pretend* you’re sorry…in which case you’re a jerk probably), well then by God just be sorry and say so and keep it short and sweet.

Because what too many of these apologies include, and I seem to recall that apologies for all of the four major media debacles I noted at the start committed this sin, is that they try to explain, defend or deflect instead of simply saying, in some professional manner (or perhaps even in this exact manner): “I fucked up. That was not right. I’m sorry.”

The members of the offended population almost never want to see or hear the following in your apology:

  • All the good things you’ve done directly in the past for them (or people like them) or on their behalf
  • Any other things you’ve done that prove your stellar character
  • What organizations have supported you with accolades and/or humanitarian awards
  • Talk about what your “intentions” were (because often, impact is more important than intent)
  • How many friends you have in your life from the offended demographic group

In other words, if your apology is, “I’m sorry, but…” you’ve almost certainly already screwed it up and are about to dig yourself a deeper hole.

Your apology can be a long and detailed one if you think it must. Especially if you want to acknowledge specifically what you did wrong, let people know how you’re going to try to fix the situation or do better, etc. That’s up to you. But please stick to owning your shit and be contrite. You don’t have to grovel, but for goodness sake, please be sincere.

Now, I’m not saying that a solid, sincere apology will get you out of the hot water you dove into (or carelessly fell into). And even a good apology may be assumed to be insincere and you might still get dragged online and in public venues. But apologizing properly is a better start than covering your ass or trying to minimize your screwup by providing character references.
If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support. Want more BGIM? Consider booking me to speak with your group or organization.