I am sick and tired of public figures, be they bloggers, pundits, or politicians, saying racist, misogynistic, and other offensive things and then apologizing, as though apologies wipe away responsibility; as though apologizing takes them off the hook; as though apologies will lessen the pain.
Instead I want them to tell the truth and stand behind what they said. You said it. You meant it. Instead of apologizing for saying what you said, how about being honest. How about saying, something like, “Even though I’ve lived for ___ years, I didn’t realize that putting an image of a Black woman, i.e., Michelle Obama, in a KKK lynching poster would be offensive and hurtful.” (The Daily Kos) Or saying,”That was Barack Obama. He Just tripped off a chair. He was getting ready to speak. Somebody aimed a gun at him and he…he dove for the floor.” (Huckabee) Or, “I didn’t know that calling Black female basketball players ‘nappy headed ho’s’ would cause a firestorm.” (Don Imus)
After admitting this, they then need to go on to say, “while I meant what I said or did at the time, I have now come to realize because of the reaction that was I said was hurtful, comes from a disturbing history of hateful things that people like me have said about Black and brown people. I realize that I need to get educated about history and figure out why I used the image that I did, why I think what I think. I’m going to take myself somewhere to get educated and I am going to work on changing my beliefs about Black and other brown people and women.”
Whenever I find myself getting too comfortable in this skin I’m in and start feeling really happy about the progress being made, someone opens their mouth or posts an image that makes me realize that I’d better not get so comfortable that I think we’ve reached the promised land. I try not to get bent out of shape over small things and to remember a childhood ditty that “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Unfortunately, these words and images do hurt, do keep us stuck.
It is hard not to be provoked when people – however they identify themselves – do to a Black woman or man’s image what they would not do and do not do to white people’s images or so say things that they do not say about other whites. It’s clear that the people at The Daily Kos who posted the image of Michelle Obama as a sexualized lynching victim of the KKK (since removed) have no diversity on staff. When I used to do diversity training, I used to tell white people that they needed to get a cultural ambassador with whom they could check whether certain things were offensive or ask the questions they wanted to ask but shouldn’t ask anyone but someone who’d agreed to listen to them and give them a reality check, history lesson, and filter. (I also said that this person should get paid for this service.)
So many people, live in a world where they only seem to talk and listen to people like themselves and therefore don’t know people who are different from them. It seems that it is easy for some people to continue to deny our humanity and to keep us Black and brown people back in the times that used to be. It’s clear that a lot of people on the net and in the media go for the sensational which ranges from sophomoric to offensive to disturbing. The various media dogs have learned that they can provoke and get noticed and don’t give a damn about creating fresh wounds or inflicting damage to existing scar tissue. How could Huckabee not stifle those words? There are a lot of us praying that Obama won’t be assassinated because we know that there are people out there who would take him out and have threatened to do so. (I say this as a person who often thinks vicious thoughts when I am angered, pissed or feel powerless but who does not let them leave my mouth. Once said, words can not be taken back.)
I, for one, don’t want apologies. Somehow, we’ve become a culture where, instead of standing behind what we say or thinking thoughtfully before we say things, just put it out there with the fall back strategy “I can always apologize.” I want people to begin to think deeply, question and change their images and notions of people not like them, substitute their mother’s image for the one’s they have of us brown people and say, “would this image be okay if it was my mother or wife or father?”
People need to learn to put things in draft form, think about then carefully, before releasing them into the world. Once they put it out there – it says to me that they meant what they posted, wrote, or said. And I say, stand behind your words or shut up!
The only good thing about these gaffes is that they allow us to really know how we are seen and what people really think. It may hurt like hell, but the truth will always set you free and let you know who/what you’re really dealing with!