Apology Not Accepted 6

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!

About Candelaria Silva

Candelaria Silva-Collins is a marketing, community outreach and programming consultant; writer; and trainer/facilitator who lives in Boston, Massachusetts. She has designed and facilitated workshops on a wide variety of topics including communication, facilitation, job search skills, team building, and parenting issues. She currently coordinates the Community Membership Program of the Huntington Theatre Company. Her work as Director of ACT Roxbury was profiled in several publications, including The Creative Communities Builders Handbook. Candelaria’s children’s stories, short stories, essays and reviews have been published in local and national publications and she is an active blogger. Her publications include the booklets, Handling Rejection; Pushing through Shyness: Networking Tips when You’re Shy, Slow to Warm Up or Just don’t Feel you Belong; and Real Questions about Sex & Relationships for Teens: A Discussion Guide for Parents. She has served on the boards of Goddard College, Wheelock Family Theatre, Boston Foundation for Architecture, and Discover Roxbury. She is currently Chair, Designators of the Henderson Foundation.

6 thoughts on “Apology Not Accepted

  • LeeAnn

    I did not see the articles/photos that you referenced but I am so deeply ashamed. I wish I could think of something appropriate to say; but I am only left with sorrow. ~Lee

  • shytoo

    There are no shortage of fools in the world, but don’t let them get you down! Keep noticing and speaking out. Your words are powerful and we (caucasions) feel your collective hurt and are saddened, sickened, and outraged with you! Whatever you are speaking to and about, it is always so richly described and the fabric of who you are leads you to seek the truth & speak the truth. You are a treasure! You and your words are a force of change. Thank you, Candelaria!
    I think NECN should employ you to do a commentary at least once a week that they can run on their 24/7 channnel.

  • DC

    Amen to that. I second (and third) everything you said. Ever since DH and I started telling friends and family that we are adopting from Ethiopia, we have heard quite a few racially insensitive comments. Don’t get me wrong; the vast majority of people have been extremely supportive. But there are always a few idiots in the bunch.

    Glad I found your blog. I’ve really enjoyed your posts.

    I just started blogging yesterday (just in time for NaComLeavMo!), so please stop by and say hello if you get a chance. :)


  • rachel

    I agree for the most part. Many people make comments and then won’t stand up to what they said.

    On the other hand, I have in the past made a comment, got more educated on the subject, and then had to correct my previous statement.

    Even if it is hard though you must own up to your words.

  • Sam

    That is such a profound thing to say and I could not agree more in that people are too ready to hide behind an apology that is (probably) not at all heartfelt.

    We should all think about what we mean before we say it, but then I guess that this is your point – people DONT think and simply just say what comes to mind.

    As with Rachel above I do think that if something was said unthinkingly and that person is willing to be re-educated then that is an opportunity not to be missed.

  • Jonnie B

    I argee. Perhaps is my upbringing that keeps me from even thinking such stupid things.

    Now I wait for your thoughts on the rantings and ravings of Rev. Al Sharpton & Jesse Jackson =) Or have you already?

    Always enjoy reading (even though I don’t post…. but here’s a start)

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