I have been thinking about whether or not to write this for a while. Yoruba people say that you do not comment on everything you see. Silence is often golden. But I saw something today which took the biscuit – more like the akara, really. And nobody messes with my akara. You can have the moin-moin, but step away from the akara.
So this woman and her partner, went to a kids’ party and traumatised them by using racial slurs, threatening to kill them and waving the Confederate flag. Because… Who cares? I don’t. So after being sentenced to 6 years in jail, she purports to apologise. Watch supposed apology below.
The gist of her apology is ‘I am a good person, and it is unfortunate you had this bad experience.’ I see this kind of thing over and over again in public apologies, like there is a template somewhere, that everyone uses. The structure is standard. First explain how you are blameless, then express some emotion at the bad experience of the other person had, experience that you directly caused but are not responsible for. This type of apology is mostly targeted at an oppressed group. Very much a symbol of our dominator culture. Black people are told that the apologiser is sorry for offence caused, women are told that the apology is for their hurt feelings. There are so many problems with this format of apology, but the major thing is that the apology is for the offence caused, not the act itself.
So let us break it down, offence is a choice that the receiver of the wrong action makes but offence is not what makes an action or statement of the giver of offence objectionable, but the inherent objectionability of said statement or action. If you use offensive language in the woods and nobody hears is the statement offensive? Yes. Was anyone offended? No. Should you apologise? Who to? Should you be remorseful? Of course yes! Many people respond to objectionable comments targeted at groups with statements such as ‘I am a member of group X, and I am not offended.’ So? Who cares?! The statement is offensive irrespective of offence received. Apologising for ‘offence caused’ prefaces the apology on the other person’s decision to take offence and completely abdicates responsibility for action taken/words spoken. By premising the apology with a statement about the speaker’s goodness, and backing that up by blaming the hearer for taking offence, what looks like an apology, is actually an insult.
I was going to write a longer rant about this. However, people more articulate than me have engaged with this. Stacey Midge in response to Jenna Bush’s apology after HiddenFences-gate tweeted the following.
An apology that does not express remorse or take responsibility for personal action and change is not an apology and is better left unspoken.
Over and out!