Saturday, January 16, 2010

offer white apologetics (instead of just apologizing)

This is a guest post for swpd by Willow, who writes of herself, "I'm a Midwestern divinity student and geek who believes that trashy science fiction B-movies are the key to surviving grad school. I'm white, Christian, feminist, disabled, and (as someone once said on some TV show) 'twenty pounds of crazy in a five pound bag.'"

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

If a white person participates in anti-racism discussions long enough and seriously enough, ze will mess up eventually.* We are all products of a racist society. And when that happens, we need to apologize to the person or people we hurt.

White people tend to be very, very bad at this.

Actually, many of us are very quick to say the two words “I’m sorry.” But it rarely ends there. White people, especially, like to keep talking. What are we saying? I did a bit of research, by which I mean I read comments threads on a few blogs. I came to the conclusion that we are not, in fact, apologizing.

I present my research results to you as the "White Apologetics Drinking Game," located in this post's first comment. Credit for the idea goes to Star Wars fandom, RVCBard, and Witchsistah; in proper blogosphere fashion I also offer it in bingo card form (The drinking game is longer due to bingo-card format constraints).

The dictionary I have defines apology as “an expression of remorse for having wronged another person.” That's not what white people tend to offer when they've messed up in a discussion on race, which is more like “a sentence or paragraph beginning with the words ‘I’m sorry.’”

What I really see white people doing on anti-racist blogs is more like apologetics: “an excuse or a defense.” Instead of genuinely expressing remorse for hurting another human being, white people tend to focus on justifying their actions, or on how the accusation makes them feel.

I call this common white behavior "White Apologetics," and I'll say flat out what the problem is here:

White Apologetics supports white supremacy.

Here's how that usually happens:

1. White Apologetics focuses the conversation on the white person.

Suddenly, the conversation is not about stuff white people do [to hurt people of color], but rather how the white person feels about it, or why the white person did it, but is still a good person, really.

But it shouldn't be about us. It should be about the person of color, whom we've just hurt.

2. White Apologetics shifts the blame to POC.

Direct examples of this shift include “I’m sorry you took it that way,” or “You misunderstood me.” Yes, sometimes we state things badly, or don’t convey sarcasm well. But misunderstanding our intent is not the fault of the person of color. The peoblem remains: a white person has hurt a person of color. And somehow that's the POC’s fault? This is not Earth logic.

3. White Apologetics places an extra burden on POC.

White people tend to think, oddly enough, that when it comes to matters of race, our intentions matter more than the outcome of our actions. 

Let me ask you this -- if you say to me, “Willow, I didn’t mean to run over your dog with my car,” is my dog any less dead?

In conversations on race with POC, anything like “What I meant was...” is basically saying, “Dear [specific POC], why didn’t you read my mind?” In many such cases, it's also saying, “Why can’t you stay calm when discussing situations that negatively impact your life every single day?”

4. Still need motivation? White Apologetics makes you a Well-Intentioned White Liberal (WIWL).

White Apologetics is all about appearances. The person trying to apologize? Doesn’t actually care about the person ze hurt. The white person only cares that everyone reading understands that ze really, truly is not racist. It’s not about being an ally. It’s about looking like one.

So, I have a few suggestions for what to do the next time you mess up:

1. Do understand that when a POC asks you to apologize, you probably do need to apologize (not necessarily, but there is an excellent chance).
2. Do read Tami’s fantastic explanation, “When Allies Fail.”
3. Do reflect on how you might have offended the POC, and do this reflection on your own (instead of blurting it out amidst a conversation on race -- that's an example of something called derailment).
4. If you still don’t understand, ask. But give it a shot first.
And if you do ask...
5. ...Don’t explain why you said what you said or did what you did.6. Don’t blame the POC.
7. Don’t talk about how you feel.
8. Don’t demand forgiveness.
9. Do try with everything in you not to do it again. You might.
10. Do reread your comment before you post it to make sure it isn’t all about you.
11. Do understand that messing up does not make you a bad person.

In closing, I ask you to remember this: White Apologetics is a privilege. For white people, apologies to POC are usually about keeping up appearances, about looking good.

However, for many people of color, apologies are a matter of survival.

As Zara writes on this thread,

My "stock thought" when I talk race with white people -- well, I guess in my case it's a stock action -- is to apologize. Over and over and over.[...] I am always aware that I could lose any devotion or affection from my white friends and mentors by saying the wrong thing about race -- so when I talk race with white people, I shove excuses and apologies in there anywhere I can to make it easier for them to stomach. But here's the thing: I'M NOT SORRY.

Remember that. And then think about how you could offer a better apology, better than the common white non-apology that you're probably feeling inclined to give.


Guidelines for discussion in the Comments

I have asked Macon to monitor this comment thread carefully to avoid WP apologizing for previous White Apologetics -- especially a thread for this post, which is, ya know, about those White Apologetics.

Fellow white people: are there elements of your behavior that might trigger POC to feel a need to apologize when ze has not, in fact, done anything wrong? How can you change these? (Remember, no White Apologetics!)

Any additions to the drinking game?

Finally, I'm just another struggling, aspiring, wannabe white ally -- am I right about all of this?

*‘Ze’ and ‘zir’ are gender-neutral pronouns


  1. Apology: an expression of remorse for having wronged another person

    Apologetics: an excuse or a defense

    White Apologetics Drinking Game


    1. Start a conversation about racism.

    2. Acquire an ample supply of your favorite beverage (milk, right?)

    3. Take a drink every time a white person’s apology includes one of the following phrases or conveys the same sentiment.

    4. Take two drinks if the phrase is preceded by “I’m sorry, but...”

    5. If you are white: before you laugh, ask yourself, Have I done this?

    - At least I’m not like other white people

    - My interpretation of the situation is correct.

    - You need to forgive me.


  2. Willow, this is a good post. I picked this lesson up a couple of days ago in the comments and it's definitely something WP do, hell after that I realized I do it to my own family and friends. The ol' "Sorry you feel that way."

    My question, though is why do you say this at the end of your post "I'm just another struggling, aspiring, wannabe white ally -- am I right about all of this?"

  3. @ Victoria:

    There are pretty significant differences in the descriptions of "how to apologize" written by POC anti-racists and by white feminists (feminists in particular; WP in general, though).

    Most notably, WP tend to emphasize "show that you understand what you did wrong," which, again, centers the WP. It turns the injury to the POC into a "learning experience" for white people. Not. Cool.

    So, although I tried to follow the examples of lists written by POC instead of WP, I'm sure that there are at least some things I simply didn't pick up on! If so, I welcome critique and advice on how to do it better, b/c I find myself having to apologize far too often. ;o)

  4. "There are pretty significant differences in the descriptions of "how to apologize" written by POC anti-racists and by white feminists (feminists in particular; WP in general, though)."

    I seriously had no idea. Thanks for answering.

  5. Willow, this is a very good posts. I think that it is a problem with blacks and other races as well. We just do not apologize when necessary. I came to the conclusion that people who choose not to do that is very well aware of the hurt that is conflicted and simply do not care. Very good post.

  6. I think most people get apologies wrong just in general. Fake apologies are like, reflexive or something. I used to suck at apologizing and I have to admit it still doesn't come 100% naturally (god, I hate to be wrong), but someone, I wish I could remember who, taught me exactly how to apologize, and damned if it doesn't totally work.

    Ideally, it should take ONE SENTENCE. In this exact order: 1) specifically state the error; 2) express your remorse, simply; and then 3) stfu so the other person can consider whether to accept or reject. If you did it right, they'll accept. Example: "When I said XYZ, I invoked a hurtful stereotype, and I am really sorry."

    Easy peasy! Now: don't do it again.
    The beauty is, it forces you to identify and address the actual wrong, and the other person knows you Sincerely See The Problem.
    Note, the sentence cannot include bingo qualifiers. So no: "I'm sorry if it sounded like..." or "I wasn't thinking and I..." or "Yikes! That came out wrong. I meant..." Even phrases that are short enough insert into a one-sentence apology are bingo squares. They're still irrelevant explanations of intent, and they invalidate the entire apology. And they have a way of slipping in, even when you know better. Just suck it up and apologize. Risk the potential rejection. It takes effort, but it's worth it. It get easier with time, and you tend to screw up less in the first place.

    And it's not as bad as you think. People would rather not be pissed, so you might be surprised at how they just move right on when you apologize. It goes a long way.

  7. Great post.

    Karinova makes an excellent point, too. Many of us simply don't know how to apologize in any context; she also provides an excellent how-to on apologizing.

    It's icky in race talk because not understanding how to apologize only exacerbates an already painful issue.

    Practicing apologetics can leave some PoCs feeling even worse than when it started and that's the part that is important to understand.

    It may help to ponder where the apologetics comes from. Some don't know how, but others don't see their error because it was based in a good place.

    I always say, once you say something, those words are no longer yours and it's up to the person who received them to decipher. Some people are excellent at phrasing their thoughts in such a way that there is no question what was meant, but most of us aren't that way. If a person tells you what they heard and it wasn't what you meant, apologize for being unclear (and for whatever else you did), put a period on the end, start a new paragraph and try again (and show that you learned from where you messed up).

  8. Basic apology should go:
    I am sorry. I was wrong. I will try to do better. Thank you.

  9. Nice. Yeah, I think you're spot on. It works for me.

    But what about when you think you've done something wrong, and you apologize like you're supposed to, and get the following response, "What are you talking about? I don't remember that incident." The first time a friend said this to me, I thought, "Hmmmm, strange. Maybe I worry too much huh?" And then it happened again, by this time I realized that that's how h/she a responds to apologies - Instead of accepting the apology, s/he just pretends like the incident never happened. I personally found it weird and it didn't work all that well for me. Especially later when she did something wrong and did not see that an apology was necessary.

    Is there a possibility that people have different expectations on how wrongs should be handled?

  10. @ myundiary and karinova

    I agree, people in general suck at apologizing. But WP tend to apologize differently to other whites than to POC, especially but not only in race discussions, which was where this post originally started (mentally, I mean).

    @ FTT

    >> "Is there a possibility that people have different expectations on how wrongs should be handled?"

    Isn't it (almost) completely culture-based? I mean, outside of a looney U.S. congressperson, you don't see too many people challenging each other to *duels* anymore, right? ^_^

    @ A. Smith

    >> "...and show that you learned from where you messed up."

    I really like this--the 'show' instead of 'tell.' Actions speak louder, right?

  11. Can yu explain, is this apology for something I did, or something else?

  12. I think that fake apologies are often expressed by white women in general (along with fake expressions of humbleness) because we are socialized from birth to apologize for everything to make it go away. I say I'm sorry all the time: for standing in the way when a man walks by, even though I was there before he walked by and might have stood there unaffected until I said "excuse me!" and still nearly shoved myself by; for shifting my cramped leg on the bus and touching someone else's leg by accident- the list goes on and on.

    I think this is a two step process: stop apologizing if you do not mean it, including when someone calls you on something racist you said (if you vomit out some sort of nonsincere sorry, you didn't really GET it, really, and that person who maybe had to use up a lot of spoons to call you on that racist thing you said effectively called you out in vain, since chances are you aren't REALLY sorry, don't believe you really did anything wrong, and will blithely do it again at the first opportunity).

    Step two, of course, is really truly do some research into what went down when someone calls you out. Maybe you didn't think you did anything wrong when you said, "What a maroon!" because you were quoting Bugs Bunny and didn't reexamine Looney Toons to find it is chockfull of racism. Racist tendencies are like splinters. Apologizing for their presence when they are pointed out is unhelpful. What needs to be done is for one to grab some tweezers and suffer for a while.

    If and when you mean it, apologize simply and sincerely. If the person you offended does not choose to forgive you, get over it. That is not required of them.

  13. @fromthetropics - What you bring up is a part of the things that make interaction with other humans difficult. :)

    You're absolutely right that people have different expectations on what should happen post a wronging. I still think a simple apology is enough. If the person wants more, they should (and many times will) say so and then it's up to you to decide if that's what you want to do.

    @xenu - you make a good point, as well. I have a white female friend who says she's sorry about any and everything. Recently she upset me and when she apologized, I didn't really believe her. She says "I'm sorry" too frequently (and for things about which she is not sorry) for me to believe her.

    I also want to add, sometimes people feel entitled to an apology and don't actually deserve one. You should only apologize if you really are sorry. Apologizing to end a disagreement when you don't mean it gets us nowhere.

    Know how to apologize and when to apologize.

  14. @Willow:
    Oh... I know.
    It's just that I vowed not to give any more clueless-white-person advice for a while. So (technically) that was just clueless-apologizer advice!

    I was thinking that it seems like the main thing that keeps people-in-general from giving proper apologies is that if you're doing it right, you necessarily risk having your apology rejected. So even people who aren't buried in white denial tend to screw it up (including me)— they throw in qualifiers to reduce that risk. (Which is not fair to the other person.) But with practice, the urge to qualify fades a bit. Especially if you've learned (by doing it) that doing it right raises actually raises the chances of acceptance (ie: forgiveness, and thus a lighter heart). I mean, I routinely see white people going all Bingo when apologizing to each other. So I suppose I'm hoping that if they can start to get it right in low-pride-risk situations, maybe they'll be that much closer to getting it right with PoC...?

    Hope: it springs eternal.

  15. Sensible advice.

    I do think that some of the "derailing by self-analysis" done by WP could be done profitably in a *separate (parallel?) thread* specifically labeled as *primarily for and about WP unlearning racism*. This might reduce POC hurt and aggravation, by having a reasonably aware WP explain specific cultural references (eg, Xenu01's example about the cartoon phrase). WP's problem is not only racism but additionally a lack of cultural knowledge, including history and currently uncommon language usage.

  16. @Xenu & A.Smith:
    I hear that! Personally, that's what got me to change my own apologizing tack: being on the receiving end of one too many perfunctory-yet-emphatic I'm-sorrys. You're taught to say "I'm sorry," but for me, "I'm sorry" full stop isn't always enough. It's like, "I find that hard to believe, since it's obvious you don't even know what you're supposedly sorry for." Which is even more offensive, because an honest mistake is an honest mistake, but now you know it's not cool, and you're essentially replying with "whatever, I don't care. Here's an 'I'm sorry,' okay? (rolls eyes)."

    And then one day someone told me The Method, and it hit me that other people feel that way too, duh. Which is why my apologies often went wrong. You can't apologize effectively if you don't know what you did. And not even trying to figure it out is going to piss the other person off even more, because they know you're just going to do it again, and you don't care how it makes them feel.

  17. @ Nancy P.

    You do, uh, realize that you are basically proposing an entire thread to encourage White Women's Tears, right?

    @ karinova

    Amazingly, I think I may be more cynical than you (I say this b/c I am in general *not* a cynical person)--I think people, or at least WIWL, qualify their apologies to make themselves look less bad. The most common one is "What I meant was," right? I interpret that as having to justify your misdeed to yourself, as much as anything. I'm not sure how much it has to do with worrying about the other person still being mad. (I specify WIWL b/c my conservative white acquaintances are of the type who (a) are always sincere and direct in their apologies or (b) do. not. apologize. ever.)

    But your method is brilliant. ^_^

  18. Personally, I'd prefer that if someone said something that really did come out all wrong they say something like "I didn't think when I spoke, that wasn't what I meant and I'm really sorry I [EFFECT of your words, even if it wasn't the intent] and I'm truly sorry for hurting your feelings" AND THEN SHUTTING UP, not blabbing on and on. This way you let the other person ask you "So what DID you mean?" IF they want to ask, rather than leaving them feeling like the hurt was intentional. We're a better judge of if something was an actual mistake than you are. A lot of times what one accidently says is not terribly far from what they meant.

    I tend to ignore the apologetics on the internet because it's not the same as normal conversation, but if you need to explain yourself, keep it short without any Tears.

  19. >Isn't it (almost) completely culture-based?

    Willow, not sure if this makes a difference to your question/statement, but the friend I was referring to is white Australian. (I get this feeling you might have had a non-Western poc in mind. Correct me if I'm wrong.) While another white Australian I knew needed to say or hear (depending on whether he or I was doing the apology), 'I forgive you,' for him to feel satisfied that the apology has been accepted. As for me, I don't usually go that far (I'm in the middle of the two, I'm with the OP). I personally don't like being told, 'I forgive you'. I'm not challenging the OP, since I agree with it. I was just a bit confused with my experiences, that's all.

  20. I think that some of the apologetics are a (misguided) attempt to persuade the listener that the offender is unlikely to reoffend, and thus, that trust need not be withdrawn. I.e., if ze didn't INTEND the offense but is now aware or if it was a chance mistake then the relationship should be unaffected.

    @karinova, you said: ... but for me, "I'm sorry" full stop isn't always enough. It's like, "I find that hard to believe, since it's obvious you don't even know what you're supposedly sorry for." Which is even more offensive ....

    Can I take that to mean that you have been eavesdropping in my kitchen while my husband tries to apologise to me? :P However, his other mode of apology is to explain ad nauseum what caused him to do whatever it was, without a single word about it's effect on me. That is the most offensive to me, even more offensive than sorry-full-stop.

  21. Re: Willow @ 1/17/10 2:59 PM:
    What "White Women's Tears"? I see it more as "WP teaching WP". I am not saying that THIS BLOG should be having these threads - I don't own the blog. There are other blogs and FAQ pages, some of which have been promoted here.

    Most POC commenters have said quite emphatically that they should not be expected to teach after being insulted.

    If a WP can't identify the racist situation or zir racist behavior, then it's up to some other WP to inform the clueless WP asking for interpretation of their f*ckup. Some things are self-evident, for instance, use of the word "articulate" for average speech (as opposed to great oratory). Some things aren't so obvious if the WP doesn't have zie own or POC cultural referents. If a WP doesn't know/ doesn't remember the Bugs Bunny cartoons, that WP may assume the word was "moron", which to a WP's ears doesn't have racist meaning. At any rate, why shouldn't WP help other WP spot common racist assumptions and behaviors, and stop doing them. If one doesn't fix one's own thought processes, any attempt to change social/institutional racism is likely to be ineffective.

    It would be helpful if the individual posting would specify "POC comments welcome, WP please lurk without commenting".

  22. NancyP wrote,

    It would be helpful if the individual posting would specify "POC comments welcome, WP please lurk without commenting".


  23. Sometimes I feel that I am "supposed to" respond, based on my impression that the blog is "supposed to" foster dialogue between WP and POC. At the same time, I get the impression that the collectivity of WP posting just gets in the way, and that more might be accomplished if I and other WP would just lurk and watch the POC commenters develop the thread. I'd be happy to chill.

  24. I'd be happy to chill.

    Yes, a lot of WP would be happy to do that (it is much easier). But I don't think your "collectivity of WP posting" and just "getting in the way" actually exists here. Some WP do write comments that get in the way in various ways, but other WP write comments (and posts) that do the opposite, and still others have gradually learned to mostly do the opposite. And surely whether it's appropriate for WP to say much of anything sometimes depends on the topic at hand. All of which is to say, I think that instead of chilling, the WP here should take chances and get their feet wet. It's another way of learning. And then of messing up sometimes, and then of learning something else from that, which is to apologize well (and then, if called for, to go and do some relevant 101 readings). Just because you might mess up doesn't mean you shouldn't take the plunge.

  25. @ Nancy

    People here, both POC and WP, have in the past *not* been shy about saying, "This question is for POC" or "to all the WP" etc.

    Several POC, especially a few of the Black women in response to the "forget that Black women are more than/other than strong" thread, have raised the concern that a POC-only thread on swpd creates a sense of us as white anthropologists 'examining the wild POC in zir natural environment' (not my words).

    If you think that more would be accomplished by you not posting...why are you posting? ^_^

  26. @ FTT

    Ah, the connotations of 'culture.' Actually, what I was going for was more along the lines of 'family environment,' I guess. I think that when it comes down to what emotions people are and aren't encouraged to express, individual families have a lot more sway than we typically realize. I'm confused by your situation, too. :P

    @ Karen

    >> "a (misguided) attempt...that trust need not be withdrawn"

    Question: with (misguided), are you suggesting that apologetics is a bad way to go about it, or that the *end goal* described (demanding the other person not withdraw their trust) is faulty? Because I would argue that in any discussion of oppression, a person from the oppressed group has NO obligation to trust a person from the privileged group, regardless of whether or not an individual has made a mistake. And an individual from the privileged group has NO right to demand trust from a member of a marginalized group.

  27. @Willow, thanks for pointing out just how unclear I was. I was trying to say that the apologetics as a whole are misguided - the means and the ends. I was just trying to describe something that be going through someone's head as they go through their apologetics, instead of just apologising properly. Far from defending the apologetics, I was trying to point out how they were flawed by spelling out the thinking behind them.

    I totally agree with what your saying about trust between a person in an oppressed group and someone else with the corresponding privilege. I was trying to say that both the expectation of having/maintaining trust is misguided and also that the attempt to persuade that ze won't reoffend is misguided, particularly misguided because it backfires and actually brings out DIStrust.

    My comment is all messed up because, while I was writing it, I had in mind other kinds of relationships, ones where there is a reasonable expectation of trust. Specifically, I was thinking of my interactions with my husband or how kids are quick to tell their parents that something was "an accident," i.e., not intentional, so that they don't lose milk-pouring privileges or whatever. But even there, the longer you go on about a mistake the worse it looks.

  28. @Willow:
    I'm pretty cynical actually! I completely agree with you... maybe even more so. (Um, if that's even grammatically possible.) I agree they don't care how the Injured Party actually feels. What I think they're concerned with is how they think the IP (and any observers) feels about them. The thing at "risk" is other people's supposed opinions of the Screwer-Upper (and thus, hir opinion of hirself). In order to apologize, you have to say "I was wrong," and like, talk about that, which (I theorize) they worry "might make them look bad." Furthermore, the IP might come back with "well, fuck your apology and fuck you!" which would be even worse, as that'd be the IP essentially saying "no need to 'worry;' I for one absolutely do have a poor opinion of you [and so should everyone else within earshot]!" And that is just too much to risk.* I think they hope to just skip over that risk by launching into the what-I-meant-was wordflood. IOW, instead of talking about the messed-up thing they did say, they go on and on about what they meant to say. I think the idea is to cajole/distract/fatigue you into agreeing that "yes, okay: you have, and are worthy of, my [and any observers'] good opinion."

    Maybe it's all too obvious to even say.

    *ESPECIALLY if it's a WP hearing "I have a low opinion of you" from a PoC!

  29. I think part of what goes wrong with apologies is different individual's raised under different styles of upbringing, which vary quite a bit among WP from various parts of the country, in my experience.

    "I'm sorry, but I only did that because you did this other thing" was the only style I heard growing up.

    "I'm sorry you misunderstood me" was once explained to me as 'I didn't mean what you heard' or even as a more polite way of saying 'that's not what I said.'

    In that context, "I'm sorry I wasn't clear" was seen as an attempt to take more responsibility for the hurtful action, rather than making it the receiver's problem that they 'misunderstood.'

    As a 1970s white feminist I was often hurt by some man saying "I'm sorry; I won't do it again" when he clearly misunderstood which action I was objecting to, did not get it, and was obviously about to do it again with a different preamble.

    So just now I'm experiencing some confusion over knowing which kind of apology the person I have offended might prefer or receive as sincere.

    Which leads me to a question: Does the work of Deborah Tannen (such as a book called "You Just Don't Understand") shed any light on discussions of race between POC and WP? or is she just talking about WP-who-speak-American-English?

  30. So just now I'm experiencing some confusion over knowing which kind of apology the person I have offended might prefer or receive as sincere.

    I would assume the one where you most clearly took responsibility and put forth the most effort to rectify the situation.

  31. Willow, I may not be the best judge of whether my posts are useful, neutral, or harmful.

    Something seems to be working at the moment. Subsequent to the emotionally fraught thread on SBW stereotype, maybe WP are learning something or putting more care into posts, or simply the subjects of more recent threads have been less of a raw bruise for the POC involved. At any rate, the emotional aggravation seems to be down, along with its "can't take this blog anymore" possibilities of driving people away (remember brownfemipower's closing down her blog from stress a year or two ago).

  32. White people are notorious for making empty apology's, what i Find rather interesting is that these false apologies were usually the product of something they were the root cause of.

  33. First, I must say that i love this post and this entire blog!
    Secondly, I don't know if anyone mentioned the "pre-apology" that WP's make before making a racist comment. For example," Not meaning to offend but he looked like a hoodlum!" or "He looked like a dirty mexican, no offense!".
    I don't even understand why WP put that "no offense" in there when the comment is offensive. Its not like it negates your comment and i actually DON'T take offense. I DO.

  34. I wonder if part of why WP want to explain intent/expect that intent should be more important than effect is due to not realizing how strongly these things affect people's lives (in addition to, of course, the focus on intent making it all about them).

    The more important the effect, I think, the less we care about intent. If someone bumps into you a single time, you're not really going to mind too much unless they were intentionally bumping into you. If someone hits you with their car, doing it intentionally makes it worse, but explaining it was an accident doesn't result in instant forgiveness. And a pattern of people continually carelessly bumping into you would also leave you less disposed to care about intent, even though each individual incident might not cause much damage by itself.

    For a WP who doesn't see the multitude of thoughtlessly racist things the POC might have to deal with (and who has the privilege of not giving it much thought), and sees it as a mere etiquette question, the extent of the harm might not be apparent, so that might contribute to the WP being surprised that explaining they weren't trying to cause any harm doesn't make it all better.

  35. I absolutely agree with you, closetpuritan, that a major part of the problem is that many people badly underestimate how much these issues aren't just a matter of bad intent, but profoundly affect other people's lives, and on a regular basis. So it's easy for those people to focus on intent, figuring that without intent, many racial accusations become just innocent misunderstandings.

    I think another part of the problem is that we often approach these issues in the language of intent, rather than effect. Just consider a description like "racist." The word is loaded with meanings related to intent. If an act was the result of unconscious prejudice, or ignorance of racial realities, than calling it "racist" will naturally cause the perpetrator to focus on the implied accusation of bad intent, rather than the harm done.

    There are, of course, lots of reasons to consider calling an act "racist." But I think this is a caution about the dangers of focusing on intent, or language that implies intent, to the exclusion of pointing out consequences and the impact of patterns on those who are affected.

  36. I have just received an apology like the one Willow describes from a man who wrote something sexist on a blog, was called out by me, and then "apologized" by explaining his intention, saying sorry I misunderstood, and basically trying to remind everyone that he is NOT a sexist! I am trying to compose a response and would like to link to something like this blog post, but something that is about sexism. Does anyone know of a blog like this, or a post like this, that addresses sexism (or "male apologetics"?) rather than (or in addition to) racism?

    Thank you so much for this blog and for all the comments. I have realized so many ways in which racism impacts my daily thoughts and actions since I started reading the posts and comments here.

  37. Xenu01 said,

    stop apologizing if you do not mean it, including when someone calls you on something racist you said (if you vomit out some sort of nonsincere sorry, you didn't really GET it, really, and that person who maybe had to use up a lot of spoons to call you on that racist thing you said effectively called you out in vain, since chances are you aren't REALLY sorry, don't believe you really did anything wrong, and will blithely do it again at the first opportunity).

    i thought one of the points this post was trying to drive home was that an apology is not always for the [white] person apologizing, like someone else stated earlier, these apologies should not be about giving a learning experience to WP because that just reinforces WP being at the center again. Sure we may learn something from messing up and seeing the error of our ways but the apology should not be a summary of "what i learned today." While i understand the value of genuineness in an apology, i think it is also white privilege kicking-in that we dont have to bring our genuine selves with us to places like this blog and so we give half-hearted apologies because we didn't have our heart in it from the start, i think in this case it should be stressed that we [wp] need to constantly be checking our privilege.

  38. Thank you, Willow, for posting this. It is a great resource to have handy when a WP makes a mistake and needs to apologize without falling into the apologetics trap.

    But I was hoping for some clarification. As the original post said, when a WP offends a PoC, ze should attempt to understand what ze did wrong first, but if ze don't understand even after private reflection, ze should ask. But it's also been said that "show[ing] that you understand what you did wrong," is wrong in of itself, because it makes the apology a learning experience for the WP instead of a real apology.

    So what I am confused about is where the line is between attempting to understand your error and making the offense all about the WP. Is showing that you understand your mistake entirely unnecessary and should not be included? If so, I'm failing to see how the apology could be sincere and anything more than an "I'm sorry" period.

  39. Is showing that you understand your mistake entirely unnecessary and should not be included?

    It's pretty simple. Just follow the guidelines of a real apology. Something like this.


Please see the "commenting guidelines" before submitting a comment.

hit counter code