When I was younger, I would do and say things out of anger. I’d get mad and yell. I would regret the things I said and after some time, I would apologize. My Mother would accept my apology, but as I continued to do those things, she would get tired of my routine. One day after throwing a tantrum and apologizing after, she said, “You know, you keep saying you are sorry, and at some point it doesn’t mean anything.” I thought about that. I wanted my word and actions to mean something. I don’t want to spout off at the mouth and then run back and say “sorry” all the time. I wanted people to believe I was sincere. This is the problem I have with white people and their apologies.
As a Black person, there will be a moment in your life when a white man or woman will do or say something malicious and/or racist to you or other Black people, and when they are called out on it, they will apologize. From Rosanne Barr’s racist tweet about comparing former Obama aide Valerie Jarret to an ape; the dim-witted podcast hosts of Guys We F***ed who fetishized Black men; YouTube star Shane Dawson’s Blackface impression of Black women; “Cornerstore Caroline,” who called the police and falsely accused a nine-year-old Black boy of touching her rear end, to NBC news anchor Megyn Kelly questioning why Blackface is wrong. They all ended up saying sorry. It is a script many white people follow: Do/say something offensive. Get called out by Black people, apologize, claim ignorance, pledge to work on “white privilege” and recognize how wrong this was. Rinse, wash, repeat. Oh and let’s not forget about the tears!! They will be a-flowin! The whole thing makes my skin crawl. And it has also become so predictable. How do you not know the history behind calling Black folks primates; that it is offensive? That wearing Blackface is offensive? How do you not know that fetishizing Black men is wrong? This is common sense, like not paying your light bill will cause you to lose your lights. Everything is based around white people being “ignorant.”
Attributing these incidents to ignorance is arguably one of the most harmful theories about race. To quote Dr. Tommy Curry of Texas A&M and author of The Man-Not, “We have to look at it from a historical context. We know white people have done the same types of behaviors. They have discriminated against Black people and called us niggers….. They have secluded and segregated Blackness. To repeat those things doesn’t seem to be the work of ignorance, in fact it seems to be the repetition of historical knowledge of how to treat Black folk.” If the same thing keeps happening throughout the years, then it cannot be ignorance. To say that it is essentially lets white people off the hook because “they do not know any better.”
Another pattern I have seen is that in the aftermath of shame and being labeled a racist, many whites go out of their way to blame their behavior on something else. Whether “it was comedy,” “I took Ambien and it turned me into a racist lunatic,” or “I wasn’t raised around a lot of Black people,” there is always something else. It can’t be that “I am a racist and I was wrong”, noooo. There is always some reason why the racism took place. What will usually happen is gaslighting or denial, then a half-hearted sorry follows, legions of other white people come together to defend that person, and you end up being attacked for pointing out the racism. No sincere apology and no accountability needed. They get off scot-free.
At this point in my life, those apologies mean as much to me as Monopoly money – worthless. I have heard too many in life. I am done. This may be harsh and I admit it is, but in order for this Black man to preserve his sanity and self-respect, I have to call it like I see it. Look – we all mess up. I recently wrote about allies making mistakes. That is okay. What is not are these egregious acts. Use common sense. I always tell white people, “if you think it is racist, it probably is”. DL Hughley recently said, “White people have the worst opinion on what is and isn’t racist.” To white people, here are a couple of tips: don’t wear the culture appropriating costumes, and don’t call your Black friend the N word. Don’t try to convince them something they experienced is not racist – in other words, do not gaslight them. If you do these three things, then (sadly) you will be ahead of the curve, because that is how racist our society is. If you do something that is considered racist, apologize. No excuses; apologize. Just don’t expect us to forgive you…we are not obligated to. Some Black folks might accept the apology; some won’t. That is something you will have to deal with. We are not teaching Race Relations 101 anymore; the learning curve is over. Y’all gotta step up and do better.