The main points to keep in mind when apologizing while white for an act of racism:
- If you say “I’m sorry” or “I apologize” it counts as an apology no matter what follows. So “I’m sorry, but…” and “I’m sorry if…” are perfectly fine apologies.
- Apologize for offending the other person, but blame him for being offended: he misunderstood you, he is “oversensitive”, etc.
- Racism is about what you intend inside your head, not about what you do to others.
- Black people cannot read your mind, so they have no way of knowing what you intended. That means that unless you openly admit to racism they will have no idea whether you are racist!
- Never admit that you did anything racist! Say it was just a big misunderstanding or some kind of mistake. Or any excuse you can think of in three seconds. That way:
- You will still seem like a good person!
- You will not have to change.
Our case study: Rupert Murdoch. He rarely apologizes in public but after tens of thousands of emails and a week of street protests against that chimp cartoon that appeared in the New York Post, he apologized at last on February 24th 2009. Here it is in full with the key words highlighted:
As the Chairman of the New York Post, I am ultimately responsible for what is printed in its pages. The buck stops with me.
Last week, we made a mistake. We ran a cartoon that offended many people. Today I want to personally apologize to any reader who felt offended, and even insulted.
Over the past couple of days, I have spoken to a number of people and I now better understand the hurt this cartoon has caused. At the same time, I have had conversations with Post editors about the situation and I can assure you – without a doubt – that the only intent of that cartoon was to mock a badly written piece of legislation. It was not meant to be racist, but unfortunately, it was interpreted by many as such.
We all hold the readers of the New York Post in high regard and I promise you that we will seek to be more attuned to the sensitivities of our community.
In a true apology you man up and take the full blame, even if it is not completely your fault. You say you are sorry and mean it and then take steps to make it right somehow.
Murdoch starts out well – he mans up in the first paragraph – but by the third he shifts the blame onto blacks. He does not admit to racism – that was in the imaginations of black people, due to their “sensitivities” apparently. Nor does he promise any serious actions to make it right, like firing the cartoonist or the managing editor or hiring black editors. So the only thing this has in common with an apology is the word “apologize”. It is an apology in appearance only.