Apologies Aren’t Enough for Healing
The most recent incident of a politician apologizing for his racist history or present action drew the following automatic and predictable responses:
- Media outlets begin reporting the incident.
2. Speculation begins about the consequences of the incident.
3. An apology is attempted in hopes it satisfies the affected party.
4. Somewhere after #2 or #3, decisions are made by media pundits and race “experts” about solutions to the incident. In recent cases this is the point where the original facts are distorted into something else and people start responding to the spin,
5. A second and more detailed apology is offered in hopes to prevent undesired consequences.
6. Action is taken to give the media a reason to move on and work on a new headline. By this time the general public has moved on and the injured parties experience the “solution” as unsatisfactory at best.
I watch these events with the mixed emotion as a person who personally rejects a “victim mentality” yet is conscious and aware of the psychological weight of living with systematic racism. I am a “woke” person and proud of it. I no longer avoid the reality of living in a culture where systemic racism is the norm. I am always hopeful this time those who are unaffected see this event as the time to (finally) take action. What do I mean? Let me explain. I’m the guy that still gets the “inconspicuous” walk-bys from the employee working the self checkout. I’ve exhausted myself doing everything I could most days to keep my blackness to a whisper. I tamed my hair so It wasn’t too much of a conversation piece when we should be working as a team, was conscious of my fashion choices ensuring they were conservative enough to blend in to the khakis and polo shirt office culture, while shopping I never took too many items into the dressing room and kept the items I intended to purchase visible. I ensured before I make even the shortest automobile trips my license, insurance card and registration documents were visible and accessible. In mixed social events I made sure I was entertaining without being insulting, God forbid offensive. I kept my anger at a minimum when I discovered upper management decided to issue the best ratings and salary bumps to those who were far less competent or accomplished. When I heard the plans to make the new guy that I trained my boss, it was insulting but I wasn’t supposed to know so I couldn’t reveal my sources who were just giving me a “heads up”. Coming home from the office after being misunderstood, ignored and dismissed was exhausting but my contemporaries were navigating through the same muddy waters. We compared notes and our stories were always similar so instead of taking grievance to the decision makers, it was easier to just wait for the next corporate reorganization. Besides, my forefathers (and mothers) suffered and survived overt abuses, criticisms, humiliations and daily terrors. I was willing to accept the legacy of working twice as hard to get just as far, to dumb myself down and not call out the crimes and privileges that come from being born of the dominating group. This daily exhaustive experience began when I began to see the truth of the lives of the beneficiaries of systemic racism and those negatively affected by the very same system. I learned to live with racism’s effect on my emotional state, prosper through it to high-level promotions and other social opportunities, I ignored the human need for kindness accepting the minimal efforts from those with who I shared very little.
The hopeful part of me has spent decades making efforts to be a vessel for cross-racial understanding, a racial and social climate regulator, interpreter, excuser and explainer for the confusion of the dominant group (from here on referred to as “DG”) has about the actions, words and intention of the people I call my brothers and sisters
Then there are the microaggressions. The inappropriate questions. The conversations that reveal the amount of stereotypical and completely false information treated as factual, the number of times racial lines are crossed and you believe an apology is acceptable yet are totally ignorant of the depth of the wounds racial insensitivity create. Watching you twerk or do anything else in rhythm does not endear me to you. It lets me know you don’t know me or the group you think I represent. Then there’s the political issues that get partially discussed because the guy you support, “Really meant….” then the media moves on to the next headline with no intention to follow up of the unintended (or intended) casualties.
In light of all the pain those affected by our country’s original sin and the systems encouraging a preference of the norms and practices of the DG over what is now socially and morally reprehensible for some, here is an individual prescription for beginning racial reconciliation:
- The Time To Stop Acting As If We Don’t Know What’s Racist Is Over.
There have been enough survey results discussed, internet and mainstream media interviews, tragic and fatal incidents and inter-social knowledge accumulated that we know a lot more about the crimes of the past and our present intentions when we begin to speak. We all know how to “think before we speak” and how to use the grandma test where we ask ourselves if we could say it to our grandmother, it is ok to release. Acting as if you still don’t know what is racist is simply a luxury you enjoy and refuse to let go of.
2. Get Over Your Frustration About This New Politically Correct (PC) Culture.
Sorry Charlie (or Cheryl), some words no longer work in a culture where everyone deserves an equal level of respect. If you are unsure which words they are, ask yourself, would you utter these words, terms or phrases out loud in a room full of people who might find them insulting or offensive? If your answer is “yes” then find a room full of those people and shout those words as loud as you can. After your E.R. visit and hospital stay, feel free to say those words as often and as loud as you like.
3. Apologize. Period.
Apologies containing elements of good intentions, blame assignment, feigned ignorance and comparing sins are insulting and communicate a lack of authenticity to injured parties. Taking offense at being alerted to your actions is counter-productive to racial healing and understanding what is painful to people that may not share all of your cultural norms. If you’re quest for understanding and seeking resolution is authentic, get out of your feelings (which are borne out of privilege for some) and hear what is said as feedback which is simply how you show up to the person who you are talking with. To make things right, just admit you were responsible and commit to the remaining steps.
4. Once You Admit Your Transgression And Apologize, Just Listen.
Accept the responses of injured parties. Do not respond even if you think additional words “clarify” your actions. People injured by your words and/or deeds don’t need to hear any more from you. If they do, they will ask. Processing pain requires time alone for reflection. This is not your time to feel better about your mistake.
5. If You Hear Or See Something, Say Something.
Racism is like bacteria, it dies when exposed to extreme heat. MLK carved out a special part of his speeches to talk about good people who witness evil and do nothing. He addresses complacency and inaction as enemies to the fight for civil rights. In the 40’s and 50’s when public lynchings were still social events. People brought snacks, drinks and the entire family to enjoy the scheduled event cheering as loud as we do at today’s sporting events. In the crowd there were people uneasy with the circumstances or other details of public hangings. They went home riddled with guilt and sadness yet said nothing. Some went home or didn’t attend these events yet said nothing to prevent or stop them. Some saw events and heard racist conversations yet said nothing. And their children saw them. Their children learned what to do. They watched their inaction and witnessed their silence. The same takes place today. You may be party to private talks that reveal racists sentiments. You could know someone treated less than fair and equal. There’s more dignityin speaking up and out than preserving the status quo. The latter ignores the social responsibility each of us have in reducing the toxicity and misinformation perpetuated by racism. There’s also the spiritual and religious affirmations when we speak what we would have be into the world and call out that which we do not want polluting our society.
6. Create New Norms Around Having Hard Conversations
Expecting everyone to speak calmly when they experience racism as deadly is inconsiderate and tone-deaf of the experiences of average Americans. More often than not discussions around inequality are polarized: one side defending norms the other challenging them. Passions are often high on one or both sides. Current norms define raised voices as “too aggressive” and against the rules of effective communication yet don’t consider the depth of pain or frustration expressed. Walk uninformed people through expanding their knowledge in the actual moment of tense times. Ask people expressing anger, bitterness or frustration to elaborate so everyone can understand them, then find comparative situations to demonstrate finding commonality. Interrupting conversations can be a clue someone is experiencing a high level of emotion around some aspect of the discussion. Find a way to give them a chance to express themselves without characterizing them as “rude” or “rule breakers”. Profanity, often characterized as a substitution for the verbally challenged is outlawed in structured communication. Consider allowing profanity used purposefully. Hearing someone express, “No one gave a damn about me” sound different than, “No one cared about me”.
7. Take Action Immediately
Taking all of this in and doing nothing with it is a sure-fire way to a condition I call, “spiritual constipation”. Said condition occurs when one is completely full of knowledge, emotion and takes no action, over-thinking , “what’s next?” You can:
- treat everyone you meet as if they deserve the same respect as you.
2.. assume the role of anti-racism ally, correcting local inequities
usually ignored by passive DG members, unaffected by the weight of
3. volunteer at your nearest local civil rights organization.
4. engage with inter-cultural organizations to keep strengthening
your newest skill-set.
8. Practice Conscious Leadership
Conscious Leadership is an approach that encompasses everything
you know about the impact of systematic racism and synthesizes it with
your morals, ethics and spiritual beliefs. If you are in a position of
power (influential or positional), you have the unique opportunity to
reshape the effects of systematic racism.
- Consider hiring the person equally qualified yet is the most culturally different from you.
2. Create ease in social situations for people who discuss issues of race, gender and equality by expanding the rules of acceptable public conversation.
Although each of these items offer some challenge individually, our societal norms (in addition to our laws) reinforce what is considered good, fair and equal. They too like us will continue to evolve. Next up, Racial Reconciliation for Corporations.
@michaelacanty is a Social, Political and Entertainment Commentator, Human Development and Leadership Consultant, creator of Managing Advanced Concepts an organization specializing in training, coaching and organizational development. Creator of weRwideopen an initiative established to openly discuss issues of race and equality and blogs, “Movies, Music, TVPlus”, “Politics Is Not a Bad Word”, and author of the upcoming book, “Today On This Day: Meditations To Live and Love By”