Oww, Ouch!: How to Apologize
So, you caused harm. Pulled your weapons of whiteness and inflicted pain and suffering on someone with less privilege than you. Maybe you were called in. Maybe you were called out. Maybe you shut down. Maybe you lashed out. Maybe you sat with it or maybe you stormed away and pulled out more weapons to defend yourself against the truth. Before you have any hopes of moving on or making amends you first need to admit to yourself the problem. Are you assuming your experience is universal? Do you think your opinion is more valuable than the person/people you hurt/offended? Have you denied someone else’s experience as real and valid? Do you feel entitled to the thoughts, experiences, education, labor, empathy, time and counsel of women of color?
The answer is yes! You have been conditioned this way. White supremacist culture dictates that you (and I!) have internalize these very messages. Therefore, this is exactly what you need to unlearn and resist everyday in order to mitigate the danger you cause to black women (and other folx with marginalized identities).
Be honest with yourself about the heart of the disagreement or else there will never be a path to legitimate healing and restoration. If the black (or brown, indigenous, disabled, queer/trans/non-binary/gender non-conforming) woman in question is on a path of transformative justice and equity (and a lot of us are) then your challenge is that much greater.
So you caused harm, now what? You could just say sorry and keep it moving. Hope the other party will get over it. But that is probably doomed to fail. Why?
Because saying sorry doesn’t show that you understand what the issue was or that you have committed to making changes to your behavior to ensure the offense or harm doesn’t happen again. If your apology sounds like, “I’m sorry IF I OFFENDED YOU.” I hear, “I’m tired of talking about this and don’t get why you’re mad, but maybe this will end it.” or “ I don’t want you to be mad at me so let’s make up.” Neither of those get to the heart of the pain you have inflicted with your words or actions.
Skip all ifs and buts in your apology and stick to just the facts. What did you do that caused pain? Do you understand why in hindsight it was wrong? If so, say so but do not explain your intentions. As Appel Rossell so brilliantly laid out in her essay for The Establishment, When Will People Of Color Start Raising The Goddamn Bar For White People?, “White people, you see, have this thing called good intentions. And we’re told these intentions — which only white people have, while people of color just have suspicious behavior and sassiness—trump impact, everyday.”
Good intentions are not more important than perpetuating white supremacy and inflicting racial trauma (or ableism or transphobia or Xenophobia or anti-semitism, etc.) on people that are fatigued to the marrow of our bones from fighting for access to our full, unyielding, resplendent humanity.
See also the handy infographic: 5 Easy Steps to A Sincere Apology originally created for Resist Oppression.
KILLING GEORGINA is creating poetry and prose to heal and achieve metaphysical liberation.