Apologies and Other Disingenuous Gestures

I believe that words have power. I believe that what we say and how we say it matters.  It is partly because I have been a preacher all my life. I count on words to have some effect on people for better or worse. It’s also partly because I hear my mother’s words in my ears, “It’s not just what you said, it’s the way you said it”.

At a deep level we all know that words matter. So, I listen as words come out of someone’s mouth.  Usually the FIRST words are the real message regardless of what comes next.  Here are some first words spoken recently:

  • I was embarrassed and ashamed (Starbucks founder Howard Schultz in an interview about the arrest of two black men in a Pennsylvania Starbucks).
  • I’m sorry you feel that way (Sarah Sanders in response to a young boy’s comment that he didn’t feel safe in school and wondered what the administration was doing about gun control).
  • I am angry, hurt and unmoored from what I thought would be the final passage of my life and career (Tom Brokaw responding to allegations of sexual misconduct from a former colleague).
  • I would like to sincerely apologize to Ivanka Trump and to my viewers for using an expletive on my show to describe her last night (Samantha Bee in a tweet aired on May 31, 2018).
  • I apologize to Valerie Jarrett and to all Americans (Roseanne Barr in a tweet aired on May 29, 2018).

So, Howard Schultz is embarrassed, Sarah Sanders feels the need to apologize FOR someone else’s feelings, Tom Brokaw is concerned about his legacy, Samantha Bee “sincerely” apologizes and Roseanne Barr apologizes to all Americans for making a “bad joke”.  Is there some common denominator of BS and self interest here or am I mistaken?

Someone should tell Mr. Schultz that embarrassment is not an appropriate response to racism. Embarrassment seems more like it’s all about him. I would much rather have heard, “We have fired that store manager and will continue to replace staff who embody racist actions toward our customers.  We are taking small first steps toward addressing racism and will continue to educate our staff.” Or something like that.

Someone should tell Ms. Sanders’ that one does not apologize for another’s feelings; they are another’s feelings. I would much rather have heard, “Gun control legislation is a priority for our administration even though half our elected officials are in the pocket of the NRA.  We will make every effort to act with some integrity though our track record so far is pretty bad.” Or something to that effect.

Mr. Brokaw’s response of being concerned about his legacy before anything else is pretty shallow. He later calls her a character assassin and essentially a failure in her career.  Like many men, he insists he is the real victim.  Men hate it when they lose their privilege and are called to account for past behavior.  He may well be a man of integrity now and act out of his better self.  It doesn’t mean the allegations of three women from an earlier time in his career are necessarily false. I am more inclined to believe the women because of his denial.

 Ms. Bee’s “sincere” apology makes me wonder if there is any other kind? It makes the whole apology seem disingenuous. Is she sorry she said it or sorry she got called to account? Name calling is juvenile and it isn’t funny. As women we need to stand together against such sexist, insulting and belittling name calling. There are many ways to be funny and political without resorting to name calling. 

Ms. Barr did not make a bad joke.  It was racist, insulting and not even remotely funny.  Instead of apologizing for one comment, maybe she could work at not being a racist. Then these names and so-called jokes wouldn’t even enter her mind, let alone come out of her mouth.

Words matter.  First words matter most.  They are the unguarded revealing of priority and perspective. 

The late Dr. Maya Angelou said, “When someone shows you who they are believe them; the first time.”



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