Anatomy of an Apology

2013 was filled with apologies. Home Depot apologized to every Twitter user talking about this pictureJustine Sacco issued an apology after posting an offensive tweet about South Africans and AIDS. Questlove issued an apology on Christmas day for making fun of Japanese people on his instagram account. Padma Lakshmi followed suit for her participation in the mocking.  No one was sure Paula Deen would ever stop apologizing as she released video after video for her use of the N-word and her desire to have a plantation style wedding party (with an all black wait staff).  Ani DiFranco issued this apology for agreeing to host an retreat on a plantation site. Now we are in a new year, but the apologies for 2014 have already begun.  Melissa Harris Perry recently apologized for a segment on her show which utilized a picture of a transracial adoption in the Romney family.  And when Ani's apology didn't go over well, an apology for the apology appeared on her Facebook page.  

Truthfully, the number of apologies that get made in a year seem endless. Stars, politicians, companies all hover over the delete button should an offensive post discover too much negative attention. While it would be nice to think that only high profile people/companies need to learn the art of apologizing, the truth is we all need a little practice.  Learning to apologize is a key tool for racial reconcilers. If we can't offer a sincere apology, we will not last long in cross-cultural relationships. So I would like to offer you an anatomy of an apology. 

Let's start with the mind. When called out for making an insensitive remark, our first inclination may be to prove that we know our stuff about race relations. Instead of focusing on what we "know," let's spend more time seeking to understand the particular offense we caused. Owning the mistake is the first step in making sure we don't repeat it.    


Now, onto the throat. I know it seems elementary, but we have to learn to say, "I'm sorry." Especially in written apologies, you might be surprised to find how often this little phrase is missing. It can also be helpful to add why we are sorry- "I would never want to hurt you." or "I hate that I have risked the trust we share." 

A weight on our shoulders is how reconciliation starts to feel, when we have landed in hot water with someone- a weight that would be all too easy to cast off. Yes, we could walk away, remain in a homogenous community and never risk offending anyone ever again. But remember who called us to this work. Don't cast off what feels like a burden in this moment. When we offer one another apologies and forgiveness, we shoulder the load together.  

Apologies are best when they come from the heart. It goes a long way to actually be sorry. Have you ever heard a kid give a grudging apology? Not cute in adults. Don't lose your vulnerability by putting up a wall of defensiveness. Let your heart break over what occurred.  

Write down the list of all the good things you've done in your personal journal. An apology is not the time to recite all the things you did right in recent memory. When you begin reciting all the good things you've done, it sounds like your asking for a pass rather than forgiveness.  

Sit on your derrière! Calm down. Listen. This is where a lot of apologies fall apart. It is so easily to get offended when someone calls you out. Try not to lash out, explain "what you were trying to say", or walk away. Try not to talk over, interrupt, or shut down. Grab a coffee. Sit down. Talk it through. We must make sure we really understand why our words or actions were offensive. 

Walk it out. Commit to doing better. We are all on a journey, learning more about our own histories, translating our own experiences while also learning about others. We can't let our pride stop us from continuing to walk forward. If there is a way to make the offense right, do that. But if nothing else, learn more on your own. If you used an offensive word, research it. If you misunderstood some historical implications, pick up a book. If there is a movie available to help you dig deeper, watch it. When we own our growth, we keep moving forward.

I'm sure there are more components of a good apology when it comes to race relations. What would you add to the list?