Friday, June 8, 2012

The correct way to apologize. Wow.

Jason Alexander offers the greatest apology in history for "gay cricket" joke (posted June 3, 2012)  And it TOTALLY IS the "greatest apology in history."

Summary: Jason Alexander was on "The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson" recently and made some jokes about how cricket is a "gay sport."  Then he heard that some of his followers on Twitter were offended by it.  He really didn't understand why anyone would be offended, but he asked some of his gay friends, and he thought about it a lot.  Eventually he realized that yes, it was offensive, so he wrote an apology that explained everything and that he didn't realize at the time that it would be offensive, but he was wrong and he's sorry.

For my fellow Disney fans out there, Jason Alexander was Hugo from "The Hunchback of Notre Dame."  And George from "Seinfeld."  Image source.

Wow.  I am ridiculously impressed.  Because usually when this kind of thing happens, the apology goes like this: "I am sorry that you're too dumb to realize it wasn't actually offensive."

This is particularly a pattern I've noticed when some public figure says something racist.  It becomes this huge controversial thing, with one extreme calling him/her a terrible racist, possibly with death threats thrown in there, and the other extreme refusing to believe there is any chance that what was said actually was racist.  ("Oh come on guys, if you take his statement in context you'll see that he referred to the candidate as 'a monkey' because he thinks he's stupid and disagrees with his politics.  If you think he said that because the guy's black, you're just wrong.  Clearly there is no way a reasonable person could ever interpret this as something racist.")

And then the controversy goes on for a while, and eventually the person who said it writes a lame apology and resigns from their job.  And no one learns anything.  Except maybe "Don't ever ever talk about race, because you'll start a witch hunt."

Here's how it should work when someone publicly says something racist/ sexist/ any other kind of prejudice- they should apologize by saying "I said it because I didn't understand.  Now I do understand.  I was wrong.  I'm sorry."  (Instead of "Okay fine, I'm sorry, but you guys are still overreacting.")  And that's exactly what Jason Alexander did.  And I'm shocked because that never happens.  So, good job.  ^_^

We have to make a distinction between "being a racist" and "saying something racist."  (Err, I'm writing mostly about racism in this blog post because that's where I see the most examples of this, but it totally applies to any other kind of offensive statement.)  Because I've never met an American who proudly said, "Yes, I am a racist."  No one wants to be known as a racist.  And when someone points out, "hey, maybe you shouldn't say that about black people because it's offensive", people get all defensive and will deny every bit of it because they hear "ZOMG you are a terrible racist person!!!!1" instead of actually listening and saying "wow, I didn't know that, you're right, I shouldn't have said it."

When people say this offensive stuff, it's not because they're a terrible person.  It's because they're very ignorant.  They need someone to teach them why it was wrong, thus making them a better person, and we all learn a little bit about our brothers and sisters who are different from us.  They don't need someone to accuse them of being a terrible person, while they sit there bewildered, unable to accept any of what they hear because "I didn't mean it like that at all."

At the same time that I'm advocating forgiveness and giving people the benefit of the doubt, I also want to say yes, if someone says something really racist or otherwise offensive to a large group of people, it's valid for you to be offended.  I'm not saying "ah come on, they didn't mean it, stop being offended."  If it's something that unfairly stereotypes an entire group of people, and you're angry about it, that's fine.  It's still wrong for them to say that, even if they didn't know.  Yes, you should point it out and correct them.  But give them a chance to learn from their mistake.

All right, that's all I have to say.  Tell me what you think.  Tell me if I went too far and it sounds like I'm saying "oh so minorities have the responsibility to educate everyone, and now the rest of us have an excuse for being ignorant."  Etc etc.  It's a complicated issue.  But let's start out with listening to other people and trying to understand where they're coming from.

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