This post is adapted from an Instagram story I did a couple of months ago after watching the following video:
I still feel strongly about this, and it felt worth revisiting in written format. I’ve defaulted to Insta stories for a lot of things I maybe would have written before, so now that I have a space for that again, here we are.
First off: we ALL need to know how to apologize. It’s a hard thing to do, to put aside our pride and our particular attachment to being right, and to offer a genuine apology. It’s not unique to racism, but it’s very apropos to this moment. As you and I are joining this conversation, it’s important to be able to own your own biases and mistakes, and know how to offer an apology for harm done without doing more harm. It is possible, even with a good intention, to apologize in a way that completely invalidates that person’s experience, and focuses more on your intention being good than the harm that has been done. That is not a real apology.
I think there is a lot of temptation to hear this and say something about how we have to be “so sensitive” or so “politically correct” these days. And guess what – yes! That is true! It is now your (and my) job(s) to be sensitive and understand things that we have been a part of in the past, or are a part of now, that were/are harmful. To anyone. For any reason. Full stop.
Maya Angelou told us about this:
I bet none of you would argue with that logic – it’s airtight, no doubt. AND YET.
We are living in do better days. She is talking to us, now. I’m writing as a white, cisgenger, heterosexual, Christian woman, from all of the privilege those descriptors hold. Thanks to the time I have spent listening to people outside my own cultural background – by reading their books and tuning into their Instagram lives and watching their shows, etc – I have learned a lot about what that means, for me and for them. I bet many of you have too, and I bet even if it’s just a little bit, you know better than you did a few months ago. The doing better part, though, feels hard for us to do. I get it; it is hard. But it’s not too hard. And we can’t let that stop us.
Everyone is sensitive to the things that matter to them – especially the things that threaten the emotional or physical safety of themselves or their loved ones. The things that I am sensitive about are not the same as the things you are. The things our Black friends, our LGBTQ+ friends, are telling us they are sensitive to are not the same as the things that I am, because I don’t have to be [enter: my privilege]. But now that I know – now that they have told me (or more accurately, now that I am listening) – I know better, and I can be sensitive to those things.
I take issue with the term “political correctness” used in this way, and I think we should call it what it is: asking for compassion and understanding for things that we don’t naturally understand or varies from our personal experience. Hearing that a joke you make would probably make a Black person uncomfortable should be enough to cause you to say, “oh gosh. I won’t make that joke anymore, even if there isn’t a Black person around.” Hearing that a person wants to be called by pronouns or a name that is different from the ones that you’re used to, and hearing that calling them by old names or pronouns is hurtful, damaging, and invalidating to them should be enough to convince you to learn a new name and replace old pronouns. If someone tells me that something I said or did hurt them or caused them pain, that is enough for me not to do it again. It does not mean I will never make a mistake again – but thankfully, I know how to apologize and since I will then know better, I can do better.
I take issue with the idea that any of this is too much work for us. We are hearing (loud and clear) that the culture we have created is more harmful to some human beings than others, and we have a responsibility now to stop doing the things that are causing the harm. Consider for a moment that it was your child, your spouse, you at risk, and then consider how you would hope the society you live in would respond. I also stand firm that this is what we are called to when we’re told to love our neighbor, and that the effort to do better honors God. So: take an extra minute in a text or email and make sure that you use the language you know is most appropriate. Stop when you catch yourself doing or saying something you recognize as harmful and course correct. Find another joke. Pay attention. Listen when someone tells you their experience (it’s theirs – they are right). Right your own wrongs and then speak up when you see others perpetrating harm.
For the record, I would go to bat on this for ANY OF YOU.
Anytime. Even if I hardly knew you and even if I didn’t like you very much, I would still think you deserve sensitivity and protection from harm where my privilege allows me to provide it (and even in the times when it doesn’t).
These are do better times. Let’s make Maya proud.