#2: The Anatomy of an Apology
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|Jan 16|| 8|
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Today, we’ll be talking about apologies. I don’t want to make this about @whereartjon too much because I don’t think we should give him that much attention and – this is the real reason – I haven’t been able to keep up with all of his posts. If any of you are friends with him, please go to his house and put his phone in a drawer. Then make him go outside. It will be good for everybody.
The difficulty in talking about Jon’s apology is that he’s been horrendously inconsistent with it. I think he apologised, then retracted it, then apologised with caveats, then faced more criticism, then apologised in a song.
I’m not sure what stage of the apology we’re on right now (because I’m protecting my peace and not looking him up) but I’m willing to bet that it doesn’t look sincere. Why? Because it isn’t! I get it. It’s incredibly unpleasant to be corrected and it’s even worse for your self-esteem when people are calling you a racist. It’s okay. Unlike being Indian, being racist is not a permanent state of being. Racism is a condition you can recover from. It’s okay. I can say this. I know ex-racists.
Here is the RTC guide to apologising.
(I write about race but feel free to apply any of these lessons to misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia. Bigotry can be diverse, too!)
1. In order to apologise, you must first believe that you’ve done something wrong.
Don’t just apologise for using a slur. You’re just apologising for saying the quiet part out loud. What’s actually important is admitting that your bad behaviour came from a place of prejudice. Here’s an example: “I was wrong to use the term ‘snakewhore’ and I understand that it plays on some ugly stereotypes about Indian people. I have clearly internalised some of these stereotypes and I need to work on challenging those harmful beliefs.”
2. Apologies are about the people you’ve hurt.
Identify who you’ve hurt and think about what they would want as an apology. For extra credit, go one step further and ask the person/people what you can do to make it up to them. They might want you to make a public statement or to donate to a cause specific to their community. The details really depend on what you did and where your harm was directed. If you were being a Generic Racist and not targeting any individuals, a public statement should suffice as long as you’re owning up to your mistake and not hiding behind any defensive language. “I apologise if I hurt anyone” is cowardly. If you’re at the stage where you need to take a screenshot of your Notes App to make penance, you’ve definitely hurt somebody. Instead, try “I apologise for hurting [insert community] with my racist actions/speech/vibes.” More examples of weasel words: “My actions could have been interpreted as racist”, “there has been talk of me being a racist”, “some would characterise my words as racist”. If you don’t think you’ve been racist, don’t apologise. Your insincerity will show.
3. Apologies are not about you.
Very often, people and organisations caught being racist will apologise because they’re trying to save their public image. This looks very fake. Try also to not make your apology about how much you suck as a person, how much you’ve suffered, or the weight of your realisations and why they’ve made you sad. Mobilising pity as a strategy for making people accept your apology is a very bad look. At best, you’ve successfully pulled off emotional blackmail. What’s more likely to happen is people will see right through you and you will look a bit pathetic. You’re also putting the people you’ve hurt in an awkward position. They should feel free to reject your apology if they deem it insufficient or hollow without being subject to a song/thinly-veiled threats of self-harm/a 3 minute video from your front camera where you’re crying and snotty and wailing about being a bad person.
4. It’s okay to take some time before you apologise.
It takes time to fully process big inner revelations like “I am a racist”. If this has played out over social media, it’s likely that a few dozen people have already typed out lengthy explanations on how and why you fucked up. Read them. Ask your friends to guide you through the process if you’re confused or feeling too defensive to engage with this openly. If you don’t have good friends or all your friends are also racist (likely), you can email me and I will help you with your apology and racist rehabilitation for a fee. :)
Say it with me everybody – Cancel Culture Is Not Real! You will probably still get jobs or stay in business if you continue being racist because that’s the status quo. If you’re genuine about wanting to be a better person and making up for harm that you’ve caused, even better. Most people I know believe in the potential of personal growth and in learning from one’s mistakes. Nobody starts out perfect and there’s a lot of incentive to believe in racist tropes when you benefit from them. It might seem difficult to put yourself out there and say “Hey, I’ve been a racist and I need to work on myself” but I promise you it will be absolutely fine. People are already willing to make a million excuses for actual racism so just imagine how nice they’ll be to you if you take the high road!
Your apology will probably be more newsworthy than your actual racist remarks. Think about all the middle class Chinese liberal brownie points you’ll get to cash in then…
Artist Div (@kala.kutti on Instagram) has rightfully pointed out that the Straits Times coverage of the Jon Drama has focused on the apology more than the actual racist remarks. This post is worth swiping through.
I don’t know how long Chand’s Instagram stories will stay up but it’s worth looking at them to learn about her perspective on this whole mess.
My friend Aqilah will be running a body neutrality workshop this Saturday. When the whole brownface saga went down last year, Aqi put together an art therapy workshop for brown folk that was much needed. The workshop this weekend isn’t explicitly about race but will be part of a larger programme that centres Indian creatives. We all know that beauty standards are racialised and that brown people in Singapore have a specific set of struggles when it comes to accepting how they look in a society that places special value on light skin (among other traits).
Lastly, if you want to see a phoney apology get made fun of in style…
Any feedback for me?
I know it’s still early days for this newsletter but I’d like to know how to make this good for you. Is this too long? Too short? Let me know what you want to learn about, if there’s anything you’d like to see covered etc etc.
I’ve noticed quite a few non-Singaporean subscribers. Welcome! Let me know if you’d like me to go a little slower or if you need help understanding the Singaporean context. Don’t feel bad asking for help. There are a lot of Singaporeans who could probably use a primer too :)
See you soon!