We need to stop demanding that people apologize.
Every day, people in the public eye say things that are mean or stupid or wrong. They are sexist, racist, anti-Semitic, ableist, partisan, homophobic, classist and varieties of discriminatory for which we have no “ist” words. They may be vague microaggressions that only register if you know where to look or they might be yards tall and outlined in can’t-miss-me neon. They could be said out loud, recorded, written in an article or Tweeted to the world.
Offense is out there. Intentional or not. Hateful or neglectful. Overt or benign.
And when it happens, there are immediate, vociferous calls for apologies. Then there is the wait. Will the comment be “walked back?” Will there be an apology? A real one? Or an “I’m sorry you were offended” pseudo-contrition?
We have to realize that we can lead by example, and we can criticize and scold people for the things they say, and we can condemn roundly the words they drop like bombs in the public discourse. But we have to stop demanding the apologies.
Because an apology at gunpoint means nothing.
A racist who is told he will face financial ruin if he doesn’t apologize is still a racist. An anti-Semite who will lose an election is still an anti-Semite. All of the questionable character traits or definitively awful personal opinions will still be there after a disingenuous apology.
We drag these “I’m sorry’s” out of celebrities and politicians like we do out of recalcitrant children, pushing them forward, making them hug it out with the wronged party and grumbling the right words said in all the wrong tone, making it very clear there was no epiphany where the penitent realized the error of their ways.
Why don’t we just let them stand by their words? Why try to rewind the clock? We gain nothing by a fake apology. In fact, we lose the ability to make our own well-informed choices.
If we know this actor is a misogynist, why demand he pretend otherwise when we can choose to avoid his movies? If we know this politician is an anti-Semite, why repeatedly coerce change when we can cast a vote and end the problem?
We need to save our breath — or ink, or our digital effort — for fixing the wrongs, not threatening the words.