Monday, 1 October 2018
Why is it so difficult to say ‘sorry’ when it comes to racism?
One of the main obstacles in combating every-day racism, the routine of incidents and micro-aggressions that People of Colour experience on a daily basis, is the resistance of white people to acknowledge it.
It would be so much easier if whites admitted that, since we’ve been racially socialized in white supremacy, nobody is immune to racism and, therefore, even with best intentions, we mess it up sometimes and we’d better make amends when it happens.
A white friend of mine has her daughter (a Black seven-year old) enrolled in a ballet school. She receives an e-mail directed to the parents with the list of things required for a recital. Among them are ballet shoes in “skin-colour”. When my friend writes back to ask what is meant by skin-colour, the lady running the school explains that these are the classical “nude” shoes, and she attaches a picture of a pair of shoes in pale pink. My friend makes a point of noticing that “nude” is not necessarily pink and begs the lady to be more careful in her choice of words. Now, as it happens far too often in such cases, the request is met by defensiveness and denial. The lady is quick in blaming my friend for feeling offended and arrogantly states that the expression “nude/skin-colour” is fully appropriate and in current use.
What makes me really angry in this kind of incident is stubbornness of people in refusing to acknowledge their faults. How about trying to be reasonable and recognizing that the other has a point? Something like “I’m sorry. I had not looked at it that way. I’ll try to do better in the future.” Is that so difficult? Come on.
In fact, refusing to apologise equals taking racism for granted. It is like saying that we want things to stay that way because we see no wrong. That stubbornness is the language of structural racism that perpetuates itself by the sheer refusal of getting into a conversation.