Sigh. It seems that one of the side effects of our overly-accessible, hyper-connected society is that every time someone in the public eye says something careless, we’re doomed to witness a lather-rinse-repeat cycle of comment, backlash, and apology. You know the drill: There’s an off-color joke or remark, followed by the rapid spread and misinterpretation of said comment via social media, then the call for petitions and protest, followed by the inevitable apology from the aforementioned celebrity who begs the public’s forgiveness and swears never, ever to do it again (until next time). End scene.
This week the offender was comedienne/talk show host Sheryl Underwood, whose disparaging remarks about “nappy, beady” afro hair on CBS’ The Talk set the internet ablaze and enraged every natural hair blogger this side of Curly Nikki:
Naturally, outrage ensued. And right on cue, Underwood issued a public apology on the Steve Harvey Morning Show, vowing to “work tirelessly” to regain our trust and respect:
All of this is frustrating at best. Never mind whether The Talk is a relevant program that has the ability to change anyone’s opinion on natural hair. Never mind whether we like Underwood’s comedy, or are surprised by her comments, or take them to mean that our kinky, curly locks are any less gorgeous than they were last week [*hair flip*].
What should bother us about this situation, and others like it, is that it effectively proves we live in a world where problems aren’t being solved; where racist ideals like the white beauty myth are now reduced to one person’s wrong-headed opinion, and the solution to that racism is now an empty public apology.
Keep your apology.
On a personal level, the conventional wisdom of black grannies everywhere says that a man who “stands up in his wrong” will always gain greater respect than one who backs down. Further, the pressure that social media has now placed on everyone, especially celebrities, to say things they don’t believe in order to protect their careers is truly problematic. Be it Underwood, Roland Martin, Paula Deen or anyone else who’s said something regretful, tearfully reneging on a statement doesn’t change anyone’s oppressive thinking; it only conceals it.
On a societal level, a public apology does nothing to erase the generations of social conditioning that cause us to make offensive comments in the first place. One of my theories as a filmmaker is that everything we need to know in life can be learned from the movies, and the Underwood controversy inevitably brings to mind a scene from the 1990 Sundance classic Chameleon Street:
Underwood is a “victim of 400 years of conditioning,” just like the rest of us. People of color around the globe have been fighting against the white beauty myth for hundreds of years. We have been told ad nauseam by TV, film, commercials and other forms of media, society, and even our kin that our hair is too nappy, our skin is too dark, our lips are too large, and our hips are too wide. This is nothing new. So to pretend that Underwood’s comments are anything more than a symptom of systemic racism is like believing that suppressing a cough can cure the flu. It won’t make you well. You have to get to the root of the problem.
There are effective things you can do. Instead of apologizing, you can try being honest about how you feel and if you truly believe you’re wrong, work to correct your behavior. Try some self-examination. Look into why people are pissed and ask yourself if they have a point. Get to know the members of whatever group you’ve offended. Try educating yourself and others on the issues that caused you to say whatever got you into trouble. Read a book. Take a class. Donate some of your hard-earned ducats to a cause that will actually change something. Work. Volunteer. Organize. But don’t waste your time and mine with a contrived public statement cooked up by you and your publicist in hopes of saving your tarnished image. Because nobody’s buying it, and it doesn’t solve anything.
I say this with love, because I believe in my people and have hope that we can all do better. But to borrow the immortal words of Red from Orange is the New Black, “I can’t do s*** with ‘I’m sorry.’”
Latest posts by jai tiggett (see all)
- Stop Apologizing! - September 6, 2013
- Benevolent Racism or the ‘Miss Millie’ in Paula Deen - June 28, 2013