Sunday, 12 June 2011

On denials in apologies and defence and why it fails

Ok, so I go round to someone's house and steal their money. I go through their drawers and remove all jewelry I can find. I load up any expensive, easy to move electronics like MP3 players, smartphones, laptops. I grab any loose cash and on the way out I find their keys and steal their car so I can move all the loot.

Days later I am arrested. The police find all the stolen goods with serial numbers proving they're form the victim's home, they find my finger prints everywhere, they've caught me on CCTV and I am now at a fence trying to sell the whole load. In short, I am caught red handed.

Faced with my outraged and upset victims I say “I'm sorry. I violated your home, I took your possessions, I'm sorry I hurt you. I'm not a thief...”


Because I very clearly AM a thief. I have been caught red handed. By denying I am a thief I am claiming either a) I didn't do it or b) that entering someone's home, stealing their stuff and trying to sell it is not thievery (or burglary to be exact).

And so we come to the various apologies for saying something hateful and bigoted – and not just the apologies, but the defenders as well. “I'm not a hateful person. I'm not a homophobe/racist/anti-semite/misogynist. I'm not a bigot”.

So what are you saying? Are you saying you didn't say those things? Or are you saying those things aren't hateful?

Was there an alien invasion? Were they cloned? Is it their evil twin? A doppleganger? Mind control? No? Well the first appears to be admitted. Which means we're left with the second, to which I take exception. People who are not hateful/prejudiced/bigoted don't say these things.

If they said it then yes they ARE a hateful person/homophobe/racist/misogynist/anti-semite/bigot. And this is necessary to establish because distracting from it, saying this isn't the case is to deny or justify bigotry. It's to take some of the vilest hate speech you could ever have the displeasure to come across and say “no, not hateful!” And sometimes you have to call a spade a spade – especially when this spade is being used to hit people. Pretending the spade isn't there or is actually some kind of cuddly toy won't heal the bruises or set the bones. And, of course, you're laying the groundwork for the next person to pick up that spade and start swinging.

And this comes up time and again. From Mel Gibson to Tracy Morgan and a gazillion more hateful people in between. They say something grossly unacceptable and the non-pology contains the words “I'm not a...” Your non-pology isn't helping – it's denying hate, it's ignoring hate, it's brushing off what hate is and I do not want the idea that these terrible things are just said by any random Tom Dick or Harry. They're not – unless Tom, Dick and Harry are hateful people.

(And yes even the best of us, through privilege blinkers, are going to say something prejudiced because we haven't adequately unpacked the invisible knapsacks. It's also why there is a distinction between -ist action and -ist personality. But this falls away when we're talking a long drawn out rant or the use of clear slurs – because ignorance or unexamined privilege do not cover outright hate)