Why I’m Through With Apologies From Racists

Unless you're taking steps to change the system, I'm not interested in how sorry you are.
Publish date:
January 7, 2015
racism, diversity, privilege

Last week, Lorenzo Dalpani, the CEO of Revlon, was exposed for saying racist, anti-Semitic remarks and of course, the Black women of Twitter had a field day, myself included. The hashtag #ShadesOfRevlon was a satiric spin on how popular lipstick shades could be renamed to bastardize Black and Jewish cultures, especially the darker side of their histories, such as systemic oppression.

I admit that I laughed for a few hours at the tweets, but once the gaiety subsided, I realized just how cyclical this process was for minorities. We laugh in order to restrain our pain and embarrassment at being belittled by people in power once again. Black women alone spend 80% more on cosmetics and twice as much on skin care products and yet we are still mocked in the boardrooms of these companies to which we give our hard-earned money.

The cycle begins just like this:

Step 1: The exposé. A white person in power is finally called out for their years of abuse on people of color. Countless media outlets circulate the story and get in contact with the victims or whoever outed the story.

Step 2: Satire on Twitter. Whenever Black people on Twitter hear about said story and get offended by it (because, let’s face it, they usually are the second-hand victims of these stories), they subvert their anger into hilarious hashtags that in turn give journalists something else to write about. Their companies get more ad revenue and money in their pockets.

Step 3: The apology. The white person in power apologizes and promises to make amends. Maybe even like the Revlon CEO, he will get sued. Although, what’s a million to someone who owns a billion dollar company?

Step 4: He or she lays low for a while.

Step 5: The return. Like the phoenix emerging from the ashes, the person comes back into prominence after some “soul searching”.

You and I have seen this all before and frankly, I am tired of it. I am exhausted of my sympathy for these cyclical occurrences from Don Lemon to Paula Deen to Lorenzo Dalpani because the formula is the same. Let’s call a spade a spade. None of these people are genuinely sorry for what they have done. They are sorry for being caught because this exposure may put a dent into their pockets and invite a whirlwind of bad publicity (if you believe in bad publicity, to begin with).

Anyone who has been abusing minorities for years and mocking the people of the demographics that earn them the most money is not sorry. They hire top-notch public relations professionals so that they can clean up their messes and most come out of this media firestorm unscathed. This cycle continues to happen because there is nothing happening at the root level to thwart its repetition. The same formula yields the same output.

Now, to be fair, I do believe that any person can have a change of heart. But we must not dismiss the fact that these people have all the privilege and resources at their disposal to educate themselves and evidently, they did not choose to do so until they were forced by outside circumstances to do it.

So how do we remedy this situation? I know for certain that the reason why these white public figures make these insensitive remarks is because they are not aware. They are not aware that what they do and say hurts minorities. The easiest way to be aware of one’s differences vis a vis another’s is to be in the midst of them.

They need to surround themselves with more minorities, and not just the ones who cook their food, watch their children, and scrub their kitchen floors. More minorities need to be in the boardroom being heard and taken into consideration for their priceless cultural value to the company. Such a contribution is crucial in this generation, and it all starts with the hiring process. A white person with some high school education can get hired quicker than a black college graduate. If that discrepancy does not unsettle you just a little bit, then you may be also part of the problem.

We need these people in power to be aware. A boardroom should succeed in bringing in a diversity of talents and a diversity of people. One Black or Asian person does not equal diversity. The hiring process needs to be changed. We as minorities cannot only be good enough for you to take our money, but not good enough to hire. We see the statistics and hear from unemployed people of color all the time. Minorities are applying but you are not taking them. Then, others wonder why CEOs and public figures alike make racist faux paus. I can guarantee you it’s because no minority was in their corners in order to tell them that they were making a big mistake.

In essence, we as the public need to hold these people accountable. Thinkpieces and hashtags are great catalysts for conversation, but their impact gets stunted if the people who need these lessons most do not read any of them.

I’ve heard the saying that the best place to hit a rich, privileged person where it hurts is in his or her pockets. But now, that’s not enough anymore. Let’s hurt their revenue and also reveal how dangerous their rhetoric is. If that means sending them books on critical race theory, inviting them on talk shows alongside scholars with minority interviewers, and having powerful people of color to bolster support, so be it.

We cannot allow these cycles to go on because all they do is reinforce a hierarchy. In the end, the minorities are the ones who still feel the sting when the story is old news. We may eventually move on from the topic, but that’s because another racist juggernaut is outed then the emotional wound deepens. Regardless, we never forget. Do not let them forget either.