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  • Writer's pictureNoelani Pearl Hernandez

How to apologize when you say something racist

Racism is a significant problem in our society. It manifests in our words and actions and can hurt and damage relationships. If you have said or done something racist, it is essential to apologize – but it is also important to do so correctly. Today, in San Jose, the community came together to "buy out" the two street vendors that were viciously attacked due to a hate crime.

The first food vendor attack occurred outside of the SAP Center on Feb. 16. A customer demanded a free hot dog after making a purchase moments earlier. When the vendor refused, the man assaulted him, kicking him in the face.

The second attack occurred the following Saturday. The vendor was working at his food stand when he was assaulted with a baseball bat by Kenny Ho, an Intel Auto Part Store employee.


Kenny Ho issued a so call apology that read:

Kenny Ho's message is an example of how not to apologize. Kenny Ho is making excuses, shifting the blame, saying "sorry" without taking action, and waiting too long to apologize. Finally, we will conclude with some final thoughts on the importance of apologizing for racism.

To sincerely apologize you must acknowledge what you did wrong, understand why your words were hurtful, take full responsibility for your comments, show genuine remorse, and plan to do better. The above does none of those things.

How to apologize when you say something racist?

  • Acknowledge what you did wrong, full stop. The first step in apologizing for saying something racist is acknowledging that you did something wrong. Acknowledge that your words or actions were hurtful, and reflect on why your words or actions were wrong. It is essential for helping the other person feel understood, respected, and heard that you understand why your words were hurtful.

  • Once you have acknowledged that you did something wrong, it's essential to understand why your words were hurtful. To do this, you must take time for self-reflection, ask questions and seek to understand the realities of how racism affects people's lives. These actions will show the other person you are committed to learning and growing.

  • Take full responsibility for your words: Once you understand why your comments were hurtful, it is crucial to take full responsibility. This means owning your part in the situation and accepting fault where it's due.

  • Show humility and be willing to apologize even if you think you were only partially responsible.

  • Show genuine remorse: When apologizing, it's important to show genuine remorse. Express how sorry you are for the hurt you caused and avoid making excuses or denying your part in the situation. Be sincere and take the time to listen and validate the person's feelings.

  • Progress, not perfection. Make a plan to do better: Lastly, planning how you will do better in the future is important. This could include reading books on racism (or joining our free book club), joining a support group, attending workshops, or participating in anti-racist activities. This will help to show the other person that you are committed to learning and taking action.

How to NOT to apologize when you say something racist?

  • Don't make excuses: When apologizing, it's never okay to make excuses for why you said or did something wrong. Excuses are a way of avoiding responsibility and deflecting blame, which will only make the other person feel worse.

  • Don't shift the blame: Along with making excuses, it's important not to shift the blame or blame the other person for your words or actions. You are responsible for your comments and actions – no one else.

  • Don't just say "sorry": Saying "sorry" alone won't cut it; that doesn't mean keeping talking. It means you must take action and plan to do better. Saying "sorry" without further action will make it feel like you aren't sorry.

  • Don't wait too long to apologize: After saying or doing something racist, it's important to apologize as soon as possible. Waiting too long to apologize could make the other person feel like you don't care or aren't taking their feelings seriously.

Apologizing for saying something racist is vital in repairing relationships and addressing racism. The dos include:

  • Acknowledging what you did wrong.

  • Understanding why your words were hurtful.

  • Taking full responsibility for your comments.

  • Showing genuine remorse.

  • Making a plan to do better.

The don'ts include:

  • Making excuses

  • Shifting the blame

  • Saying "sorry" without taking action

  • Waiting too long to apologize.

Taking the time to apologize in the right way – with humility and understanding – will help to mend relationships and move towards a solution. It is the only way to move forward.

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