Otherwise, don’t bother apologizing

6 Dec


The headline sums it up: “The Chi Omega chapter at Penn State University apologized after a photo surfaced of sorority members wearing sombreros and holding offensive signs” (http://news.msn.com/us/penn-state-sorority-apologizes-for-offensive-photo?ocid=ansnews11).

Yes, those signs say: “Will mow lawn for weed + beer” and “I don’t cut grass I smoke it.”

This sad convergence of girls gone wild and women crying out, “We can be funny, too!” gets sadder, for me, with the unsurprising follow-up.

According to WebProNews, the Mexican American Student Association responded to the incident with this statement:

The Mexican American Student Association is disappointed in the attire chosen by this sorority. It in no way represents our culture. Not only have they chosen to stereotype our culture with serapes and sombreros, but the insinuation about drug usage makes this image more offensive. Our country is plagued by a drug war that has led to the death of an estimated 50,000 people, which is nothing to be joked about (http://www.webpronews.com/racist-sorority-photo-stirs-up-trouble-on-facebook-2012-12).

To which the sorority responded with this statement:

Our chapter of Chi Omega sincerely apologizes for portraying inappropriate and untrue stereotypes. The picture in question does not support any of Chi Omega’s values or reflect what the organization aspires to be.

Really?? The only statement of disappointment comes from the MASA? This is just a Mexican thing? Yes, Penn State officially responded, too, with its own statement about being appalled, respecting First Amendment Rights and this incident not reflecting the culture or values of Penn State or sororities and fraternities affiliated with the university. To which I would ask: when speech is hateful–including carelessly or thoughtlessly hateful–don’t we have a responsibility to balance the freedom of the speaker with the freedom of those who have to listen?

And where is the outcry from all the other people, who may not be Mexican, but who understand what it’s like to be stereotyped or have their identity turned into a joke that falls on the other side of funny? It may be that the MASA wasn’t alone, but the media have only chosen to ask and publish their statement. This is equally problematic. We cannot build inclusive communities when it’s every group for themselves when someone challenges the values we purport to share in common.

As for the “apology,” I am so tired of these words. Whoever invented The Apology should be getting royalties. It’s up there with the celebrity “I went to rehab for exhaustion” press release.

So listen up, the next group or person who indulges in a negative stereotype because you thought you could get away with it and then whoops!-no-you-didn’t: please ask yourself where that impulse came from, what it felt like to make fun of other people (what, in fact, were you thinking?), what you’re sorry for (just getting caught?) and what–if anything–you’ve noticed about yourself and your community. Consider which of your values and aspirations your actions did support, and whether you want to continue standing by those values. And then apologize.

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