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Elites who appease the baying mob’s apology addiction have stripped apology of all meaning

Frank Furedi
Frank Furedi

is an author and social commentator. He is an emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Kent in Canterbury. Author of How Fear Works: The Culture of Fear in the 21st Century. Follow him on Twitter @Furedibyte

is an author and social commentator. He is an emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Kent in Canterbury. Author of How Fear Works: The Culture of Fear in the 21st Century. Follow him on Twitter @Furedibyte

Elites who appease the baying mob’s apology addiction have stripped apology of all meaning
No sooner did Jacob Frey, the Mayor of Minneapolis, apologize to the black community for the killing of George Floyd than everyone felt they had to say sorry for the sins of their fathers, erasing the meaning of sincere apology.

I’ve stopped counting the number of apologies issued by public figures, business institutions and celebrities in recent weeks. It’s sometimes difficult to avoid the conclusion that a public apology has become a public-relations exercise. Why else would the Greene King pub chain and Lloyd’s of London apologize for the links to the slave trade – a historical event that occurred centuries ago?

Moral cowardice and the easy way out

Moral cowardice is another of the driving forces fueling the proliferation of public apologies. Apology has become weaponized to the point that very few politicians possess the strength of character to stand by their words. I remember when, last November, the Mayor of Middlesbrough, Andy Preston, apologized ‘unreservedly’ to the mental-health charity Mind for calling a Facebook commenter a ‘nutter’. There’s something truly scary about a world in which people wish to censor others for using a word the vast majority of human beings find unobjectionable. But what is even more chilling is that the mayor felt obliged to grovel and apologize.

The elites’ addiction to apology has been evident since the 1990s. During that decade, the then US president, Bill Clinton, publicly apologized to his nation’s black community for slavery. Meanwhile, the former British prime minister Tony Blair turned public apology into a veritable art form. He took it upon himself to apologize for Britain’s role in the slave trade. He also issued an apology in 1997 for his nation’s responsibility for the Irish potato famine of the 19th century. It is evident that Western political elites are far better at apologizing for the ‘bad old days’ than inspiring the public about their nation’s past – or even present.

Knee-jerk knee-bending

Since the outbreak of the present wave of Black Lives Matter protests, the issuing of a public apology has become almost a routine response to the mere hint that you should take the knee and grovel. 

Typically, whenever an individual is called out and denounced for their language, an apology swiftly follows. But in the current climate, there can be no ‘mistakes’, because your words will come back to bite you. Just about any gesture or statement can be branded as not just insensitive but racist. Poor Karol G, the Colombian reggaeton singer, who, in response to the protest following George Floyd’s death, tweeted a now-deleted picture of her black-and-white coated dog with the caption ‘The perfect example that Black and White TOGETHER look beautiful’, along with the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. After she was denounced and ridiculed, she issued an immediate statement of apology. “I want to make clear that my intentions were right in the photo I posted earlier. I meant to say that racism is terrible and that I cannot begin to understand it,” she pleaded.

As Rachel Yang wrote recently on the arts website Entertainment Weekly, ‘2020 has turned out to be an unpredictable year, to say the least, but one thing we can always count on is celebrities needing to issue apologies for their behavior’.

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Never enough

Experience shows that often an apology is not enough, as if those who demand them get ever more high in their addiction to humiliation and, enjoying it, seek to up the dose. Take the case of LA Galaxy football player Aleksandar Katai. His club forced him to issue an apology, not for anything that he did, but because his wife Tea posted a statement calling protestors disgusting cattle! Poor Katai took the knee and pledged that both he and his family would “take the necessary actions to learn, understand, listen, and support the black community.” However, not even this act of self-abasement helped him. He was dropped from the squad because of a statement made by his wife.

Western society’s addiction to public apology is a reflection of the fact that its political and cultural elite does not believe in itself – or at least it has no idea what to believe in. The speed with which individuals apologize for a statement they made a few hours before exposes both their lack of firm conviction and their moral cowardice. When an apology is a response to a very public ultimatum, it’s almost never a genuine act of reflection and contrition. Rather, it has become an empty ritual that denudes their apology of meaning.

As I write these lines, the UK’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is facing calls to apologize for stating that taking the knee is a gesture copied from the TV drama ‘Game of Thrones’. He added that he would take the knee for only two people: ‘the Queen and the Mrs, when I asked her to marry me’. After an outburst of criticism, Raab tried to soothe the mob baying for his blood by indicating that he has “full respect for BLM campaigners,” but didn’t issue the now-mandatory apology.

It took just a few minutes for the all too readily offended Twitterati to pile in to demand an apology. The acting leader of the Liberal Democrats, Ed Davey, led the way with a post on Twitter demanding that Raab issue a ‘fulsome apology’.

Davey knows a thing or two about the meaningless issuing of an apology. Last June, he apologized for writing that his electoral strategy was to “decapitate that blond head,” referring to PM Boris Johnson.

Back in 1976, Elton John released a song titled ‘Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word’. A song titled ‘The Hardest Word Not to Say is Sorry’ would be altogether more fitting for the 2020s.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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