Robbie Hyman wrote an article entitled The Non-Apology Apology which appeared on the FedSmith site in 2010. The article stuck with me as I thought he identified an issue that is becoming more common and justifiably offensive to those on the receiving end of the “apology.”
Mr. Hyman noted: “Apologizing can be very unpleasant – humbling, embarrassing, and sometimes even scary because you don’t know if the other person will accept.”
In effect, it is embarrassing to the offender to admit a mistake. And, if the person making the “apology” is a politician, it probably means a bigger ego than most is involved along with more potential publicity. Appearing to be contrite, while mouthing words that indicate the lack of a sincere apology, may provide the cover that is often considered desirable by those in the eye of the public.
Here is a recent example. Minnesota state Rep. Ryan Winkler called a 5-4 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court striking down a part of a law racist, and the work of “four accomplices to race discrimination and one Uncle Thomas.”
When asked about it, Mr. Winkler said he “didn’t think it was offensive to suggest that (Supreme Court) Justice (Clarence) Thomas should be even more concerned about racial discrimination than colleagues. But if such a suggestion is offensive, I apologize.”
Perhaps digging a deeper hole than had already been created, the local leader, who apparently has a history degree from an Ivy League school, noted that “I did not understand ‘Uncle Tom’ as a racist term, and there seems to be some debate about it. I do apologize for it, however.”
No doubt, this heartfelt “non-apology, apology” will be well-received by Justice Thomas.