I could publish a book with all the apologies I’ve received from white women, nay, a series. They always come years after a racialized incident, long after harm has been done. They rarely offer actions, or a desire to repair. They always tear open old wounds and leave me feeling wholly inadequate for days on end.
Some come from women I admire, respect, work with, have forgiven, might call an ally.
Last week I got two.
The first one said (paraphrased), “I saw your features while flipping through the 425 Business magazine. Congrats! You’ve come such a long way since x incident at y company where you were pushed out — we knew you’d do great things, but you know I couldn’t do anything to support you.” I found myself asking why a woman with so much influence, an industry leader, a board member at said company, couldn’t step up to defend a WoC who has been gaslit by that company’s CEO for six months.
A few days later, I go a second apology email. This time, from a white woman apologizing for her “desire to stay out of the conflict”, prioritizing her own “conflict aversion over what was happening”. Part apology, part confession, it fully derailed my ability to focus on work until I had a chance to debrief with a dear mentor.
Here’s what I want to say to every white woman, who has sent me an apology after causing or watching me endure great harm. Apologies can be a powerful way to heal if done well.
- I know the behavior for which you’re apologizing, is one where you prioritized your comfort over my safety. Maybe you’ve just come into this awareness, but I’ve known all along. Search for ‘white women apology’ and you’ll find thousands of articles on white women apologizing after calling the police on black men, spitting on grocery store workers, abusing their PoC domestic help, for throwing WoC under the bus at work. Some of you have apologized for handing Donald Trump the election, but are willing to do little/nothing to get the vote out, march, or have hard conversations with your white friends/family/colleagues.
- Apologies ≠ Action Unless your apology comes with an offer to repair the relationship and take action, it’s meaningless. Tell me what you’ll do differently when racialized conflict arises at work or in community, how you’ll advocate for WoC & BIPOC, what you’ll do to course-correct right here, right now. Maybe you’ll find yourself taking actions so that you may not have to offer apologies later.
- Please don’t congratulate me for surviving, for remaking myself, for coming out stronger. My resilience is not a sign of my strength, it’s a sign of your betrayal. It is a survival skill, a muscle that grows from living in a world that devalues and takes advantage of women of color (and all BIPOC). Imagine what would’ve been possible if you had stopped or reduced the harm? What my life would’ve looked like if I had taken fewer falls?
Remember, the goal is to overcome those feelings of guilt and shame, and take action. Keeping sending those notes.