Opinion

Why public apologies about racist comments are so annoying

People like Angelo Agrizzi and Adam Catzavelos don't apologise because of what they believe, they apologise for the damage they caused

14 July 2019 - 00:03 By
Adam Catzavelos arrives at the Randburg magistrate's court on May 28 2019, where he faces a charge of crimen injuria following last year's race rant in Greece.
Adam Catzavelos arrives at the Randburg magistrate's court on May 28 2019, where he faces a charge of crimen injuria following last year's race rant in Greece.
Image: Alon Skuy/Sunday Times

We live in the era of public apologies. In the past few weeks I have felt particularly besieged by apologies, from Angelo Agrizzi to Adam Catzavelos to Zodwa Wabantu.

For starters, I don't understand what Agrizzi and Catzavelos are apologising for. Both of them used the word "kaffir" to refer to people with my skin pigmentation. (This is a decent family publication, so I can only write that word once before someone complains that I am using it gratuitously. Therefore, until the end of this column I will have to call it "the k-word", which I consider to be an absurdity.)

I take it for granted that quite a few white people use that word in "safe spaces" where there are no "ks" around. Of course, the problem is that many white people happen to be offended by the word, which leads to its utterance making it onto social media and whatnot.

The reason I find Catzavelos and Agrizzi's apologies annoying is that they were not apologising for harbouring certain beliefs about their darker-hued brethren. I would have been far more impressed had Agrizzi said: "I apologise for being so careless and allowing myself to be recorded calling black people ks because I know they don't like to be called that." I would have respected the Bosasa butterball.

Ditto Catzavelos. I don't understand folks who are incensed that his apology was insincere. Duh! The man hates black people so badly he had to immortalise a rare moment without them around him on a Greek beach.

This is why I secretly admire Auntie Helen and Steve Hofmeyr. If you're going to hate on the melanin-endowed, at least have the chutzpah to stand confidently on the corner of Prejudice and Disdain.

If you're going to hate on the melanin-endowed, at least have the chutzpah to stand confidently on the corner of Prejudice and Disdain

If I thought Zodwa Wabantu was open to persuasion I would probably tell her to never open her mouth anywhere near a camera ever again. I don't think the biggest problem of anyone who agrees to be filmed saying that gay men keep "forgetting that they don't have vaginas" is homophobia. I think they have a much more pressing problem in the IQ department.

Until about 10 years ago, I don't know that I fully comprehended the need for apologising. I just didn't get it. The way I figured, if a friend called me "a moron with a slab of cement where your brain is supposed to be" during a debate about whether Stevie Wonder of Marvin Gaye is the greatest soul artist of the 20th century, he didn't need to apologise afterwards. (This is hypothetical, obviously.)

My feeling was that if he said those words, he probably believed them and I didn't think people needed to apologise for their beliefs. This is until a good friend pointed out that we don't apologise because of what we believe but because our beliefs hurt others' feelings. We apologise for the damage we cause.

All of that said, I must confess that I am in bewildered awe of human beings born without umthambo wokuxolisa. That's isiZulu for the apologising gene. We all know someone who believes they don't have anything to apologise for.

For instance, it is more likely Kaizer Chiefs will win the Fifa Club World Cup than one Matamela Ramaphosa will ever pull a King David, don sackcloth, rub himself in ashes and wail in the wilderness over certain concomitant actions that occurred on some koppie in the North West.


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