Culture

Stop Apologizing for Everything

Chance the Rapper performs at the Made in America Music Festival in Philadelphia, Pa., September 4, 2016. (Mark Makela/Reuters)
Ritualized retractions and forced self-criticism nullify the benefits of free speech.

Whether you’re on Twitter or not, you’re likely aware of Kanye West’s explosive return to the social-media platform. Since his account went live, the rapper has tweeted an image of himself wearing a MAGA hat; submitted a photo of a different, signed MAGA hat; and offered up pointed statements such as “Obama was in office for eight years and nothing in Chicago changed.” The ensuing outrage — comedian Kumail Nanjiani declared April 25, the day of Kanye’s MAGA-hat tweets, “the worst day in Twitter history” — led to an unlikely ally, Chicago’s Chance the Rapper. Chance tweeted, “Black people don’t have to be Democrats.”

This innocuous statement set off a firestorm even larger than Kanye’s. Not only is Chance a Democrat who is deeply embedded in grassroots Chicago politics, he is also a personal friend of Barack Obama’s. Moreover, his criticism couldn’t be waved away by claims of failing mental health, as Kanye’s have been since the rapper first hinted at his “free thinking.”

A few days later, Chance apologized.

In so doing, he joined an elite group of public figures who, after making statements that are vaguely critical of a protected class or supportive of a supposed oppressor, have bowed before demands to undo their statements. While Chance is one of many victims of this ritual, his original statement stands out as one of the most non-controversial, and therefore the least in need of an apology.

Perversely enough, it is often the most banal comments that inspire the most outrage. Like “It’s OK to be white,” Chance’s observation was not a flirtation with outlawed opinion nor an invitation for others to do so, and it was not radical nor meant to inspire radical action. It was simply a statement of fact, but because it questioned the permitted opinion, it had to be corrected.

By nailing someone like Chance for the slightest, most insignificant movement toward the line dividing the permitted opinion from the forbidden one, the Left prevents others from daring to drift further astray from their line of thinking.

It’s smart politics: By nailing someone like Chance for the slightest, most insignificant movement toward the line dividing the permitted opinion from the forbidden one, the Left prevents others from daring to drift further astray from their line of thinking. To enforce the blanket ban on non-permitted speech, the Left threatens exile from public acceptance in the form of labels including “racist,” “sexist,” “homophobe,” and “Uncle Tom,” the chain threatening Chance. This is one option facing those who express contrary opinion. The other is an apology.

By saying he was sorry, Chance wasn’t notifying us that his statement was unfaithful to his true beliefs, nor was he expressing a change of opinion brought about by soul-searching and counseling. He was “choosing” to avoid exile.

Five days ago, Canadian country-music singer Shania Twain made the same choice after she said in an interview with the Guardian that she would have voted for Donald Trump. In her four-tweet atonement, Twain not only issued the crowd-mandated apology, she explained herself by reciting the mantra of those who had asked for it: “I am passionately against discrimination of any kind and hope it’s clear . . . that I do not hold any common moral beliefs with the current President.”

Yet another class of apologies, and perhaps the most striking, consists of those made to remedy a statement that is in line with the accepted opinion but perceived by some as too close to a criticism of it. One example is of a library in Chicago that displayed a poem supportive of Islam. While such a poem would ordinarily be welcome, the poet made the unwise decision to use satire to make his support more persuasive, causing the poem to appear as an endorsement of anti-Islamic sentiment on first glance. (It didn’t help that it was titled “Hijab means Jihad” nor that it was set against a photo of the Confederate flag.) After patrons complained, the library’s administrators caved, removing the poem and issuing the requisite apology.

The same day as Chance’s apology, reality-TV star Kim Zolciak-Biermann was made to apologize for saying on her television show, The Real Housewives of Atlanta, that racism didn’t exist ten years ago. Her comment, taken egregiously out of context, was to illustrate that social media has demonstrated just how much unreported racism exists in the world — racism was relatively nonexistent ten years ago in comparison to how severe it is now. Nevertheless, she recanted.

If you Google the word “apologizes,” you will find that these four cases are not outliers. They are not cherry-picked, they are not isolated. They happen constantly, and they’re happening more. Yes, overuse has rendered apologies meaningless, and we know that Chance still believes black people don’t all have to be Democrats and Twain still believes she would’ve voted for Trump if she weren’t Canadian, but that doesn’t matter. Those demanding that the detractors re-accept the permitted opinion lest they be damned for all time don’t need an internal restoration of faith, only the appearance of it.

So the next time someone like Chance encounters resistance for even a modest attempt to push the line, the response cannot be, “My fault yo.” What good does the meaningless re-purification ritual, the ceremonial hand-washing and recitation of a profession of faith, do other than fuel the efforts of the authoritarian thought police? We’ve seen this attempt to secure political domination before, and while it worked well for Chairman Mao, it was — and still is under the state Communist Party — at the expense of the Chinese people’s life and liberty. They would agree, if they could.

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