How To Respond To A Bullshit Apology

Photo: Jeff Kravitz, Getty Images

In the span of five days, Saturday Night Live hired and fired comedian Shane Gillis after his use of sexist, homophobic, racist language — including comments that incorporated racial slurs and mocking a Chinese accent — all came to light on social media. In an initial statement, Gillis sort of tried to apologise. “I’m a comedian who pushes boundaries,” he wrote on Twitter. “I sometimes miss ... My intention is never to hurt anyone but I am trying to be the best comedian I can be and sometimes that requires risks.”

After facing further criticism, and his eventual firing, Gillis doubled-down on his non-apology. “It feels ridiculous for comedians to be making public statements but here we are. I’m a comedian who was funny enough to get SNL. That can’t be taken away.” While some people have accepted Gillis’ statement, sometimes, a bad apology warrants correction.

When you receive a shitty apology from someone, whether it be for a small accident or the use of inappropriate language justified as “comedy,” it’s important to make your point clear — and realise that not everyone is deserving of forgiveness.

Point out the flaw in their apology

If you’ve just received an apology⁠, and still believe that your feelings haven’t been heard or acknowledged, let the person know exactly why you feel unresolved. Perhaps you felt like they qualified the apology (“I’m sorry, but..”) or that it felt mostly insincere (“I’m sorry that you felt this way”). If you hear any language like this — or a flimsy excuse for their behaviour (“I’m a comedian who pushes boundaries”) — calmly state why their apology feels unsatisfactory and reiterate your point.

A genuine apology should feel straightforward and express that person’s responsibility for their actions and a commitment not to make the same mistake in the future. (“I fucked up” is a good start.) And be careful to listen for an explanation that doesn’t absolve them of responsibility.

“I always explain when I apologise, how else is my apology supposed to be genuine?” one user on a recent Reddit thread writes. “I want you to understand why I did what I did, what led me to it, and why/how I understand that I was wrong. Intent matters with mistakes.”

You should never experience any doubt about its authenticity, either. Their tone during an apology should convey its sincerity; if it feels robotic, it’s probably not the apology you want. If it feels remorseful and expresses regret, perhaps it’s genuine, but only you can be the judge of that.

Allow them an opportunity to apologise again

Perhaps the person who owes you an apology wasn’t aware of how they hurt or offended you or they didn’t hear everything you expressed. Once you’ve reiterated your point, you’ll have to afford them the chance to actually apologise (and perhaps, better understand how and why you feel unresolved).

Of course, some mistakes shouldn’t be that hard for a person to understand (ie. racist jokes), but if someone genuinely seems clueless about what they did wrong, give them a chance to learn, if you’re feeling generous.

On the flip side, keep in mind that you should also be provided time to consider forgiving them; it doesn’t always happen overnight or within a single phone call, so don’t allow someone to pressure you to resolve a dispute immediately.

You don’t have to forgive them

Let’s keep in mind one thing: Whether it’s a bad apology or a heartfelt, genuine one, you are not obliged to forgive anyone. If it’s a small accident, however, like a stranger bumped into you and spilled your coffee, a quick, sincere apology should suffice.

“If someone goes through the trouble to actually, sincerely apologise, don’t be a douche about it forever and never forgive them,” u/elaphros writes. “Getting pissed off ok. Holding onto a grudge is not.” Forgiveness in this example should be immediate, or if they’re a total dick, a middle finger is effective, too.

On the other hand, you do not have to accept someone’s apology for a larger transgression, like a record of comedic jokes that use racial slurs or mock accents, for example. You’re entitled to decide when something that bothers you crosses the line, particularly when you feel that a person’s apology stops short of real remorse (or that their history doesn’t provide enough evidence that they won’t make a similar mistake in the future).

Does this mean they should be scorned from society forever? Probably not, but forgiveness should be earned. And it’s your decision when to give it.


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