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Call them excuses or statements, but don’t call them ‘apologies’ | Helen Ubiñas

Pro-tip: If the word “if” is anywhere near your “apology,” it is not an apology.

Edward Durr outside of his home in Repaupo, N.J. Durr, a Republican, defeated N.J. Senate President Steve Sweeney in the general election.
Edward Durr outside of his home in Repaupo, N.J. Durr, a Republican, defeated N.J. Senate President Steve Sweeney in the general election.Read moreELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer

Say you’re sorry.

It’s one of the first lessons we learn as children, right up there with say please and thank you and don’t eat your own boogers.

And yet too many adults, especially in the public eye, seem to have forgotten that lesson, either outright refusing to apologize for outrageously bad behavior or, more often, epically botching the mea culpa that they’re dragged or shamed into.

Take Republican Nobody Edward Durr Jr., who after defeating New Jersey Democratic Senate President Steve Sweeney last week, became a bit of a media darling. At least until it was revealed post-election that the “everyman” everyone seemed so smitten with was more of an internet troll who went on anti-Muslim rants, compared vaccine mandates to the Holocaust, and defended Capitol insurrectionists.

His “apology,” in part: “If I said things in the past that hurt anybody’s feelings, I sincerely apologize.”

Pro-tip: If the word if is anywhere near your “apology,” it is not an apology.

Durr, who said he’s “a passionate guy” who says things “in the heat of the moment,” claimed he supports “everybody’s right to worship in any manner they choose and to worship the God of their choice.” And yet, in just one 2019 tweet captured by a WNYC reporter before the account was deactivated, Durr called Muhammad a “pedophile” and Islam a “false religion” and “cult of hate.”

A year ago, he probably would have been in the running for the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Another just-elected South Jersey official, Vince Kelly, found himself on the defensive over a blackface photo posted on Facebook that showed him dressed as a Black celebrity and wearing makeup to darken his skin. Kelly said he wore the Flavor Flav costume to a Halloween party in 2008 as a “celebration” of the celebrity’s fame.

First, he defended his actions by pulling out that chestnut of shameless justifications against racism:

“Let me tell you something: My great-grandson and my great-granddaughter are mixed race,” he told the Burlington County Times/Cherry Hill Courier Post. “I’ve not a racist bone in my body.”

Then, in a statement, he took another approach.

“I do understand that we live in a very different time and today, even as a celebration of one’s fame, I would not even consider wearing a costume that included blackface. I apologize to anyone who may be hurt by my costume choice of years ago.”

I’m all for folks evolving. That’s what we should all do: Learn from our mistakes, do better, be better. But blackface was as offensive in 2015, when the picture was posted as his Facebook page’s cover photo, as it is now.

That’s not growth, dude. That’s gross, especially when you try to hide your racism behind your mixed-race great-grandchildren.

Now, before anyone demands an apology from me for picking on Republicans, know that I know this kind of behavior isn’t partisan. Plenty of Democratic politicians and public figures also can’t seem to wrap their mouths and minds around a true apology. Remember former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his bizarre my-Italian-ness-made-me do-it defense of his sexual-harassment accusations?

Madone! That man could not stop stepping in it, and that’s because he wasn’t really apologizing. None of these clowns are.

I briefly considered calling up some experts to advise us on how to properly apologize, but the fact is the internet is littered with hot takes and how-tos.

Some highlights: Say you’re sorry — period. Not sorry … if or sorry … but. Just sorry. Admit you were wrong — don’t quantify it with a bunch of I-didn’t-knows or how-was-I-to-know or who knew!? Ask for forgiveness, but also be specific about how you’re going to make sure you don’t do whatever you did again.

But what really needs to happen to move forward is actually on us, and it’s going to take changing the way we talk about these episodes.

For starters, we can stop calling these apologies — don’t do it in headlines, don’t do it in conversation. Just don’t.

Words matter, language matters. It has the power to change behavior and influence thinking.

So, much as a lie shouldn’t be described as a falsehood, or something racist shouldn’t be described as racially tinged or the Jan. 6 insurrectionists shouldn’t be called rally-goers, these word salads of excuses and backpedaling with zero accountability shouldn’t be called apologies.

Call them statements, defenses, explanations. But don’t call them apologies.

Because, sorry, they’re just not.