December 17, 2018

Apologizing For Who You Are

woman with no face

While flipping through the TV channels the other night, I landed on a news program in which a multiracial man was being interviewed. I don't even recall the topic, but what captured my attention was that he seemed to be apologizing for being Black. He reported that he had one White parent and one Black parent and that he had been raised to value both aspects of his heritage. And yet, here he was sounding apologetic for the fact that he looked Black. I found myself feeling angry that he - or anyone else - would have to feel bad about his race. Nobody should have to apologize for their race.

The issue here is not limited to race, of course. Nobody should have to apologize for their ethnicity, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, and so on. It is not uncommon to find ourselves in situations where we should apologize for our behavior. That's different. Nobody should have to apologize or even to feel bad about who they are. Isn't enough that this guy lives in a society where he is going to be treated differently (and often poorly) because he looks Black? Surely, he doesn't need to apologize for who he is.

I do not believe I have ever apologized for being an atheist. It is part of who I am. I am extremely lucky in that I can conceal it if it is in my interest to do so, which it often is. I can't do that with many other aspects of who I am. But the idea that I should apologize to others because I do not share their god-belief seems like a very strange notion. I may sometimes feel the need to apologize for being rude in some of what I say about their gods, but that is very different from apologizing for being an atheist.

Although I have not heard many people apologize for being atheists, I have heard people apologize for things that make even less sense. I have heard people of various races and ethnicities apologize for their race and/or ethnicity. I have heard people, usually "woke" men, apologize for being men. And I have even heard a few LGBT persons sounding apologetic with regard to their sexuality. Every time I hear this stuff, I wince involuntarily. I want to scream, "No, you don't need to do that. Embrace who you are!" None of us should need to apologize for any of these things.

I don't think it is a mystery what is going on here. Many people recognize that various aspects of their identities lead others to perceive them negatively and to treat them differently based on these perceptions. Most of us probably internalize the negative messages aimed at us, at least to some degree. We may come to devalue certain aspects of ourselves, and this is sometimes reflected in this apologetic approach. I suppose there may be something else happening here. Some people clearly believe that other people should apologize for who they are and apply pressure to accomplish this. I'd hope that we'd develop some ability to recognize this as bigotry and resist it.

Even though I have difficulty understanding those who appear to take pride in various aspects of their identity, I usually find this preferable to being apologetic about it. I also think there has to be a middle ground where someone feels comfortable with who they are and comes across as neither unnecessarily proud nor unnecessarily apologetic. Perhaps striking that balance is more difficult than I think it should be for some, but I would at least hope that it is a direction more would consider.