In my quest and that of my compatriot-in-arms Nell Minow to follow the world of public apologies as a core feature of our International Apology Association, I tend to post examples of when public figures get the apology wrong, and explain why. I tend to do this far, far more often than not because -- most public apologists seem to get it wrong far, far more often than not.
Benedict Cumberbatch got it right.
I have a feeling that most people would like to think that Benedict Cumberbatch would get a public apology right. So, it's comforting to know that it's so.
I also think most people would be surprised to find that Benedict Cumberbatch would say something that required a public apology, so it's valuable to know that his gaff came in the middle of him being admirable about saying something right -- which may well be why he got his apology so right -- he just made an ill-thought gaff in doing so.
He was talking about the lack of diversity for actors in films. and noted that, "a lot of my friends have had more opportunities here [in the U.S.] than in the U.K., and that's something that needs to change. Something's gone wrong. We're not representative enough in our culture of different races, and that really does need to step up apace."
Unfortunately, in getting into this issue he stumbled a bit in his phrasing and used the word "colored." Public comment, most notably an anti-racism charity in England, noted that Mr. Cumberbatch's heart was in the right place and was commendable, but regretted him "inadvertently" highlighting the issue due to the "evolution of language."
Cumberbatch didn't double-down. He didn't use the "if I offended anyone" defense. He didn't leave it at "you know what I meant." And he didn't try to diminish it as a small gaffe -- which it was. Instead...he apologized.
"I'm devastated to have caused offense by using this outmoded terminology. I offer my sincere apologies. I make no excuse for my being an idiot and know the damage is done. I can only hope this incident will highlight the need for correct usage of terminology that is accurate and inoffensive. The most shaming aspect of this for me is that I was talking about racial inequality in the performing arts in the U.K. and the need for rapid improvements in our industry when I used the term.
"I feel the complete fool I am and while I am sorry to have offended people and to learn from my mistakes in such a public manner please be assured I have. I apologize again to anyone who I offended for this thoughtless use of inappropriate language about an issue which affects friends of mine and which I care about deeply."
That's how it's done.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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