Thursday, September 17, 2009

What, ME Apologize?

Relationships between people can be complicated, and the sometime issue of Who Owes Who an apology can likewise go back a long time.
But, that being said, the question of public apologies by public people can be even MORE complex, as a couple of incidents from the last week or so demonstrate.
Let's first take the case of Serena Williams, a formidable person who I would NOT want to have angry with me. Taking exception to a foot fault call late in her semifinal match at the US Open Tennis Tournament last week, she threatened the linesperson who had made the call, using some pretty graphic terms, which lead to her disqualification from the match.
The apologizing started pretty quickly, but Serena has little leverage, mainly because she has no particular supporters other than tennis fans, who certainly know that threatening the linesperson is absolutely a no-no. Sure, she has friends among prominent African-Americans, but they have little or no pull with the tennis bigshots, who are almost all white. The latter, in fact, feel they bent over backwards by letting the Williams sisters play the Doubles Final after the incident, which was won by Serena and her more low-key sister, Venus.
I see her future in these terms. Serena is too big a draw for the WTC (Womens Tennis Council) to simply expel, nor is it too likely that she will be fined other than the $10,000 imposed by the US Open. On the other hand, she may find herself hustling to mend fences with major sponsors like Nike and Wilson to show that she's really just a regular person who just had one really bad day. She'll never go hungry, but someone as well known as she is makes more money OFF the court than ON. Keeping those commercial doors open (minded almost completely by white folks) becomes pretty important.if she wants a post-playing career as prominent as that of Arthur Ashe, tennis' first black star.

Then there's the case of Joe Wilson, congressman from South Carolina, he of the "You lie!" shout, whose situation is very different. I don't know Wilson's plan for the next 10 years or so. He might not even have one, but for now his only real power base is white GOP voters from his part of the Palmetto State. If there's anything left of the redneck, Bible thumpin', anti-black, anti-immigrant vote, that's where you'd find it. Wilson claims that his supposedly spontaneous outburst in the midst of the President's speech last week has had the net effect of greatly adding to his profile and campaign treasury. But he ALSO wants to claim moral high ground by saying that has already apologized to Mr. Obama, and that this apology has been accepted.
Wilson, you have to say, comes out of this looking pretty good. Every South Carolina redneck now knows who his favorite Congressman is, as Wilson shows his courage by refusing another apology, this one to the House itself. Sure, they could censure him, but he might just profit from that, too in terms of total campaign donations - "The Man Who Had the Courage to Tell the Truth!" Bumper sticker production lines will have to work overtime to keep up with demand.and Wilson becomes the next Strom Thurmond, who was also a South Carolinian. He even has his son, a candidate for state office, saying that Dad isn't a racist at all, just in case the state still has a moderate or two.
All this is not to say that saying "I'm sorry." puts you in a weak position. Human relations should outlast temporary power power plays. We don't want to win battles only to lose the war when people who would have been our friends have all been manipulated to the other side, leaving us the scorched earth of broken human relationships. Better to gulp it down: "My darling, I was wrong. I'm so sorry, and ask your forgiveness."


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