White Women Learning How To Apologize

I was motivated to write it out yesterday and I am sharing here with you all. I know I haven’t been blogging much. It’s hard to work on my book project and blog – all the words! But this was important to me because I’ve seen it happen a lot. I had been watching the unfolding of Danielle LaPorte’s newest campaign be called in/out for offensive language and imagery and her apology and process felt even more damaging.

Here is what I wrote:

An Open Letter to Danielle LaPorte and all the other white women that will fuck up in the future.

You messed up. It happens. We are imperfect humans and we make mistakes. I’m not writing to you about the specific mistakes you recently made that warranted feedback from women of color who were negatively impacted by the language and images used in your marketing efforts.

Nope, not necessary. There have been plenty of incredibly helpful and educational posts that point out what you missed.

You say it wasn’t intentional. I get it. I have also said, written, and acted in ways that I wish I could take back. I could say my goal is to do no harm, but that would be ignorant. My goal is to do LESS HARM, not no harm. If I’m going to speak out, use my voice, enter into conversations and write about racial and social justice, I will undoubtedly make mistakes.

Please understand, your mistake could make me want to stay quiet. It could be an opportunity for my inner critic to say, “See Sara, being big, having your work impact thousands of people, is dangerous. Don’t do it. Stay small.” It would make sense if I were to take that route. But the reality is, I want to share my work in a BIG way! And I want to be brave enough to step out on the edge with the hard stuff. That means my chances of messing up are high, so instead of avoiding the hard, scary stuff, I’ve got to be willing to stay open and learn from others.

This letter is about how to handle the mistake.

The facepalm here is that you messed that up too. You had an opportunity, and so far, four days later, the hole is getting deeper.

I’ve decided to tell you what I wish you would have done. I also hope it helps other white women in this industry take a hard look at who is staring back at them in the mirror each morning and how they are running their businesses. We all need to take that hard look…every freaking day.

Here it goes.

The mistake is pointed out. Images shared, words reflected back, and explanations start to pour in from women of color. Some of these messages are harsh, and some are not. You are receiving from the collective.

Step 1: Be present. Apologize, acknowledge, take responsibility and listen. DON’T DELETE ANYTHING. Keep your apology short, humble and authentic…this is the first step. Do not explain, do not diminish, do not defend, do not get fragile.

“I’m so sorry. I should have done better. I didn’t realize it and that is a huge problem. I am committed to listening and learning right now and I promise to take the next steps to acknowledge and amend the harm I’ve caused.”

Step 2: Full stop. Put everything on hold. It can wait. Cancel the next scheduled posts and emails. Draw the line in the sand. You may call this damage control. I don’t. I call this an important and urgent matter that just took priority over everything else.

If you have other people managing your social media, take over. The buck stops with you. You need to be on the front lines to listen carefully. Go ahead and work with your team if you want, but don’t hide behind them.

Step 3: Get into conversation with the people that are calling you in. Ask for suggestions (knowing that it is not their job to educate you, but some women of color are willing and/or can be hired to consult). Or let them know what you plan on doing and be open to feedback.

Example, “I plan on removing all of the images and change the language in my marketing materials. Is there anything else I can do to rectify this mistake?”

Find and HIRE someone of color that can coach you through this process.

Step 4: Highlight the people that have taken the time and invested emotional labor to call you in, educate and share the impact. Thank them. Pay them.

Step 5: Promise to take action and learn more. Don’t say you learned your lesson already. You haven’t, you just became aware of your mistake, which doesn’t mean you’ve had time to learn from it yet. The learning is WAY deeper than that. It will take time.

You don’t have to know now, but sharing something along the lines of, “I have more learning to do about white supremacy and my own blind spots. I will commit to taking a class, reading recommended books and taking a hard look at our business model and marketing process. I am not sure what this will look like but over the next couple of weeks I will define it more clearly and I promise to keep you all updated and share my learnings.”

Step 6: Share what you learn. Get vulnerable. Encourage the people you influence to learn from those that are teaching you. Share the changes you are making personally and professionally.

There is no specific timeline for these steps, but urgency is crucial. CRUCIAL. Unfortunately, the harm you have caused has been exacerbated by how you have chosen to handle it. Start over. Or don’t. Either way, it has created necessary learning for me and many others.

Thank you for that.
Sara Alvarado

Click here for the backstory from Layla Saad’s facebook post.
Click here for the medium story if you want to share it.

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