there’s a thing that happens in internet apology discourse that i want to address.
'when someone calls you out, it is your job to immediately apologize. do not defend yourself, apologize.’
this is a reaction to people who say racist/sexist/transphobic/classist/misogynist/etc things, and then instead of examining what they’ve said and trying to take a lesson in self-awareness and humility, get defensive and resort to tone-policing, gaslighting, derailing, good old-fashioned patronizing, or any of a number of other possible rhetorical postures designed to make the injured party sit down and shut up. to that degree, encouraging self-examination as a first instinct is important.
and how this works depends a lot on who receives this discourse, it really does.
i see ‘shut up and apologize’ being used as a general, universal rule of thumb, the law of how to engage with being called out.
and i believe that it is also wrong to encourage people to assume that because someone on the internet has told them they are wrong, they must necessarily be wrong, must necessarily owe an apology. it is wrong to preach ‘shut up and apologize’ because call-out culture can very easily function as a form of bullying: by adopting an ostensibly righteous political position and using the terms of what passes for ‘social justice’ discourse, one person can easily set themselves up as an authority in a way that does not give their interlocutor any room to maneuver. the caller-out might be wrong. ‘shut up and apologize’ dismisses that possibility.
'shut up and apologize' discourages active, continuous critique. kneejerk political correctness stands against engaged thought.
but above all it enables the accuser to disregard their own blindspots. the accuser needn’t be a careful reader. the accuser needn’t consider the multiple axes of power and meaning at work in a given statement.
'shut up' might be a good first step. do not react immediately. sit with your discomfort for a while. ask yourself why it is uncomfortable. what specifically is this person reacting to in what you've said? disregard their tone for just a minute, and ask yourself what the content of what they've said conveys about what you might not know or understand, what experiences might not be available to you. take that time for thought, because thought takes time, and because you owe yourself the opportunity to learn something.
but don’t apologize as a first instinct. even if an apology is due (and admittedly, it’s not unlikely that an apology is due), it only matters if you know what you’re apologizing for. i often find myself saying to people, ‘i don’t want you to apologize, i want you to think about this. i want you to not do it again.’ i don’t care about the apology. i care about the thought, the learning.
and it is possible that you do not owe an apology. it is possible that you are being bullied by a call-out artist who is using the framework of ‘social justice’ to leverage some authority for themself. it is possible that they are being just as thoughtless as they are accusing you of being.
accusation and apology are shitty tools for a rhetoric of justice. ‘shut up and apologize’ does not look to me like a path to liberation.
"i believe that it is also wrong to encourage people to assume that because someone on the internet has told them they are wrong, they must necessarily be wrong"
"one person can easily set themselves up as an authority in a way that does not give their interlocutor any room to maneuver"
This, yes. The instinct to stop, think about it, consider that the other person may have a point even if they’re not expressing it the way you would or are telling you you’re wrong is a GOOD one. But you have the right to engage your brain. You do not have to knuckle under every time someone disagrees with you, even if they are doing so loudly. Even if they are doing it in the name of a good cause.
I think this is especially important for people socialized female, and/or survivors of emotional abuse, and/or people with anxiety issues.
You are not always wrong. Just give it a second, think about it, take some deep breaths, and don’t reply with either apologies or flames in the heat of the moment.