How to Apologize for a Racist Comment

Making mistakes is normal, and some mistakes are much bigger than other ones. If you realize or are told that something you said was racist, you might be feeling confused, upset, or worried that you hurt someone. Here is how to handle it.


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    Take someone seriously if they say you did something racist. Even if you don't understand why, act with the assumption that they have a very good reason for saying what they do. Racism isn't something that people take lightly. It's better to be too serious than to blow off someone else's pain.
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    Ask if you don't understand. In some cases, you might be uncertain why your words were racist. Ask the person who told you, or someone else, what exactly is racist about your words. This way, you can understand it better and avoid similar remarks in the future.
    • For example, "I don't understand why that was racist against Indian people. Would you be willing to explain for me, or point me to someone who could, if you know anyone?"
    • Don't push them to explain. It's not their obligation, just like a little girl isn't obligated to explain exactly how much it hurts when her brother pulls her hair and calls her names. While some minorities are willing to gently guide you through the painful world of racism, it isn't their job, so don't expect it, and express gratitude if they take time for you.
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    Remember that this isn't about you. "That was racist" isn't a way of saying "I hate you" or "You're a terrible person." It's a way of telling you that you did something hurtful. Everyone messes up and hurts people sometimes, and what's most important is that you show that you didn't mean it, and that you care about them.
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    Be sincere. If you are giggling and not trying to act serious, no one will take you seriously. Make it clear that you are serious about racism, and genuinely do not want to hurt other people.
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    Apologize immediately and sincerely. Make it clear that you didn't mean to say something hurtful. You can give an explanation if you want, making sure that it's not an excuse. One helpful technique is to use the word and instead of the word but, such as "I'm sorry and I didn't mean it" instead of "I'm sorry but I didn't mean it." For example...
    • "I'm sorry, and what I said clearly sounded different from what I meant. I didn't mean to sound racist or hurt any feelings. I worded it badly, it sounded hurtful, and I apologize."
    • "I'm sorry. I heard people using that word, but I didn't know exactly what it meant. I'm horrified that it has such negative connotations, and I never would have used it had I known. I'm truly sorry."
    • "You're right. I wasn't thinking at all, and what I said was pretty messed up. I didn't mean it, and I'm really sorry."
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    Take responsibility for any pain you caused. Listen closely to their response. Validate their unhappiness, reiterate that you're sorry for hurting them, and ask if you can make it up to them.
    • You might feel very uncomfortable, hearing how your words affected them. This is normal, and a sign that you are a good person at heart. Prove it by pushing through that discomfort and being there for them.
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    Work on mending damaged relationships. If someone felt personally hurt, it can be harder for them to forgive you, and your relationship may worsen. Make it clear that you value them. Try being extra nice, to make it clear that your one remark is not a sum total of what you think of them.
    • Tell them a few of the reasons you admire them, and emphasize that you value them as a friend (or coworker, sister-in-law, student, etc.).
    • Set aside time to do something fun with them. If you're close, try taking them on a fun outing, doing something nice for them, or just spending quality time together. This is a way to back up your words with actions.
    • Be patient. If forgiveness takes a while, don't push it. This will only make things worse.
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    Respect their wishes. Sometimes, people need time to heal. If what you said was really bad, they might not be ready to forgive you right away. Say "I understand," and give them space if they need it. Respecting what they want is the best way to prove that you care. Don't force them to deal with you before they're ready.
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    Learn from your experience. You don't want to embarrass yourself again by making the same terrible mistake twice. Try reading up on microaggressions and racism a little bit. This way, you'll be less likely to do it again.


  • Everyone makes mistakes and it takes courage and a strong sense of self to apologize and learn from it.
  • If you're dealing with someone that is difficult to work with, don't make anythings harder than they need to be. If they won't accept it, don't try to make them.
  • Decide whether to do this privately or in public. In some circumstances, public acknowledgement may not be appropriate and it will be best to meet or speak alone with the people who were offended by your comment. However, in many cases, publicly acknowledging racism gives others an opportunity to witness and learn from someone who has made a mistake own up to and try to correct it.
  • Don't add another racist remark about why they won't forgive you. That just ruins the whole purpose of you reading this.

Article Info

Categories: Conversation Skills | Racism