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Stop Looking Backwards: Apologising for the Past Doesn’t Make you an Ally


With the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement following the murder of George Floyd, we’ve seen a great deal of non-black people educating themselves on matters such as systematic racism, microaggressions, and what it means to be an ally of the movement. For some, along with this has inevitably come the realisation that their past comments or actions have inflicted harm on black people or other minorities; school bullies who took it upon themselves to target kids based on the colour of their skin, white colleagues who made inappropriate comments about race at work drinks, and so on. 

Since we live in a ‘Cancel Culture’, I imagine that these people feel petrified of being seen as a hypocrite whilst they post-black squares on their Instagram and share BLM content through their social media accounts. This is understandable; I can tell you that firsthand there’s actually few things more irritating than seeing someone who you know for a fact would confidently use the word ‘nigger’ in school, come to Facebook to post ‘Black Lives Matter – We Stand With You!’

It must be for that reason that some people have taken to publicly owning up to their past ignorance; in a nutshell, the post will read ‘I used to be racist/make racist jokes, but I’ve changed’ or something to that effect. I’ve seen a few of these on social media, and know of black people who’ve received DMs from those who may have wronged them in the past and have now seen the error of their ways. 

To put it bluntly, do not be this person.  It’s a positive that you’re able to recognise where you’ve gone wrong in the past, but don’t take it upon yourself to make grand statements motivated by guilt; the truth is it probably does more harm than good to the target of your previous indiscretion.

It’s an attempt at the person giving the apology to free themselves of guilt, yet there’s really no possible favourable outcome for the person who is forced to relive the past hurt all over again. Though well-intentioned, this is an example of people inserting themselves into the narrative and making it about them; whilst also making no contribution to the strive for equality. 

I know that for some white people who are just now learning about racism, you might feel as though you’re now walking on eggshells. You’re unlearning old behaviours and it can be difficult to know what the best thing to say is – but real apologies aren’t made with just words, they’re made with changed action. 

The ways you can genuinely help to dismantle racism are often done outside of social media and aren’t public.

The spread of public information is important, but the things you do without witnesses or approval are what really incite change.

For example, if you’re horrified by the exploitation of people of colour in poor countries, refuse to buy from the huge corporations and buy from ethical, sustainable and/or black businesses instead. Call out your co-worker who makes ‘harmless’ racist jokes or mixes up the only two black people in the office. Go beyond simple likes and retweets and educate yourself with books and documentaries. 

Avoid apologising for your past behaviour, and decide how you’re going to contribute to a fair and anti-racist future.

– Nicolette Oragwu

  • Name: Nicolette Oragwu
  • Age: 23
  • Location: Leeds, UK
  • Industry: Public Relations
  • Heritage: Nigerian/English
  • What does being Black mean to you? Being authentically yourself in a society which misunderstands you.

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