Justin Bieber, you will have no doubt heard by now, is the latest in a long line of celebrities to stick his tiny little boy feet in his mouth when video emerged of the singer telling a racist joke to friends years ago. Here’s the video below in case you haven’t seen it.
The other most recent high profile example came from the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, Donald Sterling, who was also caught on tape saying all manner of offensively racist things to his girlfriend V. Stiviano, including how he doesn’t want her to appear in photos with black people.
Both men have since apologized, but there’s a lesson to be taken from the manner in which they’ve apologized. Bieber, to his credit, and much to my surprise, has taken full responsibility for his bad judgment.
As a kid, I didn’t understand the power of certain words and how they can hurt. I thought it was ok to repeat hurtful words and jokes, but didn’t realize at the time that it wasn’t funny and that in fact my actions were continuing the ignorance. Thanks to friends and family I learned from my mistakes and grew up and apologized for those wrongs. Now that these mistakes from the past have become public I need to apologize again to all those I have offended. I’m very sorry. I take my friendships with people of all cultures very seriously and I apologize for offending or hurting anyone with my childish and inexcusable mistake. I was a kid then and I am a man now who knows my responsibility to the world and to not make that mistake again. Ignorance has no place in our society and I hope the sharing of my faults can prevent others from making the same mistake in the future. I thought long and hard about what I wanted to say but telling the truth is always what’s right. Five years ago I made a reckless and immature mistake and i’m grateful to those close to me who helped me learn those lessons as a young man. Once again….I’m sorry.
It’s rare to find myself in the position of defending this little turd, but you have to give him credit for not sugar-coating, or qualifying in his apology. Yes, he points out that he was a child at the time, but who among us hasn’t said stupid things we regret, and probably didn’t even fully understand, at 15 years old. You’ll also notice he didn’t use the execrable cliche “anyone who may have been offended.”
Contrast that with Sterling, an 80 year old man, and infamous slum lord with a long resume of racist behavior. What’s his excuse? Here’s how he explained himself in part in a mea-sorta-culpa on CNN.
“When I listen to that tape, I don’t even know how I can say words like that. … I don’t know why the girl had me say those things,” he told Anderson Cooper.
See, it wasn’t his fault, it was the girl tricking him.
Sterling, who’s set to make an astronomical profit on the sale of the team to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer for $2b (and is suing the NBA for $1b to boot), still thinks he’s the victim here. And, as you may imagine from someone used to throwing money around to fix problems, he seems to think he can buy his way out of the mess, or sugar coat it with PR-based stunts. He showed up at Baptist church over the weekend to try to do some image scrubbing. As you can see in the video, he can barely even give an explanation for why he’s there without choking on it.
While I have no doubt that Bieber had a lot of help in writing his apology — he may not have even uttered a single word of it — there’s an important distinction in the way these two have apologized. One has taken responsibility, admitted he was wrong, not blamed anyone but himself, and said he’s going to learn from this. The other, some 60 years older, has given us no reason to believe he thinks he has any lessons left to learn.