The Bittersweet Apology

By: Drew Thomas

Holding a grudge never feels good.
Frankly, it feels terrible. A self-inflicted emotional burden we force ourselves to carry on the behalf of
someone who has wronged us. As a Black woman, those wrongs span a deep and painful space in the
foundation of my earliest memories.

Seared into some of my first social encounters is the undertone of not belonging. Before my first day of
kindergarten, I thought I was prepared. Being raised in a stable, suburban home by two strong black
parents, I appeared widely shielded from the impact of the obstacles already laid out in front of me.
That bubble of naïve security quickly burst when I showed up to my mostly white primary school. My
otherness became an unavoidable focal point for me… and was constantly reinforced by those in my
environment away from home.

As quickly as my skin grew thick— the grudges piled on.
By 1st grade, it had been battered into my psyche that ‘brown was ugly’… ‘straight hair was better than
curly hair’… and that I was simply ‘not good enough’. With a brave face, I shook most of these insults off.
But beneath the surface, my resentment deepened.

By 5th grade, those subtle aggressions transformed into more overt and malicious attacks. I was cornered
by classmates who told me I should ‘be grateful’ for Martin Luther King Jr. because he was presumably,
the ‘only reason I had a seat’ in their class. I was belittled by teachers who seemed shocked by ‘how
eloquent’ I was. And I had become painfully familiar with pretending I didn’t hear when someone called
me a ‘nigger’.

Just when I thought I had encountered all the hateful expressions there were—a high school classmate
told me I ‘should be lynched’… and by no means did the buck stop there.

At 27 years old, I can paint a vivid picture of each person who has wounded me, the space we were in,
the moment in which it happened, and how I felt. These attacks have weighed heavy on my conscience.
I’ve often thought about what I would say to my many offenders if I could go back in time… even written
out the words in my head should they ever come seeking forgiveness. And not until recently did I get the
chance to meet that moment, many times over.

Right now, we are in the middle of a moral reckoning. Although traumatic, my experiences as a Black
woman in a white bubble are not unique. Black people across the country are coming forward with
receipts of their racist encounters, and their offenders are being ousted. On the surface, it seems like a
good portion of people are listening… which brings me to the surprisingly unsatisfying apologies that
have seemingly flooded my inboxes overnight.

I expected the crushing weight of my grudges would disappear with each passing apology. But as they
arrive, these long over-due acknowledgments only further expose the emotions many of us have spent
our whole lives trying to suppress. Only now, our pain is on a pedestal for the world to see, analyze and
exploit during a time so many White Americans are desperate to clear themselves of culpability in a
racially-divided country.

Black people are not here to absolve you of your white guilt, nor do we want to. Our wounds are raw…
and we are still struggling to mend them widely alone. Feeling seen, heard and understood are solid first
steps on our healing journey. Simply listening is the first step to genuine allyship.