Free Dartmouth
8/18/2006 02:11:00 PM | Timothy

Congressional Candidate: Black People Can't Swim
Tramm Hudson is running to replace Katherine Harris. He said:"I grew up in Alabama and I understand and I know this from my own experiences that blacks aren’t the best swimmers or may not even know how to swim."

Here's his apology:
I said something stupid. I apologize for it and would apologize in person to anyone hurt by my comments. To those who are understandably offended, you have my deepest apologies and I want you to know that it was out of character for me and those who know me know that to be a fact. This was a thoughtless remark that does not reflect my lifetime commitment to treating everyone fairly and without bias. I apologize to everyone who is offended by this comment.
Several people have noted that this was a better apology than the standard non-apology apology, which says I'm sorry if you took offense, and sometimes does not take responsibility for causing the offense and implicitly says the person is too sensitive. This is typified by George Allen recently, and a few liberal bloggers had said that Hudson shows Allen how a proper apology is made.

I'm sympathetic to the following viewpoint: Allen's non-apology is garbage and Hudson's has some merit. Hudson says his comment was stupid, taking responsibility for his actions. Rather than apologize to those who were offended by his comments, he appears to apologize for the comments themselves. He follows that up with giving his "deepest apologies" to those who were "understandably offended". It is the "understandably" I particularly like. Too often apologies are kubuki theater, as if utterly the words "I apologize" are enough, even when in cases where people say: I apologize if I caused offense, as if causing offense was the mere problem. I find it really odd that politicians feel they need to go through a formalized ritual where they apologize, but the form of the apology isn't even really one! So the virtue of Hudson's apology is that it matches, or at least more nearly matches, the correct form of an apology. It's what an apology should look like.

That all seems reasonable, but I still wonder. Some bloggers have said that anyone would criticizes Hudson will now look silly since he has apologized and we should move on. I think Pandagon has an interesting post worth considering here. Pandagon thinks Hudson issued a standard political apology. I disagree: I think Hudson's apology is what should be the model for a standard political apology, but sadly we are not even at that point yet, considering that non-apologies are what are standard practice.

Here's Hudson's words in context:
1984 we were in Panama. Our unit was doing a two-week training down there. I commanded an infantry company and we were practicing crossing a river. You know, an infantry company has 140 some-odd soldiers. A large number were black. I grew up in Alabama and I understand and I know this from my own experiences that blacks aren’t the best swimmers or may not even know how to swim. But we were crossing this and wanted to make sure every soldier could swim and if they couldn’t we’d get them across the river. We had the line across the river and we were making our passage way and one of the black soldiers with his ruck-sack on his back, his weapon and fell from the line…he let go. Sunk down to the bottom of the river. And I’ve got to tell you, it took my breath away.
Pandagon says Hudson's comment prompted these thoughts:
1. How many black people does he actually know?
2. It clearly never crossed his mind that maybe fewer blacks swim because of socioeconomic factors — perhaps the ones he’s been around don’t have swimming pools or access to them.
3. If he did know about #2 above, he would have saved himself a lot of grief by adding a line about it to put his statement into context.
4. What about mixed race people — how white do you have to be to possess floatability in Hudson’s book?
Pandagon also says:
The above comments by these people are, again, not meant to offend, even as they do. What’s embarrassing is that the level of ignorance is completely guileless, almost innocent. The problem is that they are sorry, but usually not sorry enough to want to correct their state of ignorance. The people making the unfortunate comments don’t feel any need to extend themselves to become better informed or really know any blacks on a personal level, because that’s not their world.
Pandagon has lots more about race and curiousity, including how a professor answered a white student's quuestion: "Can black people tan?". This story comes from see this article.

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