As always, a public apology only compounds the error by displaying weakness to those who are always hunting for it:
Devastated’, ‘a complete fool’ and ‘an idiot’; ‘thoughtless’, ‘inappropriate’ and ‘shaming’: that is how the actor Benedict Cumberbatch described himself and his actions this week in an elegantly worded but nonetheless grovelling apology.
It was fully 150 words of heartfelt self-flagellation, in which the actor all but stripped naked and covered himself in ashes before lashing himself to the mast of public opinion.
And all for what? A well-meaning slip of the tongue.
He used the term ‘coloured’ during an interview on an American chat show. Perhaps not the most politically correct racial terminology, but certainly not the most derogatory either.
At worst, perhaps, rather old-fashioned. The kind of thing your granny might say, and which might compel you to lean over and gently whisper in her ear: ‘No one says “coloured” any more, gran, it’s not the done thing.’ To which she might reply: ‘Really, dear? I had no idea.’
A term, moreover, contained in the very name of one of America’s leading African-American civil rights organisation, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People….
Of course, in today’s world the poor fellow had no choice but to apologise.
Not only does he inhabit the oh-so-progressive world of entertainment, where to deviate even slightly from the accepted nostrums of liberalism can mean instant alienation, he also has as an ancestor an 18th-century sugar plantation owner in Barbados which, in the eyes of some, practically makes him a slave-trader himself.
As a Person of Color myself, I should like to absolve Mr. Cumberbatch of any lingering guilt over his PR faux pas. And to advise him, as I have myself been reliably informed, that time is rapidly running out on the term “People of Color” and that the next politically approved appellation for individuals of African descent residing on the North American continent is still being discussed by the Grand Council of Racial Relations and will be announced to white people sometime in the next 18 months.
I understand “Basketball American” is the present frontleader, but the situation is fluid as “Shaded Americans” or “Shades” also has its advocates. As for we Native Americans, the correct form of address will be the individual’s tribe, with all of the onus being placed on the individual addressing the erstwhile Native American to correctly identify his tribe prior to addressing him. An incorrect tribal identification will, of course, be considered greatly offensive and will require a placatory offering of money, alcohol, or sexual favors to set straight.
Don’t call me Cherokee.