yay, a good apology!

We were overdue.

SorryWatch wishes to forgive gingers with exuberant beards whenever possible.

SorryWatch wishes to forgive gingers with exuberant beards whenever possible.

Kari Wagner-Peck, who blogs at Not a Typical Mom, has a child with Down Syndrome. Earlier this month, she published an open letter to writer Chuck Klosterman on her blog. It’s worth reading in its entirety. But if you’re short on time, her point was that Mr. Klosterman sure likes to say “retarded”! Also “retard” and “fucking retard.” And she asked, since Mr. Klosterman writes The Ethicist column for the New York Times, whether it is ethical to use a word that “people with cognitive difficulties and their allies are asking members of society to refrain from using.” She drew a parallel to “that’s so gay” — once upon a time that phrase was commonly used to denote anything and everything bad, but as people became more attuned to gay rights, most started to understand that words could really hurt, and stopped using “gay” as an all-purpose slur.

On November 13th, Mr. Klosterman responded via email. And responded well. 

Dear Ms. Wagner-Peck:

I have spent the last two days trying to figure out a way to properly address the issue you have raised on your web site. I’ve slowly concluded the best way is to just be as straightforward as possible: I was wrong. You are right.

I should not have used “retard” pejoratively. It was immature, hurtful, and thoughtless. I have no justification for my actions. I realize the books that contain those sentiments were published over 10 years ago, but that is no excuse; I was an adult when I wrote them and I knew what I was doing. I feel terrible about this and deeply embarrassed. I take full responsibility for my actions and understand why this matters so much to you. I’m truly sorry.

Feel free to re-post this message on your web site. I deserve the criticism I am receiving, and I want other people to know that I realize I was wrong. I would also like to donate $25,000 to whatever charity you feel is most critical in improving the lives of people with cognitive disabilities [...]. I have done something bad, so help me do something good.

Again, I apologize — and not just to you and your son, but to anyone else who was hurt by this.

– Chuck Klosterman

Genuine admission of wrongdoing, awareness of impact of actions, no excuses, reparations. We can forgive the “I wrote those things 10 years ago” because he does point out that he should have known better even then (he’s in his 40s), and we can forgive the “to anyone who was hurt” construction (ordinarily, SorryWatch likes to say that one should apologize to everyone, not just those who understood that the apology was warranted) because twenty-five grand is some serious money where mouth is. Or was.

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8 Responses to yay, a good apology!

  1. Rita says:

    It’s worth reading the comments to her post with his apology. This is what a genuine apology can accomplish:
    http://atypicalson.com/2013/11/12/chuck-klostermans-response-to-my-letter/

  2. tanita says:

    Just — wow. That brought tears.
    I guess humility in action usually does.

    The thing is, a lot of us who were kids in the 80’s heard “retard” and “retarded” like kids in the 90’s heard the gay thing – and it’s a hard word to shake. But, ESPECIALLY when you’re writing and speaking in public — NO. I mentally slap my mouth, too.

  3. mom2awsomeautistickid says:

    What he, Paula Deen and so many others prove to us is that words matter. In an age of bullying, social media and where the stigma against those with intellectual disabilities still exist the rhyme about sticks and stones needs to be eliminated from the repertoire of children’s nursery rhymes. We do need to do a much better job of both educating people to not use these derogatory words, and addressing the feelings that the victims of these words have. It kills me when people say suck it up and move on (like so many are saying in the Incognito/Martin case that is going on right now). The one thing that bothers me about the apology that Chuck Klosterman gave is that he did what so many others do which is to mask the wrong doing by doing a good deed; as if it erases it. What I would love to see him do with that $25,000 is to take it to his book publisher and say, we need to make a reprint without the derogatory language, update his website, as well as place the apology on amazon and only offer the new edition for sale. Right now, his books are still available on Amazon (I just checked). Lastly, shame on the book publisher and consumers who find the use of the derogatory terms entertaining enough to publish and buy the books. What my fear is that even though Chuck may have seen the light and will not use those words again in his books, how many books will this publisher publish if they think they can sell that derogatory filth.

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