White men do apologize. I’ve actually heard them. Sometimes it’s genuine and heartfelt. Sometimes they hear you out, realize their errors, and express sincere regret. It does happen. It happens very often if you have greater status than they do, and even sometimes when you don’t.
But if the white man has power, whether that power comes from social status, a business relationship or even his own head, it rarely happens. This belief in his own superiority is very powerful. It gives him this sense that, whatever you meant by pointing out his error, you are wrong.
Let’s use an example. Say you want to point out that he mispronounced “hegemon.” You could politely point out that in the UK and the US, we pronounce the “g,” a little differently. In the UK it sounds like a dart game, but in the US it sounds like “hedge-a-mon,” like the name of a Wall Street reggae band. You could offer him this face-saving way out.
If it’s just you and him, you’ll get an intolerant smile, as if you just farted but he’s polite enough to ignore it. You’re supposed to be grateful for that, by the way. Giggle or blush and give him an thankful glance. Or don’t.
If there’s an audience, you’ll get a tight smile and a lifetime enemy. But he wasn’t much worth having as a friend anyway.
You may also want to let him continue to mispronounce it. It may not be important enough to make enemies. And you won’t be the only one relishing the irony.
Let’s pretend the lie is a bit more ambiguous. Pretend he says that his 33 minute 5K finish time is more impressive than your 30 minute 3-miler.
Maybe you want to handle this one with humor, too. Maybe you want to say it’s because his big feet bring him half-way to the finish line before your first step has landed.
About half of these guys will think this is a compliment. The other half will decide you just granted permission to use sexual innuendo, and they will be thrilled to take advantage of it.
Any audience you have will likely be in on the joke with you. When a jerk is in the conversation, most people already have an active interior monologue going, and they will be happy to see you’ve joined the play.
But let’s pretend it’s something serious. Pretend he says that orangutans are closest to humans, and before you can stop yourself you hear your voice saying that it’s actually chimpanzees. Pretend you stop yourself before you bet on which animal he is most like.
Cornered, like the orangutans, he has several options. The male of this species tends to throw his arms around wildly to intimidate his opponent. Therefore, you may hear your opponent double-down. He may look you dead in the eye and tell you you are wrong. He may accompany this statement with a superior smirk because if he thinks you are wrong, you are wrong: No further evidence needed. An especially delusional white man may even suggest someone look it up. He’ll rarely do it himself because, well, he’s sure.
If that happens, he’s overplayed his hand. You are right.
Now comes the “apology.” It can take several forms.
One: Denial. You are on the wrong website. You should have used his website. No, he can’t remember what website that was. But it was better.
Two: Blame-shifting. There was no way for him to know his information was wrong. To build credibility, he may drop the name of some hapless entity, like The New York Times or National Geographic. For a moment, you might even wonder if someone analyzed President Trump’s DNA. But then you’ll realize no one would mistake him for human.
Three: His feelings. This one usually starts out with a story about how you made him feel, as if you are more responsible for his feelings than he is for yours. As if you are supposed to apologize. He may even convince you did something wrong. Maybe you interrupted, you didn’t consider his perspective, you didn’t care enough about his feelings. There are a lot of “I’s” in this apology, as in “I was only trying to say…” “If you had let me continue, I’d have said…” and “I was only trying to make the point….” This “apology” is most often used against women, because he is often genuinely offended that a woman did not consider his feelings.
Four: His understanding. Oddly, this one may combine apologies two and three and come out making some amount of sense. For instance, he may say he read that male orangutans beat the ground and show off when they feel threatened, and he’s really threatened by talking to someone as impressive as you are, so he felt like an orangutan.
I’m just kidding, of course. That never happens. Instead you get apologies two and three. It’s just both apologies. It doesn’t form a new apology at all. And it certainly doesn’t show any self-reflection…because we wouldn’t be having this conversation if that ever happened, right? It’s just more of him and what’s important to him, with no consideration for you.
My advice, when presented with one of these “apologies”?
Ignore it. Stick to the original story line. The topic was which animal is the closest to humans. These personal defenses (and passive-aggressive personal attacks) are irrelevant. The answer is chimpanzees. Don’t let anyone be confused about that. This isn’t about you or him, it is about chimpanzees. And the fact that the best way to sound like an orangutan is to argue with one.