Apologies aren’t easy. Let me revise that statement: genuine, uncanned apologies aren’t easy to make, and apologies that also arrive without an undercurrent of defensiveness are tough stuff. Yes, it’s difficult to admit to being wrong, for we are stubborn. It’s even more unsettling to turn inward and examine how and why one messed up and take steps to right that wrong. Some people are reluctant to do so for various selfish reasons, and the art of the high-profile apology is littered with many attempts that fall short at fostering voices of progress. Yet this weekend saw something different happen. Following Hamilton‘s initial delay in voicing support for George Floyd protesters, the show’s creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, came forward with a detailed apology and accepted full responsibility for what had (and in this case, what hadn’t) happened.
“We spoke out on the day of the Pulse shooting. We spoke out when Vice President Mike Pence came to our show 10 days after the election. That we have not yet firmly spoken the inarguable truth that Black Lives Matter and denounced systematic racism and white supremacy from our official Hamilton channels is a moral failure on our part,” Miranda said.
Miranda’s apology was an impactful one, but it’s worth noting that the timing of his statement — after CNN host Don Lemon called out a telling silence from the entertainment industry — does matter. Yes, Miranda had already voiced support for protesters on his personal social media, but Lemon made a valid point about equating silence to a lack of “moral courage” and fear about “your reputation and your brand.” It’s an absolutely fair assessment about the complicity that arises from inaction.
For whatever reason, Hamilton‘s social media accounts slipped through the cracks on the Floyd protest response. This does not appear to have been intentional, but when it comes to a trailblazing Broadway show, in which a diverse cast portrays America’s Founding Fathers, silence comes across as its own statement. Miranda’s video apology (he was later joined by Hamilton producer Jeffrey Seller) fully acknowledges the error with this delay, which is not consistent with (as he points out) the show’s immediate statements about the Pulse nightclub massacre and VP Mike Pence’s attendance of the Broadway production. That the show swiftly acted on previous occasions is no excuse for current inaction, admitted Miranda in a video posted to Hamilton‘s Twitter page:
“As the writer of the show, I take responsibility and apologize for my part in this moral failure… I’m sorry for not pushing harder and faster for us to speak these self-evident truths under the Hamilton banner, which has come to mean so much to so many of you.”
Miranda’s full statement can be read here, and he does pay tribute to “the black and brown artists who created and revolutionized and changed the world through the culture, music and language of hip-hop” while bringing this show to life each time it’s performed. All of his declarations are true, but there’s something even more important within his apology: it is not what’s often referred to as a “non-apology apology.”
You’ve seen this countless times: when the person or organization in question issues a statement that begins with an “I’m sorry” but reads as a fake apology. The essence of said statement is that “I’m sorry if you were offended by my remarks/action/inaction” and that “no offense was intended,” and maybe even “I’m sorry that you reacted/feel that way.” These are words that are meant to shift the burden of an offense to the person who is upset or has otherwise been wronged, as if they are simply too sensitive or uncomfortable and should perhaps adjust their barometer. Non-apologies are, essentially, a defense mechanism that allows an offender to carry on without an iota of self-examination. As we continue to observe, though, our nation remains deeply wounded, and non-apologies only further infect existing injuries, rather than encourage a healing process.
That kind of apology didn’t happen here. At no point did Miranda (or Seller, who added that “silence equals complicity and I apologize for my silence thus far”) apologize for how anyone reacted to the Hamilton production’s silence. Instead, the pair understood the harm that results from inaction and accepted full responsibility. Miranda also expressed gratitude for those who are “holding us accountable” to use words and actions to support the liberty and safety of those working for progress.
As a nation and as a collective people, we entered 2020 unprepared on multiple levels, but it’s exceptionally difficult to comprehend that the murder of George Floyd happened. Yet from the officers who ignored pleas from bystanders to a system that allowed police brutality to flourish, it was a sadly inevitable outcome. For over eight minutes, Floyd struggled to survive, and Derek Chauvin disregarded his pleas in a frankly inhuman way. Floyd’s murder is, by the very definition of the word, “senseless.” Following centuries of oppression and decades of progress, the U.S. timeline remains steadily punctuated by violence against Black men (and women) by law enforcement. With each of these tragic occurrences, waves of protests aim to mark their names. This is the case from the 1992 LA police acquittals in the Rodney King case to fatal law enforcement encounters for Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Breonna Taylor, Laquan McDonald, Philando Castile, Terence Crutcher, and too many more, when even one such death is inexcusble.
It’s not only senseless but unfathomable as well, and many of us feel ill-equipped within our own privilege to speak out in an adequate way during these protests. Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeffrey Seller recognized, even if they were a few beats late, that they had a duty to do so. As activists put on masks to exit the relative safety of their homes, they are mobilizing to protest against an ongoing, formidable threat that can’t be extinguished by a vaccine. The very least that prominent Hollywood figures can do is support them, and all due respect goes out to Hamilton for admitting their error, making the right kind of apology, and pledging support against racial injustice.