There has been so much news of late, and I don't want to conflate apologizing for sexual assault with apologizing for racism, but between David Cross and Kevin Spacey there is one similarity. They don't remember. It seems convenient and yet also likely. I watched one person talk about the shock of having someone make a racist comment to them in an airport and hearing that person laughing with a friend five minutes later. These incidents of harm are often so huge in the memory of the person harmed and, in many cases, just a silly or drunken moment to the perpetrator. And that's why to this day I can describe with incredible detail an eight page note I received from a supposed friend my freshman year in high school or other barbs, arrows, and transgressions made against me, that probably aren't memorable to the people who hurt me. Either because they thought they were being funny, or flirty, or that it was so long ago. So let's talk about how to handle this. Because we would all love to believe we have only ever been the harmed and not the wielder of harm, and while most of us can say with certainty there are some lines we haven't crossed that doesn't mean there weren't times we still thought we were being funny and didn't stop.
1. It is a natural inclination to want more context surrounding the incident. I did what to you? When? Are you sure? Here's the thing. This person has taken a huge risk recounting harm done to them, to talk about a painful moment for them. If they feel willing to talk to you, then sure. But consider they may not want to. They may never want to talk to you again. They may be signaling that they are done pretending you are a person they can smile next to. And that's okay. Because you desire for context and understanding about your own behavior is not more important than their hurt.
2. Apologize. You can say, I don't remember this. But not as an excuse. So not, I'm sorry, but I don't remember this. Instead, I'm sorry, I don't remember this, but that's terrible and I'm sorry.
3. Don't equivocate. No one cares if you were drunk, or doing a bit, or whatever other excuse you've decided to attach to your behavior. Lots of people get drunk and don't hurt others. If you cannot, then you should stop drinking. See also, I was raised in a different era, I was trying out a character who was racist and apparently practicing it unknowingly on people of different races to see if I could cause them harm in a way that was funny to me.
4. Do not send others to say you are lovely, wonderful, and would never do this. Silencing victims is never a good look.
5. In the privacy of your own home, away from social media, feel free to reflect on the things that would contribute to this behavior on your part. Don't do this as part of your apology. These are things that you ponder yourself, or possibly with your team so you can make better choices going forward. I don't need to hear about your stop being racist or stop being a sexual predator step program. Your improvement will be made clear by your actions, not your words.