An apology can’t fix everything, and Benedict Cumberbatch seems to know that. “The damage is done,” he said in a statement to People magazine after receiving criticism for using the term “colored people” in an on-air interview with PBS’s Tavis Smiley.
一句道歉并不能挽回一切，本尼迪克特•康伯巴奇也深谙此理。在接受PBS主持人塔维斯•斯迈利采访时，康伯巴奇因为使用了 “有色人种（colored people）”一词而遭到谴责。他随后在美国《人物》杂志上发表声明表示，知道自己已经造成了伤害。
But an apology can, at least, make a strong case that someone really is sorry. By signaling awareness of why what they did was wrong, of how it might have affected people, and how they will do better in the future, apologizers don’t quite erase their errors but do demonstrate that they see them as errors. Cumberbatch basically did all of those things in his statement:
I’m devastated to have caused offense by using this outmoded terminology. I offer my sincere apologies. I make no excuse for my being an idiot and know the damage is done. I can only hope this incident will highlight the need for correct usage of terminology that is accurate and inoffensive. The most shaming aspect of this for me is that I was talking about racial inequality in the performing arts in the U.K. and the need for rapid improvements in our industry when I used the term. […]
I feel the complete fool I am and while I am sorry to have offended people and to learn from my mistakes in such a public manner please be assured I have. I apologize again to anyone who I offended for this thoughtless use of inappropriate language about an issue which affects friends of mine and which I care about deeply.
His apology’s thoroughness wouldn't be worth noting if most public figures’ mea culpas weren't so shoddy. The Internet has countless lists of famous folks botching it, sometimes by passive-aggressively expressing remorse only for people’s offense instead of the action that caused it, or by trying to explain away the mistake.
Apologies like these can actually make things worse. When Don Lemon basically asked a rape accuser why she didn't bite Bill Cosby and then responded to backlash with, "If my question to her struck anyone as insensitive, I am sorry," it muddied the issue, implying that anyone who took issue with the question was overly touchy.
Cumberbatch does nearly walk into the chagrinned-white-person trope of referencing his non-white “friends,” but it’s not to excuse his own words—it’s to demonstrate awareness of why his mistake might matter. And it could seem a little self-serving for him to hope that the “incident will highlight the need for correct usage of terminology that is accurate and inoffensive,” but he's actually correct to do so. The word “colored” was in popular usage not too long ago; it’s in the very name of the NAACP. Some people may not realize that it’s been largely phased out because of its racist lineage and because some people of color feel it dehumanizes them. The publicity around Cumberbatch's slip-up could help remedy that in a small way.
在提及自己的非白人“朋友”时，康伯巴奇虽也为措辞不当表示悔恨不已，但这并不是为了给自己找借口，而是为了说明深知错误的严重后果。他表示希望自己的失言能够提醒大家，正确使用准确且无冒犯之意的词语是十分重要的。这也许听起来有点以自我为中心，但事实上，他说的不错。就在不久前，“有色人种”这个词还被广泛使用，它甚至出现在了美国全国有色人种协进会(National Association for the Advancement of Colored People)的机构名称中。而现在，这个词已不再使用，因为它和种族主义有着历史渊源，并且令一些非白人感到受到了侮辱。但有些人可能还未意识到。而此次康伯巴奇的说错话受到了社会关注，这在某种程度上起到了纠正作用。
There’s another upside to this apology, in that it offers a reminder of how messy progress can be. In the Smiley interview, Cumberbatch was talking about the difficulties that nonwhite actors face in finding roles—an issue that he and a lot of other people think deserves more attention. So on one hand, you have a white man speaking out for racial equality; on the other, you have him employing a word that’s long helped enable inequality. All in all Cumberbatch said he’s sorry, probably in the best way anyone could hope for.