Friday, June 17, 2022

Rate that Apology: Lizzo

I will confess: I don't know much about Lizzo. But my wife is a fan -- she actually saw Lizzo in concert years ago before she was even the headlining act (she was opening for Haim at a show in Berkeley). So I have a cool wife, even if I remain a very nerdy husband.

Anyway. One of the songs in Lizzo's recently released album uses the word "spaz" in a somewhat unfriendly fashion, a slang for from being freaked out or uncontrollable ("I’m a spaz/ I’m about to knock somebody out/ Yo, where my best friend?/ She the only one I know to talk me off the deep end."). She was criticized by members of the disability community, who contended that "spaz" was an ableist slur. Here's her apology:

It’s been brought to my attention that there is a harmful word in my new song “GRRRLS”. Let me make one thing clear: I never want to promote derogatory language. As a fat Black woman in America, I’ve had many hurtful words used against me so I understand the power words can have (whether intentionally or in my case, unintentionally). I’m proud to say there’s a new version of GRRRLS with a lyric change. This is the result of me listening and taking action. As an influential artist I’m dedicated to being part of the change I’ve been waiting to see in the world. Xoxo, Lizzo.

This is, I think, superb. Seriously, it's a model. It is contrite in a way that is proportionate to the harm caused. While it gives some mitigating context (e.g., that the harm was unintentional), it is not primarily framed as an apologia, nor does it suggest that good intentions are the be-all-end-all of the relevant analysis. It takes responsibility and commits to a tangible action item that will ameliorate the wrong caused. It's hard to imagine what more one could ask for. Great work, Lizzo!

And on that note: one nice thing to observe here is that, as the linked article notes, Lizzo's apology seems to have been well-received.  She has not been "canceled"; it seems that most of her critics are satisfied with the response she made. Certainly, it helps that Lizzo has a broad base of goodwill she can draw upon -- most of her fans are not looking for an excuse to exile her from polite society. Nonetheless, it is notable that the histrionic cries that cancel culture is naught but a bloodthirsty mob out to destroy lives without possibility of redemption doesn't seem to be borne out. If you actually take the complaints seriously and respond in a way that shows you're taking responsibility, people will appreciate that.

Grade: 10/10

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