Hey, the Kid Apologized. What Do You Want? Professional Grievers?

Sean Bergin, the New Jersey TV reporter who did not apologize.
Sean Bergin, the New Jersey TV reporter who did not apologize.

The kid from Highland Park who got caught singing a racist chant on a fraternity bus at Oklahoma University has apologized, but some of the twitterati aren't buying it.

See also: Highland Park Grad Who Sang Racist Chant at OU Fraternity Says He's Sorry

@GEEPENNIN tweeted: "Pettit's apology is rehearsed and almost robotic. He is only sorry his racist chant was videotaped. Nothing he says comes from the heart."

@TheLostOgle said, "I wonder which PR Firm coached Levi Pettit. Was it a local firm or a national one?"

Our own blog commenter, Sotiredofitall, said, "Next stop; MSNBC with Rev. Sharpton, then a book deal."

I don't think they get it. In today's relative atmosphere for racist verbal bulimia, the test is not how well you apologize after you get done puking racism all over your shirtfront. It's not even whether you apologize at all. The test is whether you continue to brag about throwing up on yourself later and are then nominated for a medal by FOX TV.

Flanked by credible black leaders who vouched for his sincerity, Levi Pettit, 20, a Highland Park High School graduate and member of the SAE chapter at OU, went on TV and ate major crow over the March 7 incident in which he and others were caught on video singing a drunken racist song.

He stood up on TV. He said he was wrong. He said he deeply regretted his behavior.

Look, I don't care how many tears he shed or whether he achieved a persuasive quaver in his voice. Should he have hired a chorus of wizened Greek widows dressed in black to stand behind him wailing and rending their garments? What is this, America's Best Apology? Oh, please forget I ever mentioned that concept.

In today's climate, the only proper measure of Pettit's act is a comparison with somebody like ... oh ... let's say ... well, how about some media people? They're on TV all the time anyway. They should be really good at what they do.

Here's an example that leaps to mind.Last July, a New Jersey TV station chose to interview a woman whose husband had just been shot to death in a gunfight with police. She is black. Before being shot himself, the woman's husband shot and killed a police officer. In the interview, the bereaved woman said she wished her husband had taken out more cops.

That's not a good thing to say. Having done lots of those how's-it-feel-to-have-your-husband-get-shot interviews myself, I know that people say a lot of crazy shit when you ask them things like that at moments like that. Go back six months later, and it's like talking to a different person (who still hates you).

Apparently, Sean Bergin, a reporter for News 12 New Jersey, felt that the airing of the interview needed to be defended, so he went on air in a subsequent broadcast and delivered a speech portraying the interview as an important window on the black psyche. He said, "The underlying cause for all of this, of course: Young black men growing up without fathers."

I might have said the underlying cause was reporters asking people stupid shit when they are still gobsmacked by grief. I would not have tried to justify airing the interview by slurring human beings according to the continental origins of their forefathers. In case I got confused, I would have asked myself, "Every time some white person says some crazy crap to me, what does that tell me about everybody else who's white?"

As it is, it seems to me what Bergin did was enormously more offensive and corrosive than what those fraternity boys at OU did. They were in private on a bus. He was on the air, preaching to the masses. The SAE chant was stupid and puerile. However ugly it may have been -- plenty -- nobody would ever have taken it as an attempt at serious expression. But Bergin was trying to tell the world he was onto a grand important truth about black people.

And that's what he continued to do after getting canned. His vogue may have passed by now, but for a while he was a favorite son on Fox News, where he explained that anti-authoritarianism in black culture is the product of "decades of liberal social welfare programs that have incentivized the practice of single motherhood."

Fox media critic Howard Kurtz practically nominated Bergin for the Iron Cross, saying "... it also took courage to say what Sean Bergin did." Kurtz even suggested Fox hire Bergin as an expert on racism and assign him to do, "a three-part series on the roots of urban crime, fatherless families and racial animosity toward the police."

I guess that would be: Part One: Roots of Crime. Part Two: Fatherless Families. Part Three: Black People. That's an OK story idea as far as it goes, but if they had a little more money, I would suggest a Part One and a Half: Lynchings, Jim Crow, What About Black People Who Are Rich and Live in the Suburbs, How Come There are White People Who Hate the Cops, and What If You Gave the Widow 24 Hours Before You Asked Her How She Felt About Her Old Man Getting Shot?"

Details, details, I know.

Racism today is pretty hard to miss. If anything, today's right-wing Obamaphobic racists never apologize for anything. They beat their breasts and bask in the adoring gaze of their racist brethren.

The Park Cities kid went on TV and announced that he had done wrong and was ashamed of it. He asked to be forgiven after admitting that he had no right to expect to be forgiven. I don't care how many lawyers or public relations people his family had working for them -- and I very much doubt that's where this came from -- the kid did right anyway.

I know, I know, some people are still mad at him for not ratting out his fraternity brothers on the origin of the song. Speaking as a journalist, I generally am in favor of ratting. It works for me. But I can also respect someone not being willing to burn down his buddies to save his own ass. He should probably avoid a career in real estate, but his steadfastness may serve him well in other venues later on.

The apology was the right thing to do. What he did took courage. Frankly, I think he reminded the rest of us white people of a very important truth about ourselves: We're all capable of being total dumbasses about race at any given moment. Ask black people if they're shocked and amazed.

What counts is what happens afterward. What he did. He owned up to it. He gets points.

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