Archive for the ‘leadership’ Category

I have failed young African-American girls.

I take no solace in the knowledge that I am not alone in doing so.

You see, I, like most of America have focused my attention on Black boys and young men. And while that is a worthy goal, I think it has been at the expense of our girls.

For the last two years I have primarily focused my attention on the afterschool academy I started for boys. True, this year we started one for girls, too. But I poured most of my attention into saving the boys, as I’ve done for years. I saw this as a life or death mission, particularly for the African-American and Latino boys in the group.

I might be about to spout some heresy here but I think we need to refocus our attention. For most of my adult life we have talked about the need for our young black boys to have black adult male mentors to replace the fathers they don’t have in their lives. We have put so much attention and resources into saving black boys.

But what about the girls?

You’d think as an African-American woman I’d have done better.

I’ve sat fuming as the President, the Attorney General and politicians, scholars and others described the obstacles facing African-American boys and men and each time I whisper to myself, what about African-American women? What about the girls?

I’ve listened to leaders and “experts” talk about the need to save black boys from the school to prison pipeline and I whisper to myself, what about our girls?

When the President announced his new Task Force Brother’s Keeper, I’d had enough.

In announcing his new initiative the President, in February, talked about visiting a program, Becoming A Man (BAM), and of sharing stories with the young men in the program about struggling to do the right thing.

“And when it was my turn, I explained to them that when I was their age I was a lot like them.  I didn’t have a dad in the house.  And I was angry about it, even though I didn’t necessarily realize it at the time.  I made bad choices.  I got high without always thinking about the harm that it could do.  I didn’t always take school as seriously as I should have.  I made excuses.  Sometimes I sold myself short.”

So I’m thinking, as I have a thousand other times, what about the girls? What about those little girls who don’t have a father in the house? Don’t they get angry and act out in inappropriate ways? I’ve long been of the belief that not having a father in the home has a negative effect on daughters, too. I’m not a psychologist and only an armchair sociologist but it stands to reason that if we believe that children need two parents in a household, both children need both parents. If there are going to be problems because a father is absent, both children are going to have problems because that parent is absent. I see African-American girls making bad choices and struggling with making the right choices in school. I see black girls selling themselves short and getting into fights with other girls and flat-out trying to knock out boys who have angered them.

Barack Obama’s own words would seem to support the understanding that girls are just as vulnerable as boys. The emphases are mine, from the same press conference:

“If you’re African-American, there’s about a one in two chance you grow up without a father in your house — one in two. If you’re Latino, you have about a one in four chance.  We know that boys who grow up without a father are more likely to be poor, more likely to underperform in school.”

He says “African-American” and “Latino” without specific reference to gender. But as is typical when anyone speaks of African-Americans “African-American” equates to men and boys and women and girls are left out of the conversation. While the President translates this as a boys’ issue that one in two chance has to apply to girls too doesn’t it? Aren’t they also more likely to be poor if their brothers are poor or are all African-American boys only children?

It has been my experience that little girls have unique relationships with their fathers just as boys have with their mothers. Ever heard of “Daddy’s Little Girl”? Fathers spoil little girls in ways mothers don’t. Believe me, I’ve been there. My daughters enjoyed and continue to enjoy a unique relationship with their father just as I had and have with my son.

Yet we continue to act as if only boys are affected by living in single-parent households.

When girls don’t have those relationships with their fathers, they can spend a lifetime looking for it, and in inappropriate ways such as through sexual relationships. Some of those relationships lead to early pregnancies and perpetuate the cycle of early pregnancies and single parent households. Paul Raeburn, in his new book “Do Fathers Matter? What Science Is Telling Us About the Parent We’ve Overlooked” examines the scientific basis for the importance of fathers in the home. While I disagree that our society has “overlooked” fathers, I can agree with his premise that we have stereotyped their role.

African-American girls deserve to be part of the national conversation and to share resources aimed at helping Black children.

– Photo Joelle Inge-Messerschmidt/www.photographybyjoelle.com African-American girls deserve to be part of the national conversation and to share resources aimed at helping Black children.

Raeburn discards the stereotype of father as “moral guardian, symbol of masculinity for his sons, or harsh disciplinarian,” roles we continue to believe he plays, particularly in black communities. Instead, he embraces a scientific argument for fathers who play many more roles – including genetic ones – “companions, care providers, spouses, protectors, models, moral guides, teachers and, of course, breadwinners” and more. Among the unexplained genetic roles they play, Raeburn says, is in their absence girls seem to enter puberty earlier, which once again leads to that issue of possible early, unintended pregnancies.

We use statistics to bring attention to the plight of black boys when the same numbers ought to have us howling about black girls. The federal government issues statements about inequalities in suspension rates and test scores for and of black students and we act like black girls, as a group, don’t get suspended and aren’t struggling in school even when the numbers say otherwise.

A 2011-12 study shows African-American girls may not be suspended as often as African-American boys but they are being suspended more frequently than everybody else! The gender breakdown shows that nationally, 12 percent  of black girls received at least one-in-school suspension, whereas the rate for white girls is 2 percent , and for white boys it is 6 percent .

…. Overall, black boys are more likely to be suspended than any group, at 20 percent .  The survey looked at 7.5 million black schoolchildren, 24 million white schoolchildren and about 11.5 million Hispanic schoolchildren across the country. Across all 50 states, black girls outpace their counterparts in suspensions.[1]

Right here I would like to introduce some statistics about African-American girls’ specific performance on achievement tests or their academic performance in general but after virtually two days of research I can’t seem to find the statistics that address girls, which signifies another issue. Why are statistics about black girls and women so hard to come by. The best I can do is refer to an article bemoaning the results of African-American boys on national math and reading tests, known as the National Assessment for Educational Progress, which are given to students in fourth and eighth grades, most recently in 2009:

The analysis of results on the national tests found that math scores in 2009 for black boys were not much different than those for black girls in Grades 4 and 8, but black boys lagged behind Hispanics of both sexes, and they fell behind white boys by at least 30 points, a gap sometimes interpreted as three academic grades.[2]

The 2010 report, “A Call for Change” found 12 percent of black fourth-grade boys were proficient in reading, compared with 38 percent  of white boys, and only 12 percent  of black eighth-grade boys were proficient in math, compared with 44 percent  of white boys.

So, back to President Obama:

“As a black student, you are far less likely than a white student to be able to read proficiently by the time you are in 4th grade.  By the time you reach high school, you’re far more likely to have been suspended or expelled.  There’s a higher chance you end up in the criminal justice system, and a far higher chance that you are the victim of a violent crime.  Fewer young black and Latino men participate in the labor force compared to young white men.  And all of this translates into higher unemployment rates and poverty rates as adults.

“And the worst part is we’ve become numb to these statistics.  We’re not surprised by them.  We take them as the norm.  We just assume this is an inevitable part of American life, instead of the outrage that it is.  (Applause.)  That’s how we think about it.  It’s like a cultural backdrop for us — in movies and television.  We just assume, of course, it’s going to be like that.  But these statistics should break our hearts.  And they should compel us to act.”

–          President Barack Obama, February 27, 2014

Is it any less outrageous when the statistics apply to girls? It took me years of psychotherapy to understand that a person’s bad experience is not invalidated because another person has a worse one. Yes, fewer African-American girls than boys end up in the prison system but is that to be the only measure? And fewer is relative. Fewer women end up in the prison system than men period. That’s the nature of the beast. Fewer African-American women end up in the criminal justice system than African-American men but they do end up there. And the consequences can be catastrophic to those women, to their families, to the African-American community and the United States . The more appropriate comparison would be between other groups of women not men.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, at mid year 2010, the incarceration rate for women was 126 per 100,000 population. The rate for non-Hispanic white women was 91, for non-Hispanic black women the rate was 260, and for Hispanic women the rate was 133.[3]

Among female prisoners in 2012, black women ages 18 to 19 were 3 times more likely to be imprisoned than white women. Hispanic women in this age group had imprisonment rates nearly twice those of white women. Black and white female imprisonment rates were closest among prisoners ages 25 to 39, when black women were less than twice as likely as white women to be imprisoned.[4]

According to a 2012 report from The Sentencing Project there were more than 205,000 women in jails and prisons. As of 2010, more than one million women were under the supervision of the criminal justice system, meaning that if they were not incarcerated they were on probation or parole. The lifetime likelihood of imprisonment for women is 1 in 56; however, the chance of a woman being sent to prison varies by race. As of 2001, the lifetime likelihood of imprisonment was:

  • 1 in 19 for black women
  • 1 in 45 for Hispanic women
  • 1 in 118 for white women

In 2010, black women were incarcerated at nearly three times the rate of white women (133 versus 47 per 100,000). Hispanic women were incarcerated at 1.6 times the rate of white women (77 versus 47 per 100,000).

Here’s the kicker, once again using statistics provided by the Sentencing Project. Women in state prisons are more likely to have minor children than are men (62 percent versus 51 percent).

  •  64 percent of mothers in state prisons lived with their children before they were sent to prison compared to 47 percent of fathers.
  • Mothers in prison are more likely than are fathers to have children living with grandparents (45 percent versus 13 percent), other relatives (23 percent versus 5 percent ), or in foster care (11 percent  versus 2 percent ).
  • One in 25 women in state prisons and one in 33 in federal prisons are pregnant when admitted to prison.
  • The majority of children born to incarcerated mothers are immediately separated from their mothers.

Who is advocating for the motherless child?

Perhaps if we want to solve the problems of African-American boys we should start with ensuring that African-American girls get the same amount of attention as black boys. If single African-American women aren’t suitable parents for African-American boys, perhaps we should take better steps to make sure that African-American girls don’t become the single parents of those boys.

I could go on. African-American women experience great levels of domestic and sexual violence. African-American women suffer unemployment woes just as do African-American men. In fact, according to Black Enterprise in May 2014:

Black unemployment dropped from 12.4 percent to 11.6 percent, but is more than double the rate for white people (at 5.3 percent). Black women ages 20 and older trail close behind their male counterparts (at 10.4 percent compared with 10.8 percent.) In March, the gap was a bit wider, with the jobless rate for black women at 11 percent (compared with 12.1 percent for black men). The unemployment rate for black teenagers of both sexes is also at an alarming number at 38.6 percent (reflecting a rise from March and a large gap when compared with white counterparts, whose rate is 15.9, a drop from the previous month).[5]

To sum all of this up, life for black girls and women, to borrow a line from my favorite Langston Hughes poem “Mother to Son”, “ain’t been no crystal stair.”

A Forbes article quotes Dr. Charlotte Pierce-Baker, the author of “Surviving the Silence: Black Women’s Stories of Rape,” as saying:

“We are taught that we are first Black, then women. Our families have taught us this, and society in its harsh racial lessons reinforces it.  Black women have survived by keeping quiet not solely out of shame, but out of a need to preserve the race and its image.  In our attempts to preserve racial pride, we Black women have sacrificed our own souls.”[6]

While Pierce-Baker is specifically referring to sexual assault, what she says applies equally to every facet of the trials of African-American women.

It is time to reclaim our souls and the souls of our little girls, not in place of our boys and men but beside them.

[1] http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/she-the-people/wp/2014/03/21/study-black-girls-suspended-at-higher-rates-than-most-boys/

[2] http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/09/education/09gap.html?_r=0

[3] – See more at: http://www.drugwarfacts.org/cms/Race_and_Prison#sthash.n74RYjlr.dpuf

[4] – See more at: http://www.drugwarfacts.org/cms/Race_and_Prison#sthash.n74RYjlr.dpuf

[5] http://www.blackenterprise.com/career/report-jobs-added-african-american-unemployment-april/

[6] http://www.forbes.com/sites/shenegotiates/2012/04/25/black-women-sexual-assault-and-the-art-of-resistance/2/

RELATED POSTS

http://www.theroot.com/articles/culture/2014/06/study_eviction_rates_for_black_women_on_par_with_incarcerations_for_black.html

http://www.xojane.com/issues/obama-my-brothers-keeper-focus-on-boys-isnt-the-problem

http://aapf.org/2014/06/woc-letter-mbk/

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/06/22/billie-holiday-barack-obama-and-the-pain-of-black-women.html

http://www.thenation.com/blog/180272/black-women-black-men-scar-conversation-my-brothers-keeper-heats

Democrats have a chance to redeem themselves for their massive failure to show up in Wisconsin and once again they’re blowing it.

I’ve been thinking that Democrats are losing the war against Republicans because Progressives are just too damn smart for their own good but lately I’ve been rethinking that. I’ve decided, the problem is, to borrow a quote from one of my all-time favorite movies, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, “Morons. I’ve got morons on my team.”

If you could do something to remove the one person in elected office that could be held responsible for driving our entire country into the ground over the last three years wouldn’t you do everything in your power to get rid of him? Well, as it turns out that one person is vulnerable and the national Democratic Party is once again MIA.

No. 1 Obstructionist

Rep. Eric Cantor/Some rights reserved by DonkeyHotey

Eric Cantor. That smarmy, self-righteous, self-serving, lying excuse for a Congressman is up for re-election in the 7th District in Virginia. I suspect many of us didn’t know that until last week when Rachel Maddow interviewed Democratic Strategist Dave “Mudcat” Saunders on her show. We also didn’t know Cantor could lose. http://leanforward.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/07/12/12711434-mudcat-saunders-eric-cantor-is-a-bought-and-paid-for-crook?lite

Saunders, who worked on the successful campaigns of former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner and Sen. Jim Webb, and the 2008 John Edwards Presidential campaign, told Maddow that Cantor is the epitome of “standing in the way”. He believes Virginians and Americans don’t want people standing in the way and recent polls would seem to indicate he is right.

In a Harrison Hickman poll published by Think Progress June 26, fifty nine percent of Virginia voters in Cantor’s district say they would vote for a candidate that would work with President Obama at least some of the time. (We all know that Cantor’s cooperation with President Obama was non-existent.) Voters in the district also say they would support a pro-choice candidate by a rate of 68 to 23. (Eric Cantor has a100 percent rating from the National Right to Life Committee.) Forty-three percent of his constituents say they would be willing to replace Cantor, compared to 41 percent who say they would vote to keep him. And we all know what disdain we all feel for the current Congress. http://thinkprogress.org/election/2012/06/26/506456/eric-cantor-poll/?mobile=nc

There is no doubt that Cantor is, as Saunders says, one of the most unpatriotic beings walking the streets of this country. He has demonstrated that time and again.

“He’s a bought and paid for crook. … We’re in the midst of a coin-operated government and he’s the leader,” Saunders told Maddow.

This is also no doubt, as Saunders says, a national opportunity. Cantor can be beaten and he has the perfect candidate to beat him, Wayne Powell. Powell is a retired Army Colonel, a small business owner and a community lawyer, who believes in social justice for gays and straight women, and economic fairness for all people.

Saunders has committed on his website to among other things:

  • eliminating incentives for corporations to outsource jobs overseas;
  • to opposing the Cantor-Ryan Budget that destroys Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid for the benefit of private health insurance companies and financial interests;
  • to tirelessly fight for women’s rights so that women are free to make their own health care decisions and have access to affordable, accessible medical care such as contraception, without government interference;
  • and to end Washington’s collusion with the oil companies, and end billions of dollars in handouts for companies that are already making record profits, while creating jobs and protecting our natural resources by investing in new forms of energy.

Here’s where the “morons” part comes in.

Most Americans can’t vote in the 7th District in Virginia, so who is in the best position to affect the outcome of this election that indisputably affects us all? The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (The DCCC). The DCCC is in the unique position of being able to reach across the country and into any state to support any Democratic candidate running for office this fall.

Why isn’t this organization concentrating on this effort? Morons. If it supports no other candidate in the whole country, this is one race the DCCC should support. We know Eric Cantor. We know he is the face of evil. We know he must go. We know the DCCC is falling down on the job. Those who support the DCCC must insist that it become actively involved in supporting Powell now. We cannot have another situation like Wisconsin where the incumbent wins likely because there was so much outside money spent on his behalf and so little support for his Democratic challenger until it was too late to make a difference.

Recently I got this email:

BREAKING: Boehner donates $4.1 million to save his Speakership

We just got word that Speaker Boehner is in all-out panic mode. He donated over $4 million to our Republican counterparts to try to save his teetering majority.

President Obama needs a Democratic majority — and we can make it happen.

Donate $3 or more right now to win a Democratic majority for President Obama >>
Thank you,

Kelly
Kelly Ward
DCCC Political Director

 

We need to tell Steve Israel, the DCCC Chairman, that we demand specific actions showing that the DCCC is getting behind Powell now or we will stop sending him our contributions.

I agree with Saunders about Cantor. I want to do to him what he has done to the country:

“We don’t just want to beat him we want to ruin him.”

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Independent thinking isn’t encouraged in the military. Marines don’t all have those same haircuts because they want them. They don’t run through those obstacle courses, dress alike or even go to live in Iraq or Afghanistan for years just because they want to do so. You don’t question your superiors in the military because you can’t. Lives depend on unquestioned authority. Once you take the oath, you don’t get to pick and choose what you will and won’t do.

As a Marine, I’m sure that if U.S. Marine Sgt. Gary Stein gave an enlisted man or woman an order he would not expect him or her to ask why? He would expect immediate compliance.  He should expect no less of himself.

Gary Stein chose the Tea Party over the Marines, his President and his Country and so he has no right to whine when his Country demands he turn in his uniform.

A Marine Corps administrative board has recommended that U.S. Marine Sgt. Stein be given an other-than-honorable discharge because it says he violated the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Department of Defense policy on political speech when he posted anti-Obama comments.

Sgt. Stein claims he was exercising his First Amendment rights on his Armed Forces Tea Party Facebook page when he posted pictures of the President superimposed on posters of the movies “Jackass” and the “Impossibles” (which he re-titled the “Horribles”) and also posted that he would not obey an order from President Barack Obama.

In creating and administering a public Facebook page and in posting comments which his superiors say “were prejudicial to good order and discipline, and (which) could have influenced junior Marines” on a Facebook page used by Marine meteorologists Stein chose to walk a not-so-fine line. He made a deliberate choice to continue to walk that line when the Marines suggested his Tea Party page might reflect poorly on the Marines. Stein took down the page, and made the decision on his own to repost the page after adding a disclaimer saying that it was not a product of the United States Armed Services and modifying his stance on the President to read that he would not obey an “unlawful” order.

Department of Defense Directives 1344.10 limits permissible political activity while one is in active service. That is as it was when Sgt. Stein enlisted and that is how it continues to this day. The Directive states that a member of the Armed Forces on active duty “may express a personal opinion on political candidates and issues, but not as a representative of the Armed Forces.”

Stein maintained in a lawsuit filed in Federal Court that he was exercising his First Amendment rights and was not in violation of military policies when he criticized President Barack Obama on his Facebook page. He argued that even if he had violated the policy then the policy was itself unlawful as it violated his right of free speech. He sought to stop the administrative separation hearing that ultimately recommended his dismissal. The Court on April 13 refused to intercede in the military proceedings.
All protestations aside, Stein pretty much gave up his First Amendment rights when he joined the Marines, at least as far as criticizing his Commander in Chief goes and he knew it. The military has had a policy since the Civil War limiting the free speech of service members, including criticism of the Commander in Chief.

The argument that he wasn’t identifying himself as a Marine on his page doesn’t fly. The argument that he was on his own time or not on duty doesn’t work either. Marines, soldiers, sailors, are kind of like police officers, fire fighters or parents; they are never off duty, even when they take off their uniforms.

Then there’s that pesky oath he took when he enlisted. The one that goes like this:

      “I, __________, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

 See, on day one he promised to “obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me” both of which he flouted in suggesting he would decide what was an unlawful order. The Marine Corps cannot risk keeping a Marine who may decide to lay down his arms if he decides he disagrees with the cause.

Stein cited a 1999 District Court case, Rigdon v. Perry, as support for his argument that he maintained free speech rights but that argument fails for a couple of reasons. First, it is a Memorandum Decision and therefore cannot be relied upon as precedent and second, that case dealt with military chaplains and the right to free speech in the context of religious freedom.

In that case the Court said:

The “speech” that the plaintiffs intend to employ to inform their congregants of their religious obligations has nothing to do with their role in the military. They are neither being disrespectful to the Armed Forces nor in any way urging their congregants to defy military orders. The chaplains in this case seek to preach only what they would tell their non-military congregants. There is no need for heavy-handed censorship, and any attempt to impinge on the plaintiffs’ constitutional and legal rights is not acceptable.”

This case applies to military chaplains, which Stein is not, and their religious messages even when those messages have political overtones.

It is important to note that the Court said:

“Again, there is no evidence that military readiness or efficiency would be jeopardized(emphasis added) by permitting chaplains to preach in accordance with their religious beliefs.”

You see, when you talk about a chaplain preaching you’re not talking about someone giving a life and death order. The Court noted that military chaplains don’t affect the military part of the military. In Stein’s part of the military, military readiness or efficiency is the very reason for its existence.

So Sgt. Stein was warned and he deliberately chose to pursue his political activity. The administrative board did not buy his argument that the rules were not clear regarding criticism of the Commander in Chief specifically by “social media.” The board’s recommendations of an other-than-honorable discharge go to a general who will either accept or deny them within the next three weeks. If the general disagrees with the board, the case could go to the secretary of the Navy.

 Sgt. Stein was clever enough to make fun of the President. He needs to be man enough to face the consequences.
– Photo PatriotIcon.org

Bill Maher indicated that Rush Limbaugh has apologized for his vile remarks about Georgetown Law Student Sandra Fluke in which he called her a “slut” and a “prostitute” for speaking up for her classmates who needed prescription birth control for cysts and other health issues, tweeting:

Hate to defend #RushLimbaughbut he apologized, liberals looking bad not accepting.

First of all, Bill Maher doesn’t recognize what an apology sounds like, as he never has to apologize for anything he says. As he points out, he has no sponsors for his television show, “Real Time With Bill Maher.”

But let’s not pretend that Maher is any kind of role model either. No one, and I mean no one, looks up to him as any kind of leader or quotes him like they do Rush Limbaugh or even, say, Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert. Maher is a comedian, who is sometimes funny and who has a show on HBO that has guests who express both liberal and conservative political views. Yes, he can be crude, crass and juvenile and is often insulting to conservative women and men. Maher specializes pretty much in one-liners, which makes him a whole lot  different from Rush Limbaugh, who appears five days a week and can, and does, carry on his tirades against innocent young women for days.

We could argue about the differences between Maher and Limbaugh or whether Limbaugh or Keith Olbermann or Chris Matthews or Ed Shultz or Maher are more misogynist but let’s not. Let’s leave that conversation for another time. The issue is the apology, or the lack thereof, not so much what he said.

Rush Limbaugh and Bill Maher are rarely on the same side of any issue but on this they are uniformly wrong, Rush Limbaugh did not apologize for his tirade against Sandra Fluke – and to the rest of American women he insulted. Ms. Fluke was right not to accept the so-called apology and so were the “liberals” Mr. Maher is so interested in rushing into acceptance of the apology.

Forget whether you felt offended by any of these men and focus only on the fact that there was supposedly an apology. Apologies are actions that are offered by one party because that party is acknowledging that he or she has hurt or otherwise offended the other party. It’s not something that’s supposed to be automatic, pleasant or defensive.

Apparently, we have a lot to learn about apologies and how they should be proposed. I say proposed because there is something we need to understand about apologies. We can propose an apology but the other party doesn’t have to accept it.

Just saying that you apologize and that your apology is sincere doesn’t make it so. There have been a number of recent public examples of what are claimed to be but are not apologies. Mr. Limbaugh’s is but one.

As has been pointed out by others, Rush Limbaugh said his choice of words were not the best. He said he thought listeners would understand that that his schtick was satire. He said he was sorry he descended to the level of the  the leftists. Although he said his apology was sincere he never apologized for distorting the facts of her testimony or for saying that she was “having so much sex it’s amazing she can still walk” or for implying – during his apology – that she deserved derision because of her history as a gender activist.

His apology basically boiled down to, as the late, great comedian Flip Wilson used to say, “the Devil made me do it.”

He felt no remorse for his actions. He exhibited no regret for his words. He did not acknowledge the hurtfulness of the events he set into motion.

As much as it hurts to do it, apologizing preserves your dignity as well as that of the other person. When properly done, they force you to swallow your pride and act with grace and humility.

When I’ve had to apologize to someone, I’ve always had this sick feeling in the pit of my stomach that I suspect comes from the combination of shame I feel from what I am apologizing for and the fear I feel that the person I am apologizing to will not accept my apology. I feel the apology. It is not something I do for show and it is something I would really rather not do. It’s about repairing the injured party not about making me feel better.

It is important to note that an apology requires one to take full responsibility for the offense. This modern-day excuse for an apology is not acceptable: “If I offended you (or anyone) I’m sorry.” That’s a coward’s way out. Either you’re sorry or you’re not. When you phrase it that way, you’re not. When you share the blame with the person you’re apologizing to or with anyone else or if you try to offer mitigating circumstances, it’s an excuse not an apology. An apology with an excuse is simply not an apology.

Take full responsibility for what you did. If you say, “I’m sorry if” or “I’m sorry but” then you haven’t taken responsibility. You’re placing the blame somewhere else.

I’ve seen two really good apologies from unexpected places recently; one from Keith Olbermann and one from a man some would call a racist Montana federal judge.

Olbermann seemed genuinely perplexed that comments he had made in the past were being compared to Limbaugh’s and deemed misogynistic rather than merely mean but he apologized anyway and swore to do better in the future.

“I’m going to try to raise my standard about not using gratuitously abusive remarks about women, and men,” he said. “In fact, I’m going to suspend the Worst Persons segment again, possibly permanently.”

His apology isn’t enough for many conservatives, including conservative commentators S.E. Cupp and Michelle Malkin, to whom he is apologizing but remember your responsibility is to make the apology. You can’t force anyone to accept it.

Richard Cebull, Montana’s chief federal judge, apologized to President Barack Obama for emailing a joke from his federal email that suggested that the President’s mother had had sex with a dog and that the President is lucky that he is human. The apology letter (attached) actually seems heartfelt. H e assumes responsibility and blames no one but himself for his actions.

“Please forgive me and, again, my most sincere apology,” Judge Cebull wrote.

We don’t know how the President felt or responded, but several advocacy groups and lawmakers have called for Cebull’s resignation in the interests of fairness and justice. That seems fair. Given that the man’s job is to dispense justice to everyone no matter their race or politics, his action has cast doubt on whether he is able to do that. His self-identification as a Tea Party member who disagrees with the President’s policies and who emailed what he knew was a racist joke seems reason enough for the community as a whole to reject his apology. Judge Cebull doesn’t know what else he can do beyond apologize. He can resign.

Implicit in an apology is the fact that you really mean it. If you don’t then don’t say it because you’ll find yourself in Limbaugh’s position. No one will believe it. Remember, sometimes you can mean it and an apology is not enough.

The reason we have such a hard time making a proper apology is we’ve come to think of apologies as bad things. They’re not. We make them when we make mistakes. For example no one would take offense at someone saying, “I’m sorry I accidentally stepped on your foot.” But if a group of U.S. soldiers accidentally burn a bunch of holy Qurans, we’re incensed if the President says “I’m sorry we made a mistake.” GOP Presidential Candidate Rick Santorum during an interview said at least seven times that the burnings were unintentional or a mistake but that the United States should not have apologized because the burnings were a mistake and apologies show weakness.

Understand this. Apologies are a sign of strength. A true leader, a true human being can apologize; without reservation, without excuse, without equivocation, without blame. We should respect people who can take responsibility for their actions, pledge to do better in the future and make every attempt to follow through on that promise. Anyone who does otherwise is merely a pretender and not worthy of our attention or our respect.