Apology for a Face Mask

The coronavirus pandemic has spawned a new category for apologies: the messages conveyed by face masks.

Michigan Senator Dale Zorn has issued an apology for wearing a face mask with a pattern that resembled the Confederate flag during a Senate vote in the state Capitol in Lansing last month. Senator Zorn is a Republican who represents Monroe and Lenawee Counties in southeast Michigan.

In an interview with WLNS-TV 6 in Lansing, Senator Zorn said his wife made the face mask. He said it was not a Confederate flag, and was more similar to the Kentucky or Tennessee flag. (In fact, it’s nothing like the Kentucky flag, and only vaguely similar to Tennessee; it’s more like the Confederate flag than like any other flag.) He told his wife the mask “would probably ‘raise some eyebrows.’” It did. So, the next day, he issued an apology.

Here’s the statement he issued to The Monroe News on April 25th:

“I’m sorry for my choice of pattern on the face mask I wore yesterday on the Senate floor. I did not intend to offend anyone; however, I realize that I did, and for that I am sorry. Those who know me best know that I do not support the things this pattern represents. My actions were an error in judgment for which there are no excuses and I will learn from this episode.”

What’s good about this apology:

  • He doesn’t offer an excuse – indeed, he says “there are no excuses.”
  • He takes responsibility, and doesn’t blame someone/something else.
  • He states that he’s sorry, without placing conditions on that.
  • He doesn’t use words like “but” or “if” to qualify or undermine his apology.
  • He acknowledges the impact, sort of, implying that it offended some.

What’s not so good:  As usual with these public apologies, we’re left to wonder if the speaker really understands the gravity of his offense. If he didn’t intend to offend anyone, what did he intend by choosing to wear a provocative item in a public forum? Regardless of what one intends, the Confederate flag is controversial and offensive to many, even up here in the North. So his apology just does not come across as credible.

It’s encouraging that his apology says he does “not support the things this pattern represents,” but that implies he knew it’d look like he did support those “things.” Perhaps he thinks that using the flag as a face mask is a sign of disrespect to it? He says he “will learn from this episode,” but the apology would be more convincing if he was clear about what exactly he’s learning.

As a fellow Michigander, I’m disturbed, among other things about this story, that an elected official would display a symbol of an enemy that thousands of Michigan soldiers died to defeat.  I appreciate his apology, but it doesn’t quite appease. Another Michigan senator has introduced legislation to ban the Confederate flag from display in the state Capitol. Presumably she was not satisfied with his apology either.

Modern display of the Confederate battle flag - Wikipedia

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