fur coatI first heard about the hip-hop performer Macklemore when a friend gave a stinging critique of a model strutting on a runway wearing nothing but a fur coat and hot pants.

“That looks like she belongs in that Thrift Shop music video,” my friend snorted derisively.

I didn’t have a clue what video she was talking about, so I searched for it on YouTube, and I was hooked instantly. The song encompassed my personal feelings about haute couture versus second hand stores, was funny and self-deprecating in equal measure, and it boasted a funky beat to boot. I played it over and over for days in multiple versions, including an instrumental cover I found of a nerdy guy playing the melody on the electric violin.

When I heard about Same Love, the Macklemore song which celebrates all types of relationships, I could appreciate the themes, although I wasn’t into it on a pure musical level (it has a great beat, but I can’t dance to it, so to speak). Although I was pretty sure it was a foregone conclusion that Macklemore and his frequent collaborator, Ryan Lewis, would win the Grammy for Best Song of the Year, I actually give a little cheer when it was announced that they had also one as Best New Artist.

So it was a little surprising when my Twitter feed began to stir with accusations that Macklemore had performed at a surprise concert in Seattle on Friday night. Surely it had to be a misunderstanding. And then the pictures surfaced of Macklemore rapping in a curly wig, a bulbous fake nose, and a scraggly beard. No, it wasn’t a mistake. So, why did Macklemore do it?

When confronted, his first Twitter response was so weak, that I could almost feel myself checking out as a fan.

“A fake witches nose, wig, and beard = random costume. Not my idea of a stereotype of anybody.”

Okay. A random costume of what? What exactly could it have been instead? With a denial that bad, it was beginning to look like the kind of mistake that comes from being caught doing something stupid, not out of ignorance, but out of desire. And any subsequent apology for that type of behavior is almost always motivated by discovery and not self-awareness.

And then, abruptly, mercifully, Macklemore did a 180. He apologized, and not with the lame refrain of “I’m sorry if I hurt anybody.” He admitted that he had been the cause of pain, and explained what had happened, stating:

I respect all cultures and all people. I would never intentionally put down anybody for the fabric that makes them who they are. I love human beings, love originality, and … happen to love a weird outfit from time to time.

Basically. I’m really sorry, and I wasn’t thinking about how this might have made other people feel. And that is completely different from a hedged, craven appeal for mercy, such as that made by Donald Sterling when his racist diatribe against his mistress’s fraternization with those of African descent was exposed. Here is my test of sincerity: If anywhere in an extremely public apology (think press coverage) you talk about “if you have hurt someone”, you have not internalized your mistake. If you didn’t make a mistake, you wouldn’t be apologizing with a microphone stuck in your face.

People do stupid things all the time without realizing that someone might be hurt. I no longer say “Eskimo kisses” because my best friend told me it wasn’t appropriate, even though I didn’t intend to hurt anyone by doing it (I did float “First Nations kisses” as an alternative, but approval was denied). Being a compassionate human being means that when someone calls you on the carpet for doing something inconsiderate, you reflect on whether whatever it was you did was important enough to you to keep doing it, despite being put on notice that it causes someone else’s pain.

If you decide to stop after finding out you’re hurting someone, then you’re a mensch. If you keep going anyway, or didn’t even care to begin with, then, to crib liberally from Jeff Foxworthy, you just might be a racist.