When Will Apologies Sound Genuine?

Whether on a reality show or at college, bullying is a serious issue that needs a real response.

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Tami Roman (Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images); Dharun Ravi (ABC)

This has been a heck of a week for bullying in the news. Dharun Ravi -- the Rutgers University student in New Jersey who was facing up to 10 years in prison after being convicted of invasion of privacy and several second-degree-bias charges for using a webcam to tape and live-feed roommate Tyler Clementi's intimate encounter with another male -- was sentenced in court. Ravi has to serve 30 days in jail, three years of probation and 300 hours of community service and pay $10,000 to a nonprofit community-based organization dedicated to helping victims of bias incidents.

You may recall that 24 hours after Clementi, 18, learned of the taping, he committed suicide by jumping from the George Washington Bridge. Advocates for Ravi claimed that he shouldn't have been prosecuted for the death, while others argued that Ravi's cyberbullying drove Clementi to kill himself.

Another example of a bully scaring the crap out of someone is Tami Roman, star of VH1's Basketball Wives. She physically attacked fellow cast mate Meeka Claxton on the reality show last season, causing Claxton to leave their "vacation" in Italy. This season, cast mate Kesha Nichols was so visibly shaken and scared for her safety after Roman harangued and intimidated her that she wound up leaving their group outing in Tahiti.

At the core of these examples is the failure of the perpetrators to treat bullying with the seriousness it deserves. The fact that Ravi didn't apologize to Clementi's family, even after his conviction, speaks volumes. Even if you don't think that Ravi is responsible for his classmate's death, Ravi did indeed videotape Clementi's sexual encounter without Clementi's knowledge, invading his privacy, which should require at least a few words of contrition. The judge in the case admonished Ravi for his unwillingness to apologize for his actions.

It's not hard to see, however, why Ravi didn't apologize. While addressing the court, his mother, Sabitha Ravi, had the nerve to tell Clementi's mother, "It is so sad that he [Clementi] chose to end his life." She neglected, however, to address the role that her child's invasion of privacy may have played in the college student's death. Ravi Pazhani, Dharun's father, has said that Clementi is in his prayers. Really?

That sounds just as genuine as the half-assed apologies coming from the women from the Basketball Wives camp, who have promised to do better. Initially the ladies said that it was the editing that made them look bad -- denial. Then it was "We're just black and Latina women trying to provide for our families" -- guilt trip.

Now it's "What happened forced me to look at and examine myself in ways that I haven't in the past" (Evelyn Lozada); "I promise more peace on the show, but we'll air the Tahiti catastrophe anyway" (Shaunie O'Neal); and "Please give me another season and I'll do better, but buy my T-shirt that says, 'You Got 2 Minutes' in the interim" (Tami Roman) -- lies, lies and damn lies. In the words of Ebony's Janelle Harris, "Stop apologizing, you ain't sorry."

That's what makes bullies like Ravi and Roman truly sorry individuals: a lack of empathy, humility and respect for others. Until folks start taking bullying seriously, humiliation, embarrassment, harassment and plain old mean-spiritedness will continue to be news with no real action or consequences. That's a pretty sad reality.

Nsenga K. Burton is editor-at-large for The Root. Follow her on Twitter.

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