Shia LaBeouf Has Apologised (Again), But It’s Really Not Enough This Time
The Debrief: Proof that dabbling in social awareness doesn't erase the influence of deep-rooted racism. And that's pretty scary
The mention of Shia LaBeouf probably invites a very different response to the one it would have done ten years ago. Once upon a better time, we’d reminisce about his days as the sweet and endearingly out-of-step kid in Even Stevens, Indiana Jones and I, Robot (forgot about that one, didn’t you?). Now, though, I’m not sure anyone knows how to respond to Shia LaBeouf. Not for lack of time in the spotlight, he’s eaten up his fair share of airtime through various weird, almost kind of wonderful stunts. No, it’s more a matter of just struggling to understand.
Of the things that Shia has become known for over recent years – wearing a paper bag over his head on the red carpet and starring in questionable ‘motivation’ videos for example - apologising is certainly one of them. The pattern normally goes, Shia does something silly, he publically apologises for it (or rips off someone else’s apology and passes it off as his own), and then we all leave it alone and carry on with our days. Well, this time around Shia has done something way beyond silly. He has publically apologised for it. But I don’t think we can just brush it off and carry on this time. The apology isn’t enough.
Over the weekend Shia LaBeouf was arrested for public drunkenness, disorderly conduct and obstruction, reports the Guardian. The whole thing seems to have stemmed from Shia asking someone for a cigarette, being told no and then being disorderly towards one of the police officers there. In the days after the incident, video footage of what actually went down surfaced and in it, you can hear Shia racially abusing black officers at the police station. We all know how murky this sort of territory can get, but it’s safe to say the sentiment and intention was clear. Quite straightforwardly, Shia responded to his arrest with an unacceptable racially aggravated rant.
At midnight on Thursday 13th, Shia followed standard ‘celebrity in trouble’ protocol and posted an apology on Twitter to express his shame and regret for what happened. It read: ‘I am deeply ashamed of my behaviour and make no excuses for it'.
He went on to acknowledge the regularity of his apologies and said: ‘I don’t know if these statements are too frequent, or not shared often enough, but I am certain that my actions warrant a very sincere apology to the arresting officers, and I am grateful for their restraint. The severity of my behaviour is not lost on me.
‘My outright disrespect for authority is problematic, to say the least, and completely destructive to say the worst’, Shia added before describing the incident as a ‘new low’ for him, acknowledging that he is struggling with addiction and hope for forgiveness.
Now, that’s all well and good. Shia did the right thing by apologising. But there’s something way more troubling at play here. You’d be forgiven for being really surprised to hear that Shia LaBeouf, the anti-Trump artist-cum-actor racially abused anyone. I was. Shia LaBeouf may be many things, and we may not always understand what he’s on about, but he was also one-third of the brains behind the #HEWILLNOTDIVIDE.US exhibition, after all. He’s dabbled in what we now understand to be ‘woke’, right?
But dabbling in social awareness doesn’t illuminate you from racial biases. It doesn’t negate the deep-rooted racism that influences actions. And it doesn't mean that you can brush of an offence that reflects a wider issue that's plaguing the US (and beyond, of course) at the moment. And that's really scary to me. I don't doubt that Shia wouldn't dare repeat what he said while sober. And I don't discount that his drunken behaviour is clearly a small part of something much bigger that he's struggling with on a personal level. But he still said what he did. His verbal attack was racially motivated. And that came from somewhere.
Before we all get ahead of ourselves, for the record, the last thing I'm trying to do is brand anyone a 'racist'. This really isn't about that and we all know that word bears a weight that can't, and shouldn't be thrown around lightly. But we can't afford not to recognise that racism exists on a level that isn't as easily identifiable as people assume. We can't hide from incredibly powerful movements like Black Lives Matter, that are often ignited by or in response to a concrete, tangible injustice. The level of subconscious that's at play in Shia's case though, is harder to face and easier to ignore.
The racially aggravated nature of his 'disrespect for authority' was missing from Shia's apology. And I don't think that's good enough.
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