An apology is basically an acknowledgement of having had caused pain. There exist only two reasons why you would refuse to apologize to someone: you don’t actually believe that you’ve hurt anyone, or you stand to gain from refusing to acknowledge that in public.
Even someone like prime minister Rutte admits that there is racism in the Netherlands today, but he does not like it being called “racism”. He is up there with other public figures who are trying to carefully talk about problematic aspects of today’s society while resisting admitting that some of these problems are systemic.
I see this as similar to people clumsily trying to talk about women’s issues; even though there is enough public consciousness of there being some problem about how men treat women at workplaces and at home, lots of people would avoid using terms such as “sexism” or “the patriarchy” since that would give the issue the recognition of being systemic.
And you know? I get it. It can be terrifying to acknowledge something as a systemic problem that has permeated every pore of society rather than as a series of isolated incidents, since every recognition of a systemic problem is a frightening realization that you are part of a problem as well. No one really wants to openly display fault or vulnerability because we’ve built up this idea that a smart, successful, reliable person has no faults and experiences no vulnerability.
So now these smart, successful, reliable people continue to enjoy their positions as politicians, CEOs, and other kinds of leaders where they get to maintain their own image while they deflect their actual responsibilities of addressing issues that had already existed for hundreds or thousands of years not only because no-one else in their lineage ever dared to touch it, but because powerful people typically benefitted from turning their backs to social issues.
Meanwhile, the series of seemingly isolated incidents will continue until enough people show up to own that and to heal it together.
The first step in the healing process is immediately available to us: just use the damn word. Say “racism” to show powerful people that you are not as shy and scared of the consequences as they are.