Analysis: PR professionals label former Miss Universe Malaysia apologies insincere

Former Miss Universe Malaysia, Samantha Katie James, has apologised for earlier remarks about the Black Lives Matter protests in America, where she said most people are just following the action of the masses, creating unnecessary anguish. She also told black people to "relax, take it as a challenge as it makes [them] stronger", adding that they chose to be born as a coloured person in America for a reason. The comments made earlier in the week saw brands such as ASICS and marketing agency ALYFE distancing themselves from her.

In an apology James said: "I do hear you, I'm sorry, I know you're hurting. I know it's unfair. I'm not in your shoes to understand this fully." Explaining her comment about black people choosing to be born black, James said throughout her life journey, she has learnt that humans are more than just a temporary physical body. Instead, they are "like an avatar, merely a tiny speck of dust in this vast infinite universe". James also admitted that she had poorly articulated herself and if she had been more attentive in how she had written her widely criticised posts, "the message would have been understood as a heartfelt message to all victims of racism", she said.

"I accept that I am responsible for my words. I will make sure I articulate my speech in a proper manner. Yes, my mother is Chinese Malaysian, father is Brazilian and my foster parents who raised me are Indian Malaysian," James added. The apology received 3,037 likes about 50 minutes after it was posted on Instagram yesterday. At the time of writing, the apology had 13,254 Instagram likes. While the comments were disabled on the morning of 3 June, James has since reopened the comments section. But of course, there were still netizens called her out for not offering a proper apology and said she did not make sense.

samantha katie james apology 3

samantha katie james apology 3

samantha katie james apology 3

A knee jerk reaction?

In a statement to A+M, Felix Heinimann, CEO of essence BCW, said there is an important differentiation between making a mistake and a huge mistake. According to him, a mistake is normally the result of an instant and intuitive reaction which others cannot understand and judge. Such mistakes normally can be solved with a proper apology. However a huge mistake is something which comes across as planned and with full consideration.

In this case, James made a "huge mistake" and according to Heinimann, such mistakes cannot be solved with an apology issued via her social media channel. Therefore, he explained that the apology looks like a knee jerk reaction.

"Her apology should be more pro active, seeking a media engagement face to face and proof pointing that she cares for the faith of George Floyd and all African Americans," Heinimann said. He added that her initial comments made things worse as it did not show empathy towards the victim. Instead, James gave "a philosophical, spiritual answer with the aim to underline that she is smart". He said that the move makes her "even more unliked and cold".

Similarly, COO of SLPR Worldwide, Leon Tang, said James's apology did not convey sincerity and remorse, adding that if one has acted "in a harmful way", the individual needs to find ways to apologise without making excuses to his or her actions. "We need to make personal commitments to correct the situation in any way that we can, be it through social or individual change," he said.

Tang added that in her apology, James was still staunch in her opinion that people chose who they want to be in terms of their family, place of birth and body. "This statement is not beneficial to anyone at all. Yet she ended her apology by stating her race and how she was adopted, that does not condone her behaviour in any way," Tang said.

She has a choice of how to respond, and she chose to act in a passive aggressive manner.

According to Tang, as an influencer holding a prominent title of Miss Universe Malaysia, James should have given thought and consideration to statements that she conveyed before posting it to the public, especially when it comes to sensitive matters concerning race, religion and country. 

Meanwhile, Neil Fraser, market lead, PRecious Communications said individuals and companies must always be conscious that Malaysia's beauty lays in it being a melting pot of different cultures, races and religions.

"Regrettably, people in the public eye, just like the rest of us, are capable of ill judged comments that were not thought through and which they then later regret - often with career-damaging consequences," he said. 

"While we promote transparency and dialogue whenever possible, I can't see anything productive coming from enabling comments on Instagram, which risks past mistakes from 2017 resurfacing long after the individual has made amends and publicly apologised and understands the hurt and offence that was caused by such comments," he explained.

Separately, a past video of James participating in a pageant in South Africa three years ago recently surfaced. In the video, James appears to be telling someone off camera: "This is why you'll be on the ground. You're never going to be up there. Malaysia is better than this country." She then proceeds to throw glass cup and starts shouting. Subsequently, James published another Instagram post with the caption: "People will say ‘keep silent’ ‘silence is better’ but follow your heart. If you listen to others, you are only walking their path. Not yours." She added that the video was three years ago and she has very much evolved.

The Instagram post details James' thoughts, saying that the lesson never is about anything outside, it's always to strengthen the quality inside. "People think they are destroying me. I am in such a peaceful state. This, no one can take away from me. Take away my image, tear it up, break it apart. I will continue to speak my mind," she said. Netizens once again criticised James for being insincere in her apology and questioned the purpose of this particular post. One netizen also said that James was the one who destroyed herself and not the masses.

"In her apology, James makes the all-too-common 'Thou doth protest too much' mistake, whereby she unfortunately made the entire apology about herself, and the reasons why she said what she said," explained Rebecca Lewis, strategic director, Mutant. Moreover, her explanation for her “black people choose to be black comment was too incoherent to be taken seriously", she added. Finally, while she may have penned the words, “I’m sorry”, her subsequent words don’t really appear to back this up.

In a situation like this, sincerity is key. The only way to provide a sincere apology is to actually believe what you are saying.

"Instead, she claims she is 'at peace' and will always 'speak her mind', proving that she hasn’t, in fact, learned anything from this incident," she added. While a quick apology is often warranted, when you’re dealing with a topic so sensitive and triggering that the entire world is paying attention to, words need to be carefully chosen and work needs to be done to truly understand your wrongdoings.

“I don’t think any person or brand expects someone to figure it all out in one day, but they do expect a promise of doing better and understanding where they went wrong. Unfortunately for her, I don’t think much can be done to salvage the situation. My advice to her would be to get off social media, stop posting, and refrain from making this about herself any further. She’s done enough damage and would essentially benefit now from doing nothing at all,” she added.

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