Justine Sacco, the PR exec who lit the Internet on fire with a racist joke about AIDS in Africa and was then fired from her job, has apologized for her remarks on Twitter.
“I am very sorry for the pain I caused,” she wrote. Sacco’s firing is one of the consequences of a poor attempt at humor in a tweet that traveled far and wide on the Internet because of its incendiary nature. Just before boarding a flight from London to South Africa, Sacco tweeted, ”Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”
The tweet went viral and a hashtag related to it became the No. 1 trending conversation item on Twitter on Friday evening. Many were shocked because Sacco was a PR professional and should have known better. She worked as communications director for Barry Diller’s IAC, but the media company said it “parted ways” with Sacco on Saturday after her tweet. Observers have compared the accidental, insensitive nature of her ill-advised joke to the deep-seated prejudice in the homophobic comments of “Duck Dynasty” reality TV star Phil Robertson.
IAC said in its own statement, “The offensive comment does not reflect the views and values of IAC. We take this issue very seriously and we have parted ways with the employee in question. There is no excuse for the hateful statements that have been made and we condemn them unequivocally. We hope, however, that time and action, and the forgiving human spirit, will not result in the wholesale condemnation of an individual who we have otherwise known to be a decent person at the core.”
Sacco spoke to ABC news, saying of her apology, “My greatest concern was this statement reach South Africa first.”
In a statement to the South African newspaper The Star, she said, “Words cannot express how sorry I am, and how necessary it is for me to apologize to the people of South Africa, who I have offended due to a needless and careless tweet. There is an AIDS crisis taking place in this country, that we read about in America, but do not live with or face on a continuous basis. Unfortunately, it is terribly easy to be cavalier about an epidemic that one has never witnessed firsthand.
“For being insensitive to this crisis — which does not discriminate by race, gender or sexual orientation, but which terrifies us all uniformly — and to the millions of people living with the virus, I am ashamed. This is my father’s country, and I was born here. I cherish my ties to South Africa and my frequent visits, but I am in anguish knowing that my remarks have caused pain to so many people here; my family, friends and fellow South Africans. I am very sorry for the pain I caused.”
Sacco has also been taken to task for the “casual racism” in a number of her previous tweets. While Sacco was on a flight to Cape Town, South Africa on Friday evening, the hastag #HasJustineLandedYet became No. 1 on the list of trending topics on Twitter.
Visitors to the site JustineSacco.com are being redirected to Aid for Africa.
That scored praise on the Internet, but in-flight Wi-Fi provider Gogo had to apologize to Sacco after being perceived as taking advantage of the unfortunate situation by tweeting, “Next time you plan to tweet something stupid before you take off, make sure you are getting on a @Gogo flight! cc: @JustineSacco.”
Gogo apologized directly to Sacco, adding, “Right or wrong, it’s not our policy to engage on these subjects. We clearly need a review.”