Let me get this straight at the outset: in my view, nobody should use the “n-word”, except perhaps in quoting its use in literature or for didactic reasons. Yes, black people use it as a term of fraternity or affection, but I learned from Grania that if the word is to disappear from use, everyone has to stop using it. It’s almost as if Jews were allowed to call each other “kikes” and “Hebes” but other people weren’t. (We don’t do that.) But at the very least, white people have to stop using it in non-academic circumstances.
So I think that when 15 year old high-school student Mimi Groves of Leesburg, Virginia was filmed in a three-second video four years ago, saying “I can drive, n—–“, (she’d just gotten her learner’s permit), she should have kept her mouth shut. But she didn’t, and now is suffering the consequences. In my view, those consequences are completely disproportionate to this one statement, and yet the New York Times implicitly sees her as having got her just deserts, despite lacking any further evidence of racism in her behavior. In the piece below, it looks as if they’re celebrating her cancellation.
You can see what caused all the fuss at the beginning of this video, which shows what Groves said, with the offending word bleeped out:
As this article recounts (click on screenshot), one of Groves’s friends, a half black student named Jimmy Galligan—who was sick of racism in Leesburg—got hold of that video, held onto it, and waited until the time when making it public would do the most damage to Groves. Then he did the deed, and social media did the rest. The time was after Groves had been admitted to her dream college. Groves was first taken off the cheerleading squad at the University of Tennessee, and then the college asked her to withdraw. It was all because of those three seconds and that one word.
According to the article, both Leesburg and Galligan’s and Groves’s high school were permeated with racism attitudes, and, this being Virginia, I have no reason to doubt that. Galligan, frustrated with the racism and his futile attempts to alleviate it, decided to use the video of Groves as a form of punishment, even though the two were friendly:
The slur, [Galligan] said, was regularly hurled in classrooms and hallways throughout his years in the Loudoun County school district. He had brought the issue up to teachers and administrators but, much to his anger and frustration, his complaints had gone nowhere.
So he held on to the video, which was sent to him by a friend, and made a decision that would ricochet across Leesburg, Va., a town named for an ancestor of the Confederate general Robert E. Lee and whose school system had fought an order to desegregate for more than a decade after the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling.
“I wanted to get her where she would understand the severity of that word,” Mr. Galligan, 18, whose mother is Black and father is white, said of the classmate who uttered the slur, Mimi Groves. He tucked the video away, deciding to post it publicly when the time was right.
The time was when Groves had decided where she wanted to go to college: the University of Tennessee (UT). Galligan then shared the Snapchat video to several social media platforms even though by that time Groves was making statements in favor of Black Lives Matter. And by that time she’d been admitted to UT and had apparently also made its famous cheerleading team (a dream of hers), even though she hadn’t started going there yet. The story continues with the now-familiar social media mobbing.
The next month, as protests were sweeping the nation after the police killing of George Floyd, Ms. Groves, in a public Instagram post, urged people to “protest, donate, sign a petition, rally, do something” in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. [JAC: Note that this is before she knew that the video was spreading.]
“You have the audacity to post this, after saying the N-word,” responded someone whom Ms. Groves said she did not know.
Her alarm at the stranger’s comment turned to panic as friends began calling, directing her to the source of a brewing social media furor. Mr. Galligan, who had waited until Ms. Groves had chosen a college, had publicly posted the video that afternoon. Within hours, it had been shared to Snapchat, TikTok and Twitter, where furious calls mounted for the University of Tennessee to revoke its admission offer.
And she was cancelled; or rather, kicked off the cheerleading team and then had her offer of admission to UT rescinded:
The consequences were swift. Over the next two days, Ms. Groves was removed from the university’s cheer team. She then withdrew from the school under pressure from admissions officials, who told her they had received hundreds of emails and phone calls from outraged alumni, students and the public.
“They’re angry, and they want to see some action,” an admissions official told Ms. Groves and her family, according to a recording of the emotional call reviewed by The New York Times.
Ms. Groves was among many incoming freshmen across the country whose admissions offers were revoked by at least a dozen universities after videos emerged on social media of them using racist language.
The rest of the article is devoted to describing the atmosphere of racism in the Leesburg schools, which does seems pretty dire and reprehensible. The n-word was used often, and black students were disciplined disproportionately. The NYT describes this atmosphere in detail, and one can’t help but feel that the racism of Leesburg, not of Mimi Groves, is the real subject of the article. That’s fine, except that Groves’s rescinded offer, for using one word in a three-second video, is characterized as “retribution” for that racism. There’s no other record of Groves’s behaving or speaking in a racist way; she is serving as the scapegoat for the whole atmosphere of racism in Leesburg. And yet the NYT says things like this, which seem gratuitous:
Ms. Groves, who just turned 19, lives with her parents and two siblings in a predominantly white and affluent gated community built around a golf course.
Is Groves a racist? I wouldn’t call her one despite the use of that word four years ago. For she has no history of racism, and was taught to despite the attitude. Would a racist put up a post asking people to support Black Lives Matter?
Here’s some more from the article:
On a recent day, [Mimi] sat outside on the deck with her mother, Marsha Groves, who described how the entire family had struggled with the consequences of the very public shaming.
“It honestly disgusts me that those words would come out of my mouth,” Mimi Groves said of her video. “How can you convince somebody that has never met you and the only thing they’ve ever seen of you is that three-second clip?”
Ms. Groves said racial slurs and hate speech were not tolerated by her parents, who had warned their children to never post anything online that they would not say in person or want their parents and teachers to read.
But there’s no stopping the mob. I emphasize again that Mimi Groves used a racial slur, and should not have. But should she have suffered the loss of a college admission four years later? It was not as if her whole life had been an act of racism.
Once the video went viral, the backlash was swift, and relentless. A photograph of Ms. Groves, captioned with a racial slur, also began circulating online, but she and her parents say someone else wrote it to further tarnish her reputation. On social media, people tagged the University of Tennessee and its cheer team, demanding her admission be rescinded. Some threatened her with physical violence if she came to the university campus. The next day, local media outlets in Virginia and Tennessee published articles about the uproar.
. . .The day after the video went viral, Ms. Groves tried to defend herself in tense calls with the university. But the athletics department swiftly removed Ms. Groves from the cheer team. And then came the call in which admissions officials began trying to persuade her to withdraw, saying they feared she would not feel comfortable on campus.
The university declined to comment about Ms. Groves beyond a statement it issued on Twitter in June, in which officials said they took seriously complaints about racist behavior.
Ms. Groves’s parents, who said their daughter was being targeted by a social media “mob” for a mistake she made as an adolescent, urged university officials to assess her character by speaking with her high school and cheer coaches. Instead, admissions officials gave her an ultimatum: withdraw or the university would rescind her offer of admission.
“We just needed it to stop, so we withdrew her,” said Mrs. Groves, adding that the entire experience had “vaporized” 12 years of her daughter’s hard work. “They rushed to judgment and unfortunately it’s going to affect her for the rest of her life.”
Now Groves goes to a community college online in California, and yes, her life has been severely affected. I suspect that’s exactly what Mr. Galligan wanted, and why he waited to release the video when it could do maximum damage to Groves.
My take: Groves spoke thoughtlessly, but showed no other evidence of racism, and even apologized before the video became public. Galligan could have discussed it with her personally, which is the way I would handle it if someone called me a “kike”. And the University of Tennessee could have simply asked Groves to issue a public apology, mirroring the one described below, without kicking her out of the school. More from the article:
One of Ms. Groves’s friends, who is Black, said Ms. Groves had personally apologized for the video long before it went viral. Once it did in June, the friend defended Ms. Groves online, prompting criticism from strangers and fellow students. “We’re supposed to educate people,” she wrote in a Snapchat post, “not ruin their lives all because you want to feel a sense of empowerment.”
For his role, Mr. Galligan said he had no regrets. “If I never posted that video, nothing would have ever happened,” he said. And because the internet never forgets, the clip will always be available to watch.
“I’m going to remind myself, you started something,” he said with satisfaction. “You taught someone a lesson.”
I’m sorry, but although Galligan certainly experienced offensive behavior because he’s half black, his behavior towards Groves was not admirable. He did what Cancel Culture dictates: rather than fix the situation by talking with his friend, he decided to ruin her life. As Mimi’s friend said, “We’re supposed to educate people, not ruin their lives. . ” Had Groves shown a pattern of racist behavior throughout high school, that would be another thing—but she didn’t. There is a time for forgiveness and reconciliation, and that time was before Galligan released his video. He is not a person I admire, though I sympathize with the racism he experienced.
I’m not the only one who feels that the NYT doesn’t see anything wrong with this incident. By going into the racism of the entire town, describing Grave’s home as “in a predominantly white community”, and detailing incidents in local schools that did not involves Groves, it make Groves implicitly complicit in the racism. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “reckoning” this way (the only definition relevant to the use above):
6. The settlement of accounts or differences between parties; the settling of scores or grievances; an instance of this.
Were scores really “settled”? Did Groves receive her just deserts for using that word in 2016? Why choose a headline like that?
Well, you can judge for yourself. As for me, I think that Galligan behaved very poorly in trying to ruin somebody’s life, and that the New York Times thinks that that’s just fine. Here are two people who agree with me (I wouldn’t call Galligan a “psychopath”; that word is too strong):
A psychopathic kid gets a video of a girl using a racial slur when she's 15, holds on to it until she has chosen a college to get her admissions revoked. The NYT celebrates this "reckoning." How many previous tyrannical regimes have gone after the children?https://t.co/cgIsjgMKp3 pic.twitter.com/UoQ48j3jhE
— Richard Hanania (@RichardHanania) December 27, 2020
Scott Greenfield has a blog post about it, linked in his tweet below.
Short Take: He Taught Her A Lesson https://t.co/AVcH9wbXVJ
— Scott Greenfield (@ScottGreenfield) December 27, 2020
Two things that Cancel Culture needs—besides engaging with ideas rather than trying to destroy people—are some compassion and a sense of proportionality. And if you don’t think that Cancel Culture exists, you’re sorely mistaken, for that’s what took down Mimi Groves.