Cancel culture strikes again and the NY Times is fine with it

The day after Christmas the NY Times published a story about another incident of cancel culture. This one involves a teenage girl named Mimi Groves who, back when she was 15-years-old, used the N-word in a snapchat video. The context is important here:

Ms. Groves had originally sent the video, in which she looked into the camera and said, “I can drive,” followed by the slur, to a friend on Snapchat in 2016, when she was a freshman and had just gotten her learner’s permit. It later circulated among some students at Heritage High School, which she and Mr. Galligan attended, but did not cause much of a stir.

Granted this is not a smart thing to say but we’re talking about a 15-year-old who listens to rap music. She’s not directing this toward a person as a slur. She’s using it the way it would be used in a rap video. Jimmy Galligan who went to school with Groves and was apparently friendly with her at the time, didn’t see the clip when she posted it. He saw it 3+ years later when someone sent it to him. Galligan had been upset that the N-word was routinely heard in the school hallways at his high school in Leesburg, VA. He decided he was going to hold on to the video and republish it when it would do maximum damage:

“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…

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.

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.

Groves had specifically applied to UT because they had the nation’s leading cheer team. She was kicked off the team and then told if she refused to withdraw from the school she would have her admission revoked anyway. She is now taking classes at a local community college.

Ironically, Groves first learned of the backlash after she posted a message in support of Black Lives Matter and someone responded by commenting about her use of the N-word. In other words, she was not someone harboring anti-black or even anti-BLM views. She was just a teenage who’d said something dumb as a 15-year-old. In fact, one of Grove’s defenders was a black student to whom she had apologized for the video prior to its re-publication by Galligan:

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.”

Meanwhile, Galligan is very proud of himself:

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.

This is cancel culture in action. There is no nuance and no sense of proportion. The goal is to do maximum damage to someone’s future, either their career or in this case their schooling. And as Robby Soave pointed out at Reason, the NY Times recounts all of this without any sense that something unjust is happening:

Levin connects the outcry from aggrieved students to the broader Black Lives Matter movement and protests that occurred this summer following the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police. But nowhere does his article reckon with a very basic fact: The New York Times has opted to assist a teenager’s desperate quest to ruin the life of a young woman who said something stupid when she was 15.

Everyone roughly 25 and older should thank their lucky stars that they completed adolescence before the age of social media and ubiquitous camera phones, because the country’s most important newspaper apparently thinks it is appropriate to shame teenagers over their juvenile behavior. This is the very worst aspect of cancel culture—the burning desire to hold people accountable for mistakes they made as kids, even if they have long since learned their lesson and grown past them—and the Times has fully embraced it.

To be clear, it sounds like Galligan really did have a bad time in his school, including (according to him) being mocked in class by other students when the N-word came up during the reading of a novel. I don’t fault Galligan for being upset by that kind of treatment or for wanting to hold people responsible for it in some way. But Mimi Groves wasn’t one of those people. Her offhand comment when she was 15 was not directed at him. Indeed he didn’t hear it for several years. Even if you think she contributed in some small way to normalizing this at her school, it’s pretty clear this wasn’t coming from her or her family but from music she listened to created by black artists.

What Galligan should have done, instead of plotting revenge on someone who did nothing to him, was talk to his former friend and let her know the clip bothered him. If he had, she could have apologized to him as she had to her friend. Maybe Galligan would have learned she’d grown up a lot since age fifteen. Instead he made this a seek and destroy mission with no chance for any real justice.

Quite a few NY Times’ readers think he took this too far. The most liked comment on the piece as I write this is from a black student who identifies with the bad treatment Galligan faced in school but thinks his attempt at public shaming was a mistake:

I was the target of anti-black racial slurs as one of the only black kids in my nearly all-white high school in the 90’s. I wouldn’t wish my experiences on anyone, but I still think it serves no purpose to premeditatedly ruin a single kid’s future over isolated adolescent behavior. Particularly because in her case, her sin was a moment of ignorance and insensitivity – something all kids are guilt of – rather than intentional malice. She was flippantly and ignorantly mimicking the chatter of popular music and culture, not actually using the slur on someone. This was not truly handled as a useful teaching moment. It reflects a descent into a new puritanism. As evidence, other bad and anti-social behavior kids and young adults do – including outright criminal behavior (look up Justin Bieber or Donny Wahlberg) – does not ignite the entire social media mob against them. This all could have been done in private, but because the intent was to shame, brand, and destroy, the kid who posted deliberately waited for the most damaging time, and after knowing where she was going to college, to do this. I think one day he’ll regret acting out this way. And I think one day we’ll look at targets of the social network mob the way we look at Hester Prynne in a Scarlett Letter.

Here’s the second most liked reply:

I guess I’m the only one bothered by the fact that Galligan purposely waited for years to release this video, with the express purpose of destroying her college chances. This goes far beyond wanting to “educate” her — this is vindictive and chilling behavior.

And the third most liked:

She did say she was sorry. She apologized and openly supported anti-racism on social media. It says that in this article. Yet, this boy who had to explain to his own adult father who married into a Black family that using this particular racial slur is unacceptable, is proud for punishing a girl who used the slur as a 15-year-old who listens to rap music where the word is used all the time. She did not know better, she apologized, but cancel culture says that’s not good enough.

I didn’t go into this above but the full story includes a vingette where Galligan corrects his own father for using the N-word in a joking manner with members of his wife’s family. However in that case he did it by quietly taking his father aside:

I’m disturbed that Mr. Galligan took his father – a grown man – quietly aside to talk to him about the slur, but held on to a video of a child for years before posting it online.

There’s a lot more like this:

So, if an immature, privileged, basically inexperienced and slightly dumb kid says something foul and racist at one age and then apologizes and encourages people to contribute to BLM later, she must be judged and punished for her past sins. I hope Mr. Galligan feels good about himself, in spite of the fact that he clearly does not believe in second chances.

I don’t want to be too hard on Galligan because he’s exactly what Mimi Groves was, i.e. a dumb kid who got some bad information from her immediate culture. The difference is that she came to regret her mistake and he has yet to do that. But hopefully he will one day. And in the meantime it wouldn’t hurt if the alleged adults at the NY Times would make it clear this kind of cancel culture is not heroic.