How do we balance cancel culture with accountability?

The iconic Vogue Beyonce Edition, among others.

On Thursday, March 18, Teen Vogue publisher Condé Nast announced that incoming magazine editor, Alexi McCammond, would not be joining the staff, and instead would be parting ways with the magazine. This decision, which Alexi McCammond claims was mutually agreed upon (1), came after the Teen Vogue staff discovered racist tweets she had made at the age of 17, where she made fun of Asian’s “swollen eyes” and complained about her “stupid asian T.A” (2). In 2019, eight years after the posts, McCammond apologized for the “past, insensitive tweets” she had made, and she said that they are not a reflection of her current views or beliefs. Despite apologizing almost two years ago, McCammond is still parting ways with Teen Vogue, stating “my past tweets have overshadowed the work I’ve done to highlight the people and issues that I care about… I should not have tweeted what I did, and I have taken full responsibility for that” (1).

Graeme Wood, a writer for The Atlantic, published an article titled “America Has Forgotten How to Forgive” about the McCammond situation, in which he discusses why he disagrees with Teen Vogue’s decision to part ways with McCammond due to her tweets. His article explains that the entire point of being a teenager is to make mistakes and then have the opportunity to correct and learn from them. He says that if Teen Vogue “does not exist to celebrate this period of still-expungeable error, then it may as well be calling for the abolition of the teenage years altogether” (3). He also argues that McCammond did apologize for her tweets, which should count for something.

Although Wood does not call it this directly in his article, he is debating the modern problem of cancel culture. Cancel culture is essentially a form of ostracism that has a lot to do with social media. Many celebrities have been ‘canceled’: Chris Brown, Shane Dawson, J.K. Rowling, Jeffree Star, Jake Paul, etc. Some celebrities, like James Charles or Taylor Swift, have experienced being canceled for only a temporary amount of time. Other celebrities, like Kylie Jenner or Ellen DeGeneres, get called out constantly for partaking in racist or homophobic behaviors, and yet they never actually experience being canceled. The entire phenomenon is confusing, to say the least.

Where do we draw the line between holding people accountable and ‘canceling’ them? Does cancel culture inhibit people’s ability to learn and grow as humans? If every person who makes a mistake is to be canceled for their actions, then is there anyone who remains uncanceled?

I remember being in middle school when the r-slur was commonly used, and it was popular to use the word “gay” as being synonymous with “bad” or “stupid”. Of course, both of these terms are incredibly hurtful and offensive and should not be used. However, using such language in this time was normalized; now, if one is discovered to have used such phrasing in the past, they could be canceled for it. Where do we draw the line between using situational context as an explanation but not an excuse?

It goes without saying that racist behavior is never excusable, no matter the situation, context, or time period. But, as Graeme Wood believes, should we give people the chance to educate and redeem themselves from their behavior as teenagers? Or should we forever hold them accountable for their behavior, regardless of age? I do not think that being 17 (or any age) is an explanation for being racist. But I don’t know how to navigate the process of allowing people the opportunity to educate themselves and become better people, and not be held irredeemably accountable for the offensive behaviors they previously exhibited.

Do you think that Teen Vogue was right in parting ways with Alexi McCammond? How do you think society should navigate the terrain between holding people accountable and ostracizing them for their behavior? If you have an opinion or idea, send me an email at a.harrisfried001@umb.edu so we can talk about it further!

 

(1) https://twitter.com/alexi/status/1372603793825751040/photo/1

 

(2)https://www.instagram.com/p/CMIKWZegh4n/

 

(3)https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2021/03/america-has-lost-ability-forgive/618336/

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