Recently, all of my social media channels were full of posts about the dismissal of Alexi McCammond as editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue. Part of what made this news was that McCammond, a well-known political journalist, left Teen Vogue before her first day on the job.
Leaving Teen Vogue was a direct result of racist and homophobic tweets she had posted in 2011. In 2011, Alexi McCammond was in high school. McCammond made these tweets a decade ago. Were her tweets racist? Absolutely. Were her tweets insensitive? Again, absolutely.
The New York Times reported that McCammond had apologized for these same tweets when they surfaced in 2019. They also reported that McCammond deleted the tweets after the 2019 apology. And that’s the first lesson we should all learn from this story. The Internet never forgets. Those deleted tweets live on and can be in a simple Google image search.
All of this raises a question in my mind. If the Internet never forgets, does that mean that forgiveness and growth have no place on the Internet? Cancel culture is alive and well in the year 2021. It’s so easy to dismiss people and move on, but what I think we are missing is allowing people space and opportunity to grow and learn.
Earlier this year, the popular reality show, The Bachelor, was praised for finally having a black bachelor. The praise ended when The Bachelor found itself embroiled in controversy when images showing Rachael Kirkconnell, one of the contestants, at an antebellum-themed party surfaced on social media. The situation gained even more attention when Chris Harrison, host of The Bachelor, defended Rachael Kirkconnell for her past racially insensitive social media posts. The reaction by ABC was swift. Chris Harrison was immediately removed from the show and would not be returning for the next session.
And still, I wonder if canceling Rachael Kirkconnell or Chris Harrison is the best response. Chris Harrison has said that he has been listening and learning. Dr. Michael Eric Dyson is one of the voices he’s been listening to.
Dr. Dyson talked about cancel culture in an interview with James Corden. In that interview, he said,
“Cancel culture is a lateral move. We’re beating up on each other. We’re mad at somebody making a mistake, somebody making a mistake trying to do the right thing, a faux pas, and then we hold them accountable and eviscerate them. We evaporate them. We disappear them. And I don’t think that’s right. All of us are human beings who are tending to make mistakes. All of us are prone to be vulnerable. I would like it in the end for us to acknowledge that, yes, we must be held accountable. We must pay the price for our “sins.” But we must be held up, and stood up, forgiven, moved forward, have redemption and restoration so that we don’t have retributive justice where we punish somebody, but we have restorative justice where we integrate them back into the fabric of our communities and allow them to move forward.”
I think Teen Vogue and The Bachelor have missed opportunities to show us all what it looks like to learn and grow. Is there a place for accountability and consequences? There absolutely is, but canceling like we see in these two examples seems to be the social media’s version of life without parole. There has to be a way where we allow people to learn from their mistakes and come back to the public arena and teach us what they have learned.
And Teen Vogue and The Bachelor could have shown us how to do just that.