Cancel Culture, Mimi, Jimmy, and Cowards At The University of Tennessee

This story is dispiriting and ugly. (Alternate link).

When she was in the ninth grade, Mimi (who is white) sent a friend a three-second video in which Mimi used the N-word.

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.

I don’t think we can understand this story without knowing what the environment was like at Heritage High. Mimi’s use of the n-word was not unusual there – even teachers allegedly used racial slurs. And it was harmful. Some students of color felt “despair” in that environment.

In interviews, current and former students of color described an environment rife with racial insensitivity, including casual uses of slurs.

A report commissioned last year by the school district documented a pattern of school leaders ignoring the widespread use of racial slurs by both students and teachers, fostering a “growing sense of despair” among students of color, some of whom faced disproportionate disciplinary measures compared with white students.

“It is shocking the extent to which students report the use of the N-word as the prevailing concern,” the report said. School system employees also had a “low level of racial consciousness and racial literacy,” while a lack of repercussions for hurtful language forced students into a “hostile learning environment,” it said.

Mimi’s classmate Jimmy (who is Black) saved a copy of the video for yearshad a copy of the video, and released it after Mimi (who is very serious about cheerleading) was admitted to the University of Tennessee, which has one of the best cheerleading programs in the country. After social media backlash – although it’s not clear to me how much, the example linked by the Times is to an account with all of 30 followers – the University of Tennessee threatened Mimi with having her admission revoked, unless Mimi withdrew her application, which Mimi did.

A few points.

1) I’ve always said our society should forgive bad things done by young people (with exceptions for some extraordinary circumstances, none of which apply here). It was wrong for Mimi to use the n-word in the ninth grade, but that was years ago, in an environment where even some grown-ups used racial slurs; it’s not surprising she didn’t know better back then. She wasn’t using it to attack anyone, and at least one Black friend of hers has said Mimi apologized to her for using the word (before the scandal broke out). Mimi shouldn’t be punished for her ninth grade screw-up now, either by social media or by the University of Tennessee.

2) Forgiving young people, and not wanting them tarried with bad acts forever, isn’t just for Mimi. Jimmy deserves that, too. But you’d never know that from reading Mimi’s defenders. Jimmy is currently being reviled by name by what we would call a “social media mob” if the mobbers were on the left.

Rod Dreher, in The American Conservative, wrote:

This Times story will follow Jimmy Galligan everywhere too. If that kid applied for a job at my firm, I would never hire him. If he were my co-worker, I would stay away from him, lest I offend him and get the Little- Anthony-from-The-Twilight-Zone treatment. He has shown the kind of person he is: a hateful progressive who takes pleasure in causing others unnecessary pain and suffering for the sake of virtue. He wants to terrorize others. Everybody who goes to college with him now, and who crosses his path, should consider themselves forewarned.

In the very next paragraph Dreher, with no apparent awareness of his hypocrisy, writes “But it is a monstrous society that doesn’t offer a way for people to turn from their sins and failings.” I agree, Rod – and you’re being an eager contributor to that monstrous society.

Dreher isn’t alone in wishing the worse for this teenager. People on twitter – some with few followers, some with thousands – have been reviling Jimmy, gloating over his (they hope) future unemployability, and calling for revenge.

3) Both Mimi and Jimmy’s acts seem like products of the toxic racial atmosphere at Heritage High. Mimi, hearing the N-word used casually all around her, used the N-word casually. And Jimmy, growing up in that poisonous environment, tried to find a way to make people pay attention, to have at least one white person feel regret. (Or that’s my guess, obviously I can’t know either of their minds for sure.)

4) The University of Tennessee should be ashamed of themselves. They should have ignored the entire story and let it blow over, instead of making the story, and both these young people, national news by kicking Mimi out. More than anyone else, the cowards at the University of Tennessee should be held responsible for this entire mess.

5) Almost no one outside of Tennessee would have heard of this story if the Times hadn’t decided to cover it. If, years from now, this story still turns up on the front page when people search Mimi or Jimmy’s names, that’s the fault of the Times.

6) After writing the above, I saw that Mansa Kieta on twitter has a very good take on this.

This entry posted in Media criticism, norms of discourse, Racism, Society & Culture. Bookmark the permalink. 

45 Responses to Cancel Culture, Mimi, Jimmy, and Cowards At The University of Tennessee

  1. 1
    Michael says:

    I don’t think it’s fair to compare Jimmy’s actions with Mimi’s actions. Mimi was 15, her actions caused relatively little harm and she showed remorse. Jimmy was 18, his actions resulted in a woman being kicked out of college and he shows no remorse. Of course he doesn’t deserve threats and if he apologizes and tries to make things right, he deserves a second chance, but this is something that just happened, not something that happened 3 years ago.

  2. 2
    Ampersand says:

    Michael – I think that sort of question should be left to the people who know Jimmy, to their local community. It’s not the job of us, of strangers on twitter, or of American Conservative magazine to judge Jimmy, decide what justice for Jimmy is and inflict it on him.

  3. 3
    Jacqueline Onassis Squid says:

    Do we believe that 18 year olds are fully formed adults, Michael? Do we believe that fully formed adults can’t regret their actions and change years later?

    I mean, I don’t think Jimmy ever needs to forgive Mimi and I don’t think Mimi ever needs to forgive Jimmy. But for those of us not involved in the fight between 2 kids? Maybe we should be able to forgive them. Or we can have a society based on vengeance for injuries done to others. I sure know which thing I prefer.

  4. 4
    Art Duprat says:

    This story is so much more nuanced than any of the reporting (especially here.) It’s bigger than two high school kids, it goes to a culture that minority students have to endure in white-dominated high schools. The real story here isn’t one about the two students, which actually is sad on both sides; it’s about a school environment that turns its head away from that which is wrong.

  5. 5
    Sarah says:

    Anyone defending her actions is a joke. If I made Cs all throughout high school and started dieting straight As senior year that doesn’t mean I should be admitted to an Ivy League. We are all responsible for our actions and to equate Jimmy’s to Mimi’s is a joke. What school would want a racist as their student? It’s like defending Brock Turner for bad behavior. She was old enough to know better, and now she feels sad because it affected her. She’s getting an ounce of the discomfort Jimmy felt as a result of her own doing. I don’t feel sorry for her she can change her ways and still go to another school, but it just won’t be the school of her dreams.

  6. 6
    Sarah says:

    @micheal 3 years is nothing. Mimi showed her character and Jimmy showed her showing her character. She was proud enough to use the word, she should be comfortable with people seeing it. At 15 people know it’s wrong to use a racial slur and those who are defending her probably use the words or have the same hatred in their hearts. She is no victim she’s just a person who karma caught up with.

  7. 7
    Sarah says:

    @michael at 15 every teen should know using a racial slur especially to hurt others is wrong. My two year old knows there are things you can and cannot say, and their are things that hurt others feelings. She even knows that there are consequences for her actions, so excuse me if I’m not buying that Mimi didn’t know that. If she didn’t know then she will learn now. If you are defending her actions, and bashing Jimmy then you’ve probably done the same. She showed her character and Jimmy just put it out there for the world to see. You’re the exact parent that ends up raising Mimi’s and Ethan Crouch’s and constantly sees them as the victim for facing consequences. I don’t blame any school for rescinding their acceptance after realizing that a student doesn’t have common sense, and weren’t raised to respect others. If they’re part of a diverse environment then they did her a favor because clearly she’s more comfortable with people who think as narrowly as she does. We all make mistakes, and we pay the price when we learn from it. It’s a shameless dream university taught her a lesson her parents should’ve taught her. Wrong is wrong, and actions come back to haunt you. *shrug*

  8. 8
    Kate says:

    Why aren’t we looking at the racist ADULTS in this community who taught Mimi that her actions were o.k., and left Jimmy feeling he had no better option than publicizing the actions of a fellow teenager.
    Treating teenagers like adults when they misbehave has the greatest impact on marginalized people, particularly people of color and the poor. However, the defense of “children” generally arises when the offending “child” is white or otherwise privileged (see also Brock Turner, Karl Rittenhouse, etc.).
    Teenagers have poor impulse control, and bad judgement because their brains are not yet fully developed. That’s why, traditionally, they had guardians until the age of 21. Becoming an adult is a gradual process, which different people go through at different rates. The age of 18 is an arbitrary cut-off, is probably too early for most people.

  9. 9
    Mookie says:

    It’s certainly a shame that what someone posted using social media is being circulated on social media. Incidentally, we are repeatedly told by the NYT that Jimmy “held onto” Mimi’s video, already made public several years ago and in the possession of many of their peers*, until he learned what university Mimi had opted to attend. Her cheerleading squad aspirations are mentioned several times, in a way that suggests Jimmy was trying to sabotage Mimi earning a place on it. But the video was posted a full month after these plans were revealed, not as a response to them, and on the same day Mimi used social media to make a supportive comment about BLM, and it is not at all clear which came first, the tweet or the video, only that someone later commented on the tweet to make mention of the contents of the video. Is that a coincidence or not? NYT has fashioned a narrative that seems to deliberately elide and muddle chronology in service of a pc campus culture gone amok trope, perhaps because “victims” of “social media mobs**” are more sympathetic to right wing readers than that other right wing bogey, the “white anti-racist virtue signaler.” Normally a tweet like Mimi’s would be grist to that particularly ravenous mill. The story as reported is about a frustrated, villainous young man weaponizing a promising young woman’s words against her, but the NYT is very coy about the precise catalyst. Curious!

    *It’s also a shame Mimi didn’t understand, as she says now, the severity of one of the world’s most well known anti-black epithets, but she also reports that her parents didn’t tolerate racial slurs from their children, apparently a novel rule in her community. It’s also interesting that a video featuring language we are told was both unobjectionable and something that black students regularly complained about but got nowhere with circulated in the first place. Incidentally, anyone get punished for distributing it around the high school? Do we know who did that and in what social circles it circulated? Do we know why it circulated, given that we are repeatedly reminded of the fact that, apparently, white students and teachers using the word was so common as to be utterly banal and unremarkable? Why did Mimi apologize to her Black Friend? “We heard it in Those People’s Music” is a fine explanation so far as it goes, but it doesn’t appear to have been a secret that black students did not like this language and said so. So the issue appears to be one less of ignorance and more of a dominant culture institutionally uninterested in addressing the pain of children who just want to go to school and not be called names or be forced to playact the history of their families’s enslavement, which are eminently reasonable, not onerous requests. One of the casualties of this neglect is Mimi’s choice of higher education. Maybe her people have some responsibility here??

    **NYT insinuates that people are uniquely “leveraging” social media to expose instances of questionable behavior which smacks of the same disciplinary double standard Jimmy and his peers were up against at high school; social media is so chockful of racism that there are entire communities, fora, and apps dedicated to bringing racists together in a safe space to air their views freely and organize coordinated racist attacks on rival platforms and against personal enemies and public figures. Again, social media is the real world and there is no such phenomenon as Cancellation, which is just a rebranding of the same old lament about more speech versus less speech/parties protected but not bound and others bound but not protected.

  10. 10
    Ben David says:

    Mimi, hearing the N-word used casually all around her, used the N-word casually. And Jimmy, growing up in that poisonous environment, tried to find a way to make people pay attention, to have at least one white person feel regret.
    – – – – – – – – –
    Which softens Jimmy’s motives considerably. He was following her stream – so he could have responded to her recent pro-BLM posts by (re)introducing himself and sharing his hurt.

    Privately.

    Unlike Mimi’s mirroring of her environment, Jimmy’s actions *can* be judged from a distance to be vengeful and premeditated. And if he’s applying to colleges himself, he does not seem to have learned much from his previous experience.

    Making it sound like he wanted “a teaching moment” seems like bending over backwards not to ascribe ignoble motives to POC. Which is itself problematic.

  11. 11
    Kate says:

    He was following her stream – so he could have responded to her recent pro-BLM posts by (re)introducing himself and sharing his hurt.

    Sure, Mimi posted in favor of BLM…a lot of young people who aren’t normally into social justice were doing so right after the George Floyd incident. It was the cool thing to do at the time. It took no courage at all. That doesn’t mean a POC who knows her history and the reality of racism in the community in which they were raised is going to feel safe opening up and being vulnerable with her. You’re essentially demanding that he play out the Magical Negro trope. It’s ok for Jimmy to be angry and want justice. It’s not his job to educate Mimi.

    Privately.

    “Privately” confronting her would have done nothing to bring attention to the larger issue of racism in that community. You’re disdainful of the idea that Jimmy wanted a “teaching moment”. But, white students in that school might now think “remember what happened to Mimi” before they start throwing around slurs. Why are you so sure that wasn’t a motivating factor for him?

    I don’t think Mimi, or anyone else, should be forced out of school at 18 for an offense committed three or four years before. People learn a lot and change a lot over those years. However, first – there only seems to be an uproar over it when the people targeted are middle class and white. Children of color are much more likely to have their lives ruined based on small mistakes made in their early-mid teens, but they rarely get a fraction of the sympathy being heaped upon Mimi. Second, the decision to force Mimi out is on the school that made that decision, not Jimmy.

  12. 12
    Corso says:

    @11

    “You’re disdainful of the idea that Jimmy wanted a “teaching moment”.”

    I can’t speak for Ben, and I don’t know what was in Jimmy’s mind… But I’m at least skeptical. It seems like the perception is that teaching only occurs with social, financial, and personal ruin… When the reverse is true. Very few people learn by being yelled at. Meanwhile…. The fact of the matter is that Jimmy saved that video for years, and released it at a time and in a manner where it was probably going to do the most damage it could. If forced to choose between “wanting to teach” and “wanting to hurt” I think it’s incredibly naïve to assume the former, but that’s just me.

    While Jimmy has no duty to educate, and it’s not his job to worry about Mimi’s life, and it’s foolish to expect people generally, but particularly young people, to make the best choices in life…. If Jimmy actually meant this as a “teaching moment”, can we take a step back and at least agree that this wasn’t a great way to do it?

  13. 13
    Ampersand says:

    …can we take a step back and at least agree that this wasn’t a great way to do it?

    I hope my post was clear that I don’t agree with what Jimmy did. Let me know if you think it wasn’t.

  14. 14
    Corso says:

    @13

    Perfectly clear, that was more directed towards some of the comments, particularly Kate’s. I don’t understand how someone could look at this case and ascribe motives like “wanting to teach” to this situation. I think it might be an overcompensation for the historical bias against black people that Kate mentioned… But I don’t that it’s really describing the facts of the situation.

  15. 15
    Kate says:

    Jimmy did not save the video “for years”.

    Mr. Galligan had not seen the video before receiving it last school year, when he and Ms. Groves were seniors.

    He then held it until June. But, it is not like this was his first choice for how to address racism. Jimmy repeatedly tried to get accountability for the use of racial slurs in school the right way – by asking teachers and administrators to hold students accountable – with no results.
    We also have no idea how many people, and how many times Jimmy and other students of color at that school may have spoken privately to their fellow students when they did racist things. We know at least one of Mimi’s friends did speak to her.
    We also know the Jimmy and his sister had to educate their own father about these issues, which means that even his own home wasn’t a safe space. So, I have a lot of sympathy for the kid.
    As I said @12, this has shown the white people in this community that throwing around slurs can have consequences. That may not change their hearts, but it might change their outward behavior. Can you think of something else Jimmy could have done to get that result? Because I can’t. As long as that’s the case, I won’t condemn what he did.

  16. 16
    Ampersand says:

    Jimmy did not save the video “for years”.

    Thanks! I’ve edited the post.

  17. 17
    Ampersand says:

    As I said @12, this has shown the white people in this community that throwing around slurs can have consequences. That may not change their hearts, but it might change their outward behavior. Can you think of something else Jimmy could have done to get that result? Because I can’t. As long as that’s the case, I won’t condemn what he did.

    I agree with you that Jimmy’s act was understandable. I don’t have much optimism about Jimmy’s act having good results. I think the main result is that repercussions for saying the n-word will now seem arbitrary and like freakishly bad luck for Mimi. Unfortunately, this isn’t likely to change behavior long-term; we know from crime research that certainty of punishment, not severity, is what causes deterrence.

    Furthermore, every person in that school is now being flooded with “it’s okay for white people to use the N word” arguments, and hearing about how unjust Mimi’s treatment is. This isn’t going to encourage changing behavior (at least, not in the right direction).

    Like you, I don’t condemn Jimmy. But I don’t think what he did was good. I do think the overall system, not Jimmy, is at fault – because Jimmy wasn’t provided with a better and more effective recourse. It seems clear that he tried other paths, and what he did was a matter of not knowing what else to do because nothing else he tried had worked.

    I don’t understand how someone could look at this case and ascribe motives like “wanting to teach” to this situation.

    I don’t think we need to assume Jimmy had bad motives, even if we don’t agree with what he did. It seems very plausible (I’d say likely) that he wanted white people to start thinking twice about using racial slurs. How is that not wanting to teach a lesson?

  18. 18
    Corso says:

    @15

    Mr. Galligan had not seen the video before receiving it last school year, when he and Ms. Groves were seniors.

    The school year ends in August, and this happened in June, so it was at least 10 months. Perhaps as many as 20. My point was that it wasn’t exactly spontaneous.

    @17

    “It seems very plausible (I’d say likely) that he wanted white people to start thinking twice about using racial slurs. How is that not wanting to teach a lesson?”

    I mean…. If you want to define teaching that way, you’re right. But if that was the way teachers in a classroom acted, we’d probably have issues with it. There is a difference in intent and outcome when using the infliction of harm as an educational tool.

  19. 19
    Kate says:

    The school year ends in August, and this happened in June, so it was at least 10 months. Perhaps as many as 20. My point was that it wasn’t exactly spontaneous.

    The article, dated December 26, 2020, begins:

    Jimmy Galligan was in history class last school year when his phone buzzed with a message

    .
    I take that to mean the 2019-2020 school year, which began in late August or early September 2019. The video clip was released in June 2020. So, he held it 10 months at most.
    Jimmy’s description of his own motives is:

    “I wanted to get her where she would understand the severity of that word,”

    And then, there’s the broader context:
    A publication on systemic racism in this school was published on June 6, 2019 (hyperlinked in the article). Then,

    In the wake of the report’s publication, the district in August released a plan to combat systemic racism. The move was followed by a formal apology in September for the district’s history of segregation.

    The article then reports two incidents in which Mr. Galligan, one of which he went to the principal about:

    Mr. Galligan recalled being mocked with a racial slur by students and getting laughed at by a white classmate after their senior-year English teacher played an audio recording of the 1902 novella “Heart of Darkness” that contained the slur.
    During that school year, Mr. Galligan said, the same student made threatening comments about Muslims in an Instagram video. Mr. Galligan showed the clip to the school principal, who declined to take action, citing free speech and the fact that the offensive behavior took place outside school. “I just felt so hopeless,” Mr. Galligan recalled.

    It’s unclear at what point Mr. Galligan received the video in relation to these two incidents, but it is almost certain that he only released it after them. The article doesn’t say whether he was aware that the video of Mimi was three years old, either. So he may have thought he was publicizing a relatively recent event.

  20. 20
    Ampersand says:

    (Crossposted with Kate).

    Corso wrote:

    The school year ends in August, and this happened in June, so it was at least 10 months. Perhaps as many as 20. My point was that it wasn’t exactly spontaneous.

    You don’t know that.

    I’ve held on to saved things that pissed me off for years – I’m pretty sure I still have some really angering discussions from the “Ms” boards 20 years ago, if I look. (And other stuff, too.)

    For one thing, once something is saved, the default is “keep holding on to it” – it takes actual effort to get rid of it. Eventually it becomes something I run into randomly and cringe at.

    It doesn’t require plotting to have things saved on your phone or hard drive. If I ran into that asshole (name omitted) on Facebook right now, and she was talking about how much she loves the Jews, I’d be tempted to find some of her anti-Semitic remarks to post in response. I wouldn’t do that – but if I did, it would be a spontaneous impulse, not something I’ve been planning for over a decade because I have that ms boards thread saved somewhere.

    Why is it important to ascribe malice and foreplotting to this teenager?

    He hurt someone. I wish he hadn’t. But I don’t think that’s the most important takeaway here. And I wish so many adults weren’t feeling the urgent need to judge and damn him.

    I mean…. If you want to define teaching that way, you’re right. But if that was the way teachers in a classroom acted, we’d probably have issues with it.

    Yes, obviously I wouldn’t want a teacher in a classroom to behave that way. (I don’t even want Jimmy behaving that way.)

    You seem to think that if we think Jimmy’s motivation was anything other than that he’s an evil, malicious demon who only wants to destroy (I’m exaggerating, of course), that means that we’re saying his actions were good. But that’s not true. It’s possible to be both sympathetic and charitable to someone, and to see that they did something they shouldn’t.

  21. 21
    Kate says:

    I agree with you that Jimmy’s act was understandable. I don’t have much optimism about Jimmy’s act having good results. I think the main result is that repercussions for saying the n-word will now seem arbitrary and like freakishly bad luck for Mimi. Unfortunately, this isn’t likely to change behavior long-term; we know from crime research that certainty of punishment, not severity, is what causes deterrence.

    I’m with you on this. In fact, this was freakishly bad luck for Mimi!!! My hope is that this attention is publicizing the report that appears to have only been given lip service so far and that the adults in the community will start implementing those small, certain consequences for racist speech in school, if only to protect the white children from the consequences that Mimi faced.
    That being said, I don’t think it is likely either. I sometimes think that these overblown responses to an infinitesimal fraction of relatively common offenses are designed to silence the victims. If schools and communities did just issue those small certain consequences, like detention or community service, victims could speak out without the threat of “ruining someone’s life” hanging over their head.

  22. 22
    Ampersand says:

    I wrote:

    an evil, malicious demon who only wants to destroy (I’m exaggerating, of course)

    Even with the disclaimer at the end, I think this was too strong; it’s a reaction to how other people (see the image in my post) have been reacting to Jimmy, which was unfair to put in my response to Corso, so, sorry, Corso.

    Kate wrote:

    I sometimes think that these overblown responses to an infinitesimal fraction of relatively common offenses are designed to silence the victims. If schools and communities did just issue those small certain consequences, like detention or community service, victims could speak out without the threat of “ruining someone’s life” hanging over their head.

    I don’t think they’re “designed,” which to me is a word that suggests deliberate planning. But I think you’re completely right that they serve that function. I hadn’t considered this angle before, thanks for pointing it out.

  23. 23
    Michael says:

    I think blaming Mimi’s expulsion on the University of Tennessee is a cop-out. It’s the same excuse people on the left always use when people get fired or expelled as a result of their actions. (I’m not saying that people on the right never get people fired or expelled- I’m saying that they rarely use this particular excuse.) This has happened so many times that it’s become a foreseeable consequence of shaming someone online.So people like Jimmy bear some blame for the consequences of their actions.
    “It seems very plausible (I’d say likely) that he wanted white people to start thinking twice about using racial slurs. How is that not wanting to teach a lesson?”
    In other words, he wanted revenge. And I’m sure that the New York Post editors that shamed that paramedic on Only Fans for acting as a sex worker could talk about the evils of sex work.
    Now, Jimmy deserves more sympathy than the New York Post because he’s a teenager and a civilian while they are adults and journalists. But let’s not claim that his motive was any more noble.
    Also, Jimmy was a coward. He chose a girl who had used the word thoughtlessly instead of a member of a racist organization because he knew she was less likely to retaliate against him.
    Now, if everyone who did something dumb and hurtful at 18 out of revenge or cowardice was in jail, none of us would be walking the streets. But let’s not try to pretend there was nobility in his actions.

  24. 24
    Jacqueline Onassis Squid says:

    I am impressed by, and jealous of, the ability others have to absolutely know the thoughts and motivations of others. It is truly a skill to be envied.

  25. 25
    Polaris says:

    Americans are going crazy on both sides of the aisle gripped by some madness of the crowds.

    And I don’t know how you can de-escalate from here.

  26. 26
    Kate says:

    Americans are going crazy on both sides of the aisle gripped by some madness of the crowds.

    This seems strangely off topic for this post. I don’t think anything about this story or the reactions in this thread can be described as “crazy” or “madness”. Could you provide some side-by-side quotes that illustrate your concerns?

  27. 27
    Kate says:

    I’m not saying that people on the right never get people fired or expelled- I’m saying that they rarely use this particular excuse.

    They don’t use any excuse. They celebrate getting people fired if they disagree with their views. Some people on the left do that as well. If Mimi were expelled from Liberty University for a viral video in which she was expressing pro LGBT views, the right wouldn’t have any problem with it at all and would not be demonizing the person who posted it either.

    I think blaming Mimi’s expulsion on the University of Tennessee is a cop-out. It’s the same excuse people on the left always use when people get fired or expelled as a result of their actions.

    Jimmy’s action was publicizing the racism at his school. And, yes, the predictable result of that is the person on tape being racist might face consequences (although that is by no means certain). The University of Tennessee is the institution that had the power to discipline her, not Jimmy. The fact that they went way overboard is on them, not Jimmy. That’s not a cop-out. I also hold the NFL primarily responsible for sidelining Colin Kaepernick. We may disagree, but I am consistent on this point.

    “It seems very plausible (I’d say likely) that he wanted white people to start thinking twice about using racial slurs. How is that not wanting to teach a lesson?”
    In other words, he wanted revenge.

    No, that is a false equivalency. I think he was quite clear about what he wanted in his own words:

    “I wanted to get her where she would understand the severity of that word,”

    His other actions, described in the article (so, not Ms. Squid – I’m not “the ability others have to absolutely know the thoughts and motivations of others”), make it quite clear that he was broadly concerned with fighting racism at his high school. Mimi was just one example of that. The fact that this story about the racism that students of color need to endure to get their education has been centered around this one white woman is a bit fucked up as well.

  28. 28
    Polaris says:

    This seems strangely off topic for this post. I don’t think anything about this story or the reactions in this thread can be described as “crazy” or “madness”. Could you provide some side-by-side quotes that illustrate your concerns?

    Someone was punished as a adult for uttering one word, as a child.
    If that does not count as a crazy I don’t know what does.

  29. 29
    Kate says:

    Someone was punished as a adult for uttering one word, as a child.
    If that does not count as a crazy I don’t know what does.

    An eighteen-year-old college freshman was punished for publishing a video of herself using a racial slur when she was in high school. Sounds a bit less crazy now.

  30. 30
    Mike says:

    An eighteen-year-old college freshman was punished for publishing a video of herself using a racial slur when she was in high school. Sounds a bit less crazy now.

    I think it sounds plenty crazy in a post-ban-the-box world. It’s seems completely bonkers to think that colleges are supposed to not even ask about literal felony convictions, but then immediately deny/withdraw admissions because someone used an ethnic slur on one occasion years before applying. Cause, you know, literal felonies–like murder, robbery, and breaking and entering–aren’t nearly as serious as using a bad word on one occasion three years prior. /s (And yes, I’m aware that Mimi could have used the word on other occasions, but my understanding is that no evidence of other uses has arisen)

    Separately, I’ve read through this entire comments thread, and it seems like there is still something missing: no one here has articulated what kind of punishment would be appropriate for Jimmy. Ampersand has been very clear that (i) Jimmy’s actions were inappropriate, and (ii) the social media backlash against Jimmy is also inappropriate. But there is zero discussion of what kind of consequences would be appropriate.

    So…what’s the answer? I completely understand why the social media backlash is deemed too hard; but if not for the backlash, Jimmy would have received no consequences at all, which seems unacceptable.

  31. 31
    Kate says:

    I don’t think anyone here has suggested that the consequences for Mimi have been proportional. I’d suggest, a brief suspension from the cheerleading squad (maybe a few games) and some sort of racial sensitivity training. Although, if she had a suspension on her record for using racial slurs, it could have impacted her college admissions, so I don’t think the consequences she did face are outside the realm of mainstream discourse, or anything like that.
    My understanding of ban the box is that it just prevents people from having to check that box initially, so they get a shot a making an impression before employers see their convictions when they eventually look into their backgrounds. Moreover, it seems to have had the unintended consequences of making it harder for young men of color without felony convictions to get jobs. So, yea, I’d say that ban the box, in retrospect, wound up being ill conceived.

    no one here has articulated what kind of punishment would be appropriate for Jimmy.

    I’m a bit to the left of Amp, here. I don’t think Jimmy did anything inappropriate. As such, I see no reason to punish him. He forwarded an example of the causal racism that he had to navigate to get an education. Mimi posted that publicly and had no right to expect privacy.
    Nonetheless, I think internet searches of Jimmy’s name will turn this up and make it difficult for him to find employment anywhere with a conservative bent…as would probably have already been the case, as he is a young black man.

  32. 32
    Polaris says:

    An eighteen-year-old college freshman was punished for publishing a video of herself using a racial slur when she was in high school. Sounds a bit less crazy now.
    See you are even trying to defend this.
    It’s not or shouldn’t be a university’s job or authority to monitor and control what its students are doing in their private lives.

  33. 33
    Corso says:

    Whew…. A lot got written since last year.

    Amp @20

    You seem to think that if we think Jimmy’s motivation was anything other than that he’s an evil, malicious demon who only wants to destroy (I’m exaggerating, of course), that means that we’re saying his actions were good. But that’s not true. It’s possible to be both sympathetic and charitable to someone, and to see that they did something they shouldn’t.

    (And I saw the context you added later, no worries, I can take a little bit of colorful metaphor)

    In your case, no…. I actually think that we’re basically in agreement, just leaning in different ways on the margins. In Kate’s case, not only did I think something like what you said, but she later went on to outright say it:

    I’m a bit to the left of Amp, here. I don’t think Jimmy did anything inappropriate. As such, I see no reason to punish him. He forwarded an example of the causal racism that he had to navigate to get an education. Mimi posted that publicly and had no right to expect privacy.
    Nonetheless, I think internet searches of Jimmy’s name will turn this up and make it difficult for him to find employment anywhere with a conservative bent…as would probably have already been the case, as he is a young black man.

    And I don’t think she’s unique. My comments were more towards people like her, I originally attributed it to naïveté or an overcorrection in bias towards a historically disenfranchised class, but between this comment section and a couple others, it seems like it’s more of an investment in Jimmy being a good person, so they’ll excuse a bad thing. Or maybe the issue is that the message was good, so they’re willing to forgive or excuse an imperfect vehicle.

    Regardless of what it is, I think that line of thought is unsupportable by the facts; We don’t know Jimmy’s intentions, but even if they were good, Jimmy did not do a good thing.

  34. 34
    Kate says:

    See you are even trying to defend this.
    It’s not or shouldn’t be a university’s job or authority to monitor and control what its students are doing in their private lives.

    This is an inaccurate description of what happened on so many levels. The university didn’t “monitor” anything. If they were trolling student’s Facebook pages and Instagrams looking for dirt that would be a serious problem. But they didn’t seek this out. Other people, including their students, brought it to their attention. And, they weren’t seeking to “control what its students are doing in their private lives”. Mimi’s actions had moved beyond her private life, gone viral and become a PR problem for her college. At that point, they have the right to act as an institution. That doesn’t mean they should, and, I think I’ve been pretty clear that I think their reaction was overblown. But handling their PR is their job and they do have the authority to do so.
    But also…If you think this is a case of the university overreaching, why are you making this about Jimmy? Why not focus on the institution that actually has power?

  35. 35
    Kate says:

    I originally attributed it to naïveté

    Wow…that’s where you went first, the woman must be naïve.

    or an overcorrection in bias towards a historically disenfranchised class, but between this comment section and a couple others, it seems like it’s more of an investment in Jimmy being a good person,

    You know, I didn’t start out invested in Jimmy being a good person. But, I don’t have any reason to think he isn’t. And, as far as I can see, apart from forwarding this one video, and saying that he doesn’t regret it, neither does anyone else in this thread. I find it really had to believe that a white man would be branded a “bad person” based on such flimsy evidence.

    so they’ll excuse a bad thing.

    See, this is what we’re disagreeing about – is forwarding that video even a “bad thing”? We’ve got a school in which casual racism is an everyday occurrence. A commission established this and suggested reforms. Yet it continued. Reporting to teachers didn’t work. Reporting to administrators didn’t work. And the issue that people are clutching their pearls about is a black student forwarding already publicly available evidence of that racism and getting it to go viral. This exposure may or may not do something to address the racism in that community…it certainly has brought it out into the open. But, is there anything that actually works to address racism on a systemic level that is considered socially acceptable?

    Or maybe the issue is that the message was good, so they’re willing to forgive or excuse an imperfect vehicle.

    If it is not o.k. to deliver “good messages” if one is an “imperfect vehicle”…I mean, aren’t we all? Does Jimmy need be perfect before he can expose racism in his community?
    Or are you talking about the method – forwarding a publicly posted video – being an imperfect vehicle. Which, again, I don’t see what’s wrong with that.

  36. 36
    hf says:

    We don’t know Jimmy’s intentions, but even if they were good, Jimmy did not do a good thing.

    You keep acting like Jimmy matters in some way, and that is why you fail.

    Technology has made it easier to find information, and that’s not going to stop. We have not reached the pinnacle of ease in finding racist remarks, or exposing lies in general. So if you think that punishing a child for telling the truth is going to fix anything, you must be so far up your rectum that you’ve forgotten what sunlight is.

    Remember when some woman at a conference followed their procedures for reporting problems, and then some guys’ employer fired them? The mob on 4chan could have responded to this in a sensible way by going after the employer hard, trying to establish that you shouldn’t fire people because of information that will keep coming out from here on. Instead, they decided to go after the woman, who could have helped them by acting as a canary in the coal mine.

    Now, we clearly shouldn’t expect idiots on 4chan to get anything right. But it’s been a while, and people who are allegedly respectable are now acting like hating a child for telling the truth is a solution to anything. I don’t know if you actually think this or you just want to troll people for some demented reason; but if that’s the only response to these events, you’re gonna get fired for stupid reasons, and I won’t have to lift a finger. If you keep going down this path, nothing is going to get better.

  37. 37
    Corso says:

    Kate @ 35

    Wow…that’s where you went first, the woman must be naïve.

    Well, what I actually said was: “If forced to choose between “wanting to teach” and “wanting to hurt” I think it’s incredibly naïve to assume the former, but that’s just me.” But yes, Kate, I think you’re being naïve. Your gender has nothing to do with it.

    See, this is what we’re disagreeing about – is forwarding that video even a “bad thing”?

    I completely agree that this is our disagreement. My answer is yes. Again, I think that you’re excusing the bad act because you agree with the message. In reality, the base act, releasing true but damaging information in a way that will probably cause harm, shares a basic fact pattern with doxing, blackmail, bullying and revenge porn.

    Even your assertion that Jimmy said “I wanted to get her where she would understand the severity of that word,” isn’t nearly as mitigating as you seem to think it is, at least in my opinion. I think it demonstrates that he probably understood that Mimi would have to take the situation seriously, because he was about to set in motion a series of events that would force her to. He may not have understood how far it was going to go…. But he said the words out loud.

    I remember a conversation that happened here a while back when we were talking about the Chinese word for “they” or “that one” (“nei ge”). We talked in part about the response to the situation, and whether intent or harm was more important. As I recall, where we eventually shook out was that harm was generally more important, but between very little and no harm was actually done. Harm was done here. And even if harm wasn’t intended, or was intended but to a lesser extent… It still happened.

    If it is not o.k. to deliver “good messages” if one is an “imperfect vehicle”…I mean, aren’t we all? Does Jimmy need be perfect before he can expose racism in his community?

    I’m not saying Jimmy was an imperfect vehicle, I’m saying the way he did it was imperfect. And maybe “imperfect” was too soft… The way he did this was bad. I think that any reasonable person who thought about what they were doing could see that, the defense is that Jimmy probably wasn’t thinking about what he was doing. Maybe he had no capacity to do so. That doesn’t make what he did good, it just makes it understandable. And it’s obvious that even if we disagree on this discreet situation, there is a level where that would eventually be true: An extreme example of a good message given a bad way would be if instead of releasing the video, Jimmy had carved “don’t say slurs” into a bat and beaten her with it.

  38. 38
    Kate says:

    In reality, the base act, releasing true but damaging information in a way that will probably cause harm, shares a basic fact pattern with doxing, blackmail, bullying and revenge porn.

    Every report of a crime is releasing “true but damaging information in a way that will probably cause harm”. So, that is clearly not always a wrong thing to do. So then we have two questions – is the response actually proportional to the offense (in this case, I think we all agree, no, the university went too far).
    If the response goes too far, who is responsible, the one who released the true information or the entity that administered the disproportionate consequences? I say, the entity that administered the disproportionate consequences bears the vast majority of the blame.

  39. 39
    Ampersand says:

    I say, the entity that administered the disproportionate consequences bears the vast majority of the blame.

    Very much agreed.

  40. 40
    Corso says:

    @38

    Every report of a crime is releasing “true but damaging information in a way that will probably cause harm”. So, that is clearly not always a wrong thing to do. So then we have two questions – is the response actually proportional to the offense (in this case, I think we all agree, no, the university went too far).

    Absolutely fair up until the question. You skip a couple steps there; The response to the video isn’t the actions of the university, as you yourself pointed out: The University was reactive, they did not go looking for the video. But more than that, they did not go looking for scandals among their student body. People complained to them. The response to the video was Jimmy distributing the video, the response to Jimmy distributing the video was the outrage, and the response to that outrage was the university’s response.

    And following from there; You seem to be upset (with good reason) at the people harassing Jimmy, but their outrage is a response to the outrage that got Mimi removed from school. They wouldn’t exist without the harm done to Mimi. While they could have become outraged based on racial bias, and while they may be blaming the wrong person, and while they might be expressing themselves in the worst way possible, I do not think that being outraged that Mimi was removed from school is in and of itself a bad response. In that, the people harassing Jimmy are a sort of reflection of Jimmy: Right base message, horrible execution. That’s not meant as an equivalency, but it deserves thought.

    You made a couple comments earlier alluding that you believe racism is in play here, that we wouldn’t have heard about the situation if Mimi had been black, or Jimmy had been white. I don’t know if that’s true, it might be, but I don’t even know what that would look like. I doubt that there’d be much outrage over a video where a black person uttered a racial slur. And while some, most, white people who say awful things will not face repercussions, if a situation where someone is disciplined for insensitive racial speech is going to happen, I think it’s more likely, both in raw numbers and per capita, to happen to a white person. You made

    I think that this represents a sea change that progressives don’t quite appreciate yet; BLM was effective in making people generally more racially sensitive, perhaps overly racially sensitive, although I think that corrects in the long term. This represents a certain kind of privilege; Obviously not one that overcomes all racial disparities, but there is power in being able to destroy people with proof, or even just accusations, of racism. I used words like naïve earlier because I’m not sure that the people wielding this power understand what it is, and that lack of awareness will lead to situations like this.

    I don’t think at this point we can pretend that things like this don’t happen. They obviously do, and I am certain that not every instance of it makes it into the public consciousness. Even if you think it’s less likely to happen than I do, this is still akin to playing Russian Roulette with someone’s life, we’re just arguing about how many chambers the cylinder has.

  41. 41
    Kate says:

    You skip a couple steps there; The response to the video isn’t the actions of the university, as you yourself pointed out: The University was reactive, they did not go looking for the video. But more than that, they did not go looking for scandals among their student body. People complained to them. The response to the video was Jimmy distributing the video, the response to Jimmy distributing the video was the outrage, and the response to that outrage was the university’s response.

    I think that both distributing the video and expressions of outrage are both proportional responses to the offence. Demanding Mimi’s expulsion and actually expelling her from school are the disproportionate responses. The university was reactive, but expulsion was an extreme and unnecessary reaction. They could have responded in a more measured way, with a reprimand, racial sensitivity training, a one game suspension from the cheerleading squad…the list could go on of more minor consequences than expulsion.

  42. 42
    Mandolin says:

    Capricious consequences are unfair and upsetting. It is extremely likely that many of the people in the incoming UT class have said the n-word (I’m going to presume “in inappropriate circumstances” is attached there because, while I don’t say the word when reading passages aloud e.g., no one should be disinvited from a school for reading Huck Finn aloud). Are any of them going to face punishment? Is “don’t have ever said a slur” part of anything that’s written down as school policy? If a video turns up of one of their existing students saying the word, will they be asked to leave?

    The appropriate punishment for Mimi is that she should have been reprimanded at the time, in the institution to which it was relevant, in a proportional fashion. Kate’s suggestion that she get a suspension from the squad or something similar seems appropriate to me. Maybe even getting removed from the squad if the circumstances were seen as severe enough. In the event it was not considered something the school had authority to act on, her parents could have done so.

    It’s true that “defend the children” comes out when white children are the ones who need to be defended — but I’d rather equalize things by normalizing and strengthening the defense of non-white children.

    Re: Brock Turner – a single instance of saying a slur (which is my understanding of the discussion) and rape are not comparable, and this is a remarkably unkind and unreasonable thing to say. Perhaps you’re a survivor who truly believes that the experience of rape is equivalent to the experience of the slur, but one must be aware this will be a triggering thing to say for many survivors. Maybe you can justify the argument, but in the context of our rape culture, it would need susbstantial support in order not to come across as minimizing the experience of rape survivors.

    Re: overreacting to infractions with devastating punishments in order to discourage victims from reporting so they won’t “ruin the person’s life” — Yes, I think so. I’m not sure if this is an intended effect. It might be. I think it’s (also) an outgrowth of their desire to avoid dealing with the issue. Since they refuse to deal with it on a regular basis, they try to make up for their lack of action by piling all of it on one incident so they can go back to ignore it. Like, if 100 people need 1 punishment point, and they don’t punish any of them, then they act as if giving person 101 all 101 points makes up for it. And then they can go back to not giving any consequences until someone else gets 100 points dumped on them. And the victim can be blamed for the 100 point punishment.

    Re: Jimmy being punished: By who? Who would it even be appropriate to have this power? His parents, I suppose, if they disagree with his actions. I don’t think he needs any “punishment.” He took an action in line with his conscience and that action will change how his relationships play out for a while. Unfortunately, it will happen in a massively unfair way because of the hatred being heaped on him. But if we were in a utopia and could thread the needle so that he wasn’t receiving that ridiculous pile of ire, then the situation would be self-resolving (which it currently isn’t). He would have made a conscience-based decision and then stand for it with his community. I feel strongly that this is how acting on conscience has to work. I have taken action a number of times that I knew would affect me negatively, but which I felt were necessary to defend my conscience, and what I have to do is accept that I’m taking on those negative effects. The Republicans who have repudiated Trump today based on their consciences will certainly see negative reactions from some of their voters. But they did what they felt was right (and which was right) and they will stand for the results of that decision because they decided their morality is worth it. The idea of a “punishment” for it is silly. Jimmy doesn’t need one either.

    I’ll try another analogy – coming out as non-binary created negative consequences for me, but I did it because I felt it was the only and best way I could support a transfeminine person who was being harassed. Coming out doesn’t need to be punished, as I think most of us would agree. But I will be a person who has done that now forever, and I cannot regain the privacy I had before. I felt that losing my privacy was worth it even though it makes me stressed out. The stress was a cost worth paying. I chose it. It is its own consequence.

    Re: Jimmy in general: How awful to be at the focus of something like this at 18. Like many black men and boys, he’s clearly being judged as more of an adult than he is, including an inappropriate set of punishments. I don’t know whether he made a correct decision, but he made an arguable one. He may disagree with his current ethical boundaries later. Or maybe this is something he’ll stand by–maybe it will have effects that he thinks are worth it. Either way, anyone who insists on judging him for his lifetime based on what he thinks today will be acting like a prick.

    Re: Mimi: She did something wrong, but she’s not the first, and not the last. She’s bearing all the punishment so that other people don’t have to bear any. That’s a painful, unfair burden.

    Re: Mimi and Jimmy: It’s almost never fair for anyone to be a symbol for a whole class of people. It’s not fair for Mimi to be a symbol of the class of people who say the n-word in the eyes of people who support Jimmy. It’s not fair for Jimmy to be the symbol of everyone who is seen as an inappropriate activist by people who support Mimi. They are individual people with individual sins or virtues. Don’t pile the whole issue on them. We seem to want desperately as humans to be able to condense abstract matters into concrete, limited ones that we can take action on. But that doesn’t work. Making Jimmy and Mimi our proxies does nothing for resolving the larger issues; at best, in giving the illusion that it does, it enables people to dismiss the larger issues until the next time a system is ready to dump 100 punishment points on someone all at once.

  43. 43
    Görkem says:

    “We seem to want desperately as humans to be able to condense abstract matters into concrete, limited ones that we can take action on.”

    Most people are just more comfortable with issues when they are personalised. This is not a good thing.

  44. 44
    Echo says:

    Someone suggested viewing the comments here to see your reactions. Most of them are so evil and disgusting that they’d make effective propaganda for the other side.

  45. 45
    Ampersand says:

    Wow, Echo – your last comment here was in 2015!

    I think everyone here agrees that both kids involved should be treated with compassion, and any response should be proportional. No no here thinks that what’s happened to either kid IS proportional, though. (If I’ve followed everyone’s thoughts correctly).

    So if you think that’s “evil and disgusting,” then that’s on you.

    Please read the comments policy before posting a third comment here. (Which I realize, might not be until 2027.) Thanks! I’ve taken you off of auto-approve, so your future comments will be individually approved by a moderator before they appear – if they adhere to the comments policy.

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