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.