White people are racist, straight people are homophobic, men are sexist and everyone is stupid.
I firmly believe that most white people have told a racist joke, have laughed at one, or remained silent when one of their friends or family members said something racist. I have often written that people who are silent about racism are partially responsible for perpetuating it. The same goes for men who excuse the sexism of their homies and heterosexuals who are reluctant to push back against homophobia and transphobia.
While a passive act of racism, sexism, homophobia etc. contributes to discrimination, I don’t necessarily believe that these conditions are terminal. We have all committed acts of unkindness, but everyone has room for growth.
Even Bernie Sanders’ campaign adviser.
This weekend, presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders announced that artist and activist Phillip Agnew would serve Sanders’ campaign as a senior adviser. Agnew was tasked with shoring up the campaign’s lack of black support. Hours after the announcement the investigative team at Cancel Twitter dug up some of Agnew’s past tweets to show that he, too, has stupidity in his past.
Agnew immediately apologized.
It wasn’t one of those performative apologies to “anyone who might have been offended.” Noting that the defamatory tweets were from 2009 when he was 23 years old, Agnew admitted that he was a “young, immature and insecure boy,” and called the insults “shallow, sexist, careless and cruel.”
“I’ve matured, been politicized and continuously been pushed and challenged by fellow organizers to change and grow into my values,” wrote Agnew. “I am still a work in progress.”
Of course that’s not the end of the story!
This is Twitter! When someone says something wrong, they must be held accountable forever! If there was absolution on social media, what would we do with all these internet torches and virtual pitchforks? The cancel culture demands a beheading! He should be Dave Chappelled or, at the very least, Kevin Harted. (By the way, I wonder whatever happened to those two since they were “canceled”? Has anyone heard from them?)
Cancel Twitter is also correct.
The problem with the notion of “cancel culture” and its detractors is that two things can be simultaneously true. Agnew was definitely wrong for typing that stupid, reductive shit into what one can only assume is his ethical smartphone that probably runs on the Android platform. (Everyone knows that Bernie supporters would never use an iPhone.) And it is also possible that the Twitter rantings of a 23-year-old might not completely embody the positions of a 33-year-old man.
Do you know how much stupid shit I did when I was 23?
When I was 23, I wore Cross Colors jeans, fried bacon in the nude and laughed at anyone who dared compare the musical stylings of one-hit-wonder Snoop Dogg to groups who would last forever, like Das EFX. I knew everything.
I thought the same thing when I was 33…
In fact, let me tell you a story about how stupid I was and how Agnew’s growth may have mirrored my own.
In 2012, I tweeted something that may have been more despicable than Agnew’s sexist tweets.
Years after I posted that tweet, I knew better. Still, I eventually had to account for that tweet.
In 2015, Black Lives Matter asked me to perform a poem at the grand opening of their center in Birmingham, Ala. I almost didn’t go because I had pink eye and was barely able to see, let alone drive. Even though I despise people who wear sunglasses inside for no reason, I donned a pair for the meeting. By the end of the gathering, my eye was bulging; I couldn’t see anything and I was walking around as if I were E-40 wearing stunna shades on the inside.
That’s when Daroneshia Duncan confronted me.
“I saw your Facebook post,” she said, obviously talking about my tweet. “I want to talk to you about it.”
I apologized profusely. I told her it was stupid and that I realized my own prejudices. A few weeks later, I invited her on my now-defunct podcast (This was before everyone in America was required to start their own podcast) to talk about it. We recorded for well over three hours and talked about a variety of transgender issues from discrimination to medical access.
It turned out, she never saw my tweet.
She confronted me about an entirely different subject and I had offered that apology on my own and told her I would delete my insensitive tweet. Still, our conversation taught me how stupid and immature I was. She accepted my apology with one caveat:
“Don’t delete the tweet,” she said. “Hopefully, one day, everyone will have a different attitude. Then, you’ll be able to see how ignorant you were.”
And she was right.
And the people who are dragging Phillip Agnew are right to drag him.
The beautiful thing about freedom of speech is that it is available to idiots, too. Holding idiots accountable for their idiocy isn’t the same as “silencing” people for their opinions. Some opinions are stupid. Stupid people should remain silent.
Of course, people will rightfully jump on Agnew for his tweets, and they should. It might be true that decade-old social media posts shouldn’t define him. But that’s how Twitter works. That’s also how politics works. Pointing out Agnew’s problematic past is no different than when Agnew’s boss points out that Joe Biden wrote the 1994 crime bill or when Biden points out that Sanders signed it.
Now that was some stupid shit.
It is up to each individual to interpret the harm of a person’s stupidity. You don’t get to punch someone in the face and decide how they react. It is perfectly reasonable for someone to say they could never forgive or respect Agnew because of his tweets. It is also acceptable to forgive him and dismiss his statements as youthful ignorance. There is a difference between doing something racist or transphobic and being “a racist” or “a homophobe.” Once you put your racism, sexism or homophobia into the air, you don’t get to choose how people interpret it.
Because, again, everyone is stupid.
God knows I am.
And anyone can change.
Thank God for that.