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Teenagehood is a critical period of self-growth and social maturation. It’s a time when we make our most mortifying errors, develop a moral code, and correct our worst flaws and impulses — or attempt to, anyway.
These years are for partying, learning about your sexuality, rebelling against parental norms, experimenting with alcohol, and making a variety of irresponsible, puerile decisions in the moment because they seem fun.
As a liberal society founded on principles of forgiveness, mercy and second chances, it has always been assumed that teenagers should be afforded the leeway to make mistakes, learn and mature. These principles are rapidly eroding now.
Earlier this month, Alexi McCammond was named editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue. A prolific politics reporter at Axios writing on issues relating to race, inequality and presidential affairs, she was poised to “lift up the stories and voices of our most vulnerable communities,” she said in a statement.
However, after her appointment, there was an internal revolt among Teen Vogue staff after more than 20 employees discovered McCammond’s decade-old tweets and sent a letter condemning them — and their new editor-in-chief — to the management of Condé-Nast.
Following the outrage from staff and two advertisers, Condé Nast decided to part ways with McCammond after having “many difficult and important conversations” and not wanting to “overshadow the important work happening at Teen Vogue,” according to a company memo sent to staff March 18.
McCammond’s tweets were undoubtedly distasteful. In her most offensive tweet, she expressed hope for not waking up with “swollen, asian” eyes. Other tweets included stereotypes of Asian academic overachievement and the usage of the terms “homo” and “gay” in a derogatory manner.
However, McCammond was at the formative age of 17 when she sent those tweets — and has profusely apologized since, including in 2019.
Is this the society we want to live in?
Anyone who has ever been a teenager knows our teenage years are the most naive and clumsy “rough draft” of our lives.
I know this well because only a year ago, I was a teenager. Over the years, many of my friends, peers and classmates have naturally said horrible things and acted in reprehensible ways. If any offense from adolescence that gets recorded online can be used as reasonable grounds for cancellation a decade later, my whole generation is growing up with ticking time bombs, headed towards inevitable implosion.
Now, this puritanical extremism has reached a fever pitch as teenagers are already facing the consequences of their mistakes from childhood. Last June, in the hope of achieving some perverse form of racial justice, an 18-year-old black man posted a years-old video of his white classmate, Mimi Groves, saying the N-word when she was a freshman in high school. Despite Groves’ profuse apologies and vocal support of Black Lives Matter, the school she was enrolled at — the University of Tennessee — cowed to the mob of outraged students and alumni and was forced to withdraw her admission.
As a person of color, I now perversely wield the power to irreparably destroy someone’s reputation for hurting me in the past. When I was in ninth grade, for example, two boys in my class started hurling racial epithets toward me: “Indians are dirty people. You should go back to where you came from.”
It was in front of all my other white classmates, who were too afraid to speak up, and paralyzed with fear and embarrassment, I bolted the room in tears. It was a traumatic moment in middle school, but I have not obsessively held on to that experience five years later. Humans are perpetually changing — day-by-day, week-by-week, and year-by-year. But we now live in a climate where I am incentivized to name these boys on social media five years later, shaming them for their teenage transgressions — just as they enter into adulthood and start to enter the workforce.
And perhaps I’m not safe from the totalitarian justice mobs either. It’s possible that I’ve already preemptively canceled myself because of one of my teenage mistakes in the past years (or even months) that may be considered a cancelable offense in five, or 10, years time.
The cruelness of this cancel culture is antithetical to almost every major philosophical school of thought. Central to Christianity is God’s universal forgiveness because of the reality of original sin: Everyone has an inherent proclivity to fall from grace. It’s ingrained in human nature. Adherents of Buddhism practice “loving-kindness” — universal compassion toward humans and their many imperfections and suffering. Even in Marxism, there is an acknowledgment that human beings are malleable by their social environment and don’t live in static positions throughout their lives.
But the draconian standards of “cancel culture” have no space for mercy, forgiveness and the recognition of man’s fallibility. If we continue down this treacherous road, no one is safe. We are all criminals with targets on our backs.
Rav Arora is a 20-year-old writer based in Vancouver, Canada. Twitter: RavArora1