In recent weeks, the “Great Awokening” provided two more examples of revolutionaries devouring their own over issues of race.
The first: Alexi McCammond, a young black reporter who had been chosen to become the new editor of Teen Vogue, was forced out when disgruntled staffers found anti-Asian and homophobic tweets McCammond had posted when she was a college student. McCammond apologized but was still ousted.
The second: San Francisco Board of Education Vice President Alison Collins, also involved anti-Asian tweets Collins wrote in 2016, including statements such as, “Do they think they won’t be deported? profiled? beaten? Being a house n****r is still being a n****r. You’re still considered the help.” Collins, who is black, also claimed that Asian-American families who focus resources and efforts on their children’s education are using “white supremacist thinking to assimilate and ‘get ahead’.”
Collins is perhaps best known for being among the ringleaders of an effort to get rid of the admissions tests and standards for acceptance at San Francisco’s selective public high school, Lowell High School, which is majority Asian-American; she also championed the renaming of 44 schools, including one named after Abraham Lincoln (angry parents have launched a recall effort to remove her and four others from the Board).
Unlike McCammond, Collins refused to apologize for her tweets and instead insisted that her statements had been taken out of context, writing on Medium, “A number of tweets and social media posts I made in 2016 have recently been highlighted. They have been taken out of context, both of that specific moment and the nuance of the conversation that took place.”
It’s notable that both McCammond and Collins pleaded for the public to consider the intent of their words (although only McCammond truly took responsibility for her remarks). It’s also notable that intent did not matter when it came to the judgment of the woke mob, nor did the fact that they are both women and racial minorities themselves.
Why? Because anyone with authoritarian tendencies has a stake in undermining intent as something to weigh when it comes to accusations of racism. Allowing for an exploration of a person’s intent concedes that a broader context (and nuance) might exist in any given interaction: Was it a joke? Was it someone quoting from another source? Was it someone singing along to a song that included the racist word? Was it something that was once acceptable that has only recently become verboten? These things should matter.
But for those who understand that they can use spurious allegations of racism as a means of accruing power (which is what many among the “woke” are doing, particularly within institutions), then such context is the enemy. Better to get people in the habit of learning that proclaiming “that’s racist” is enough to immediately and uncritically accept it as true.
Those who press for further evidence are told that they have failed to understand “my truth,” which is merely another way to discount facts in favor of one’s personal feelings. This is why far too many people today think that because words such as “niggling” sound like racist terms, they should be considered racist words, and banned from use. It’s also why people who made poor choices as college students (like Alexi McCammond) but who clearly grew and matured, must still, by the authoritarian logic of the woke revolution, be denied all grace or opportunity.
They will not be the only ones to die by the sword they have honed, of course. Among the woke Teen Vogue staffers who complained about McCammond’s tweets was Christine Davitt, a senior staffer at the magazine who, it turns out, had tweeted the N-word herself on occasion.
But the elimination of context and intent doesn’t merely harm those with powerful perches in the media or on school boards. Efforts to eliminate intent when it comes to reporting supposed hate speech or hate crimes in schools and workplaces are gaining ground. A recent letter sent to all parents in my children’s public school district after the shootings in Atlanta was typical.
School administrators claimed they are “taking a stance to remind our community that there is no room for xenophobia, racism, or hate within the DCPS community,” a typical bit of empty rhetoric that has become standard fare in public education. But the letter added a new dimension to the claim: “As we work to become an actively anti-racist district, we must speak up and speak out against all forms of hate and bias. Staff, students, and families who witness or hear about an incident of hate or bias within a school community or team should report each incident to school leaders—no matter the intent.”
No matter the intent. What this means in practice is that at the same time that schools and workplaces are encouraging people to tell on each other for supposedly racist speech or behavior, they are also eliminating one of the reasonable responses to any allegation—that it might have been misunderstood or considered out of context. Recall the story of the high school student whose future was destroyed when a fellow classmate publicly called her out as a racist over a short Snapchat video she had sent to a friend years earlier. For his Stasi-like campaign, he suffered not at all; indeed, he was given plenty of space in the New York Times to gloat about his revenge.
Like eliminating tests that produce “inequitable” outcomes for some races, removing intent as a factor in determining if a hateful or racist act has occurred gives more power to those who make the rules and determine the punishments, which in many institutions now means the ideologues (and the colleagues who go along with rather than challenge them).
With each cancelation, we have further proof that context, intent, and nuance are the enemies of the ideologue. That’s why we need to defend them now more than ever—even when the victims are ideologues themselves.