How do you go from promoting your new album and publicly declaring your affection in one of the most followed relationships to becoming embroiled in a huge controversy? Earlier this week, a Twitter thread shared screenshots from Camila’s old Tumblr account exposing several instances where she said the n-word or reblogged racial stereotypes and domestic abuse jokes.
Here’s the Twitter thread in question (warning for offensive language and content):
exposing camila cabello‘s racist and downright disturbing tumblr reblogs: a thread— 🌉 || fan account (@motivatefenty) December 17, 2019
It’s indefensible. Which is why shortly after, Camila posted an apology on her IG story and Twitter:
I’m sorry from the bottom of my heart. pic.twitter.com/iZrnUawUAb— camila (@Camila_Cabello) December 18, 2019
As is the case with any celebrity f-ck-up, there are a lot of angles to take here. Camila’s words and thoughts were racist, hurtful, and incredibly disappointing. The screenshots above are dated to 2012, when Camila was 15 and the world was different. We were all waiting for the Mayan-predicted apocalypse. That doesn’t excuse her behaviour, but it contextualizes it. On one hand, many 15-year-olds rarely have a good grasp on the power language can have or its historical precedent. And while racist language and using the n-word has never been acceptable, public awareness of the issue and the social injustices associated with those ideas weren’t as fully formed on a macro level as they are now.
At the same time, Camila was on The X Factor in 2012 as part of Fifth Harmony, alongside Normani. For her to claim ignorance or not being educated as an excuse for her behaviour, especially when she was close to someone who would be hurt by – and was possibly the target? – these words, seems false and revisionist. Was what Camila said at that time wrong and ignorant? Yes, absolutely. Should she have known better at the time? Yes. Should we hold a 22-year-old accountable for what she said 7 years ago? Yes. Should she be cancelled? That I’m less sure of.
As we’ve seen, people are now digging up old accounts and tweets and using them to “cancel” others. Cancel culture is relatively new issue, since for previous generations, their younger, more embarrassing years were erased with time, hidden in some fuzzy polaroid pictures in an attic somewhere. But for those who’ve been around to have a digital imprint, a pristine record of their thoughts and actions are now publicly available to anyone who has the time to search it, meaning that any and every slip-up is captured and shared. And there are benefits to that, especially as we are constantly confronting institutional power imbalances and inequity in almost all social structures.
Bringing up past actions is useful when they can contribute to conversations we have today. During #MeToo, examining previous cases and accounts of sexual assault served to call out a system that abused women and make change for the future. Illuminating, for example, Kevin Hart’s homophobic comments was important because he refused to apologize for them.
But, sometimes, decontextualizing parts of people’s pasts and spreading them as evidence to shame someone’s character does a disservice to actual criticism and accountability. When I was younger, I used homophobic slurs as jokes and insults. Me! A gay man! Separated from context, this makes me seem like a close-minded bigot. In reality, it was actually a manifestation of internalized homophobia: I insulted people to cover the fact that I was insecure and ashamed. But I was given the chance to figure that out in private.
So where does that leave Camila? Let’s start with asking whether or not she’s evolved beyond the racism of her past. She insists in her apology that she has. But while better than most, her apology leaves more to be desired in terms of specificity and actual evidence of growth. As J.K. Rowling showed us yesterday, bigotry has no age limit.
There’s a really good Twitter post that breaks down where Camila could do better:
1. Tell us what you're sorry about exactly— Wagatwe Wanjuki 🇰🇪 🇧🇸 (@wagatwe) December 19, 2019
2. Keep your feelings out of it. We don't care you're embarrassed/could change things/etc.
3. What did you believe? How did you change those beliefs?
4. Adults can still be racist. We need more info than you just getting older
As you can see, Camila isn’t immediately absolved because she wrote an apology or because the screenshots were from 7 years ago. An apology doesn’t have to be an endpoint. It can and should be an invitation to more conversation, active participation in the hopes of a constructive outcome.
Attached - Camila shopping with her mother at The Grove in LA the other day.