Excuse me for a moment while I tuck my walker under this table and make sure my dentures are in straight. I’m about to take you on a trip back in time, before the internet, and social media, and cell phones (and cell phone cameras). Before impulsive mistakes were able to travel the world and back before you realized what you’d done.
The year was 1984 (-ish; my memory is fuzzy on whether I was in sixth, seventh, or eighth grade). I was in elementary school, and there was a high school across the street (the one I would eventually attend, actually). And one day, a few stupid boys in my class decided to make a sign and hold it up at the window while the high school was being dismissed.
The sign said, “GO BACK TO AFRICA.”
Both schools were about two-thirds black at the time. The boys were, of course, white.
People saw it, teachers were told, and the boys got suspended.
And it was done.
If you were to google their names today, there would be no mention of that incident.
As far as I know, none of them grew up to be bigoted assholes. In fact, based on their facebook feeds they’re right there with the people of Ferguson.
They made a huge, stupid mistake one day in elementary school and got in trouble for it and hopefully learned from it.
But nobody recorded it for posterity. Nobody took a picture and posted it anywhere. They didn’t end up on the news.
And now let’s fast forward to this week.
In the midst of everything that was happing the other night, when the world found out that Darren Wilson would not be put on trial for killing Michael Brown, a teenager tweeted this:
I’m not going to identify her because she’s had enough hate heaped on her already. I mean, it’s become standard operating procedure now in a situation like this that the death threats come rolling in, addresses get published, etc. All of that happened.
In the couple of hours after her tweet the only regret she expressed on twitter was that she had made a typo in her original tweet. She went on to say things like “It’s been a long time since we bought you, we don’t owe you anything.” Charming.
At some point that night she made her account private.
But the next day her account was public again, all of the tweets had been deleted from the night before, and she decided to go the route of disgraced politicians everywhere and tweeted this:
Which nobody believed for even half a second.
If you google her name, there are 71,000 results, and it looks like a lot of them are about that tweet. Most are attacking her or painting it as a cautionary tale, but some are defending what she said, or at least defending her right to be stupid (one post describes her a “undeniably attractive” and states that pretty girls should get a one-time pass to do something boneheaded like this).
I can’t imagine how long it will take until those posts no longer show up on the first page of results. When college admissions people google her in a few years, they will see that tweet. When she starts applying for jobs, potential employers will see that tweet. When someone wants to ask her out he will google her and see that tweet. When she’s my age and her own kids google her name, they will probably see that tweet. Unless she changes her name, her name will always be associated with that tweet.
I don’t agree that everyone (pretty or not) deserves a one-time pass for saying something that hateful. She did something very bad and should be punished. But her brain is still growing, she will hopefully get smarter and learn more about the world she lives in and the people who occupy it, and she may even turn into a person who is repulsed and embarrassed by what she once said publicly.
But that tweet will still be there.
My kids will no doubt do many stupid things while they’re growing up. I know I did. But I try to remind my kids frequently that for the love of God, they need to keep their stupidity hidden and private. They need to say stupid things when nobody is recording them and write stupid things on pieces of paper that can be shredded. Because some day they will grow up and realize how stupid they were. But it should be their little secret.