The Trouble with Holding Our Stupidity Against Us

I recently had a conversation with Max, my tattoo artist, about how he feels his earlier pieces are trash compared to what he puts together now. I told him I feel the same way about my writing. I’ve gotten better technically and ideologically throughout the years; I flatly dismiss quite a few of the pieces I’ve written.

The difference is, Max’s thousands of tattoos are scattered throughout the world, under the clothing of his customers and not immediately identifiable as his. My 19 years of writing is a quick Google search away, with my full name inextricably connected to it. If I ever become “somebody,” there’s a decent chance I’ll have to answer for some of it.

Kevin Hart, high priest of the repetitive buddy-action-comedy, is learning firsthand the ramifications of when touchy old shit on the internet comes back to bite: Between 2009 and 2011, he fired off a series of ostensibly comedic homophobic tweets that would’ve been more acceptable in the early days of Def Comedy Jam when Martin Lawrence was still the host. When Hart was tapped to host the Academy Awards (a.k.a. Bird Box for white folks), the tweets resurfaced and he was expected to apologize.

Dude could’ve cleared all of it up with a two-bar mea culpa acknowledging he’s better than his old tweets. But pride (read: stupidity) prevented him from achieving his “lifelong dream” of being an Oscars host, and now he has the scarred image that comes from folks believing he still retains hostility toward the LGBTQ community in 2019 that may not actually exist. He now wears those (deleted) tweets like a scarlet letter: when he used Twitter to voice outrage over the alleged hate crime toward Jussie Smollett, he was dragged like a sack of potatoes for it.

Hart might have been sincere in his public well-wishes for Smollett, but that means precisely dick in the court of public opinion. Therein lies the internet’s fraught relationship with anything resembling growth: once trash, always trash…especially if you’re unlucky enough to have a public record of your trash behavior. For decades, politicians have had their career aspirations murked thanks to incriminating pictures or news articles from days gone by. But with social media, no one with even a small public profile is safe.

Most of the material I wouldn’t want people reading now came from my 20s; anyone who’s aged past that decade will attest that a confluence of arrogance, insouciance and a lack of adult life experiences makes many – if not most – 20-somethings kinda stupid. I was armed with that stupidity, along with platforms for sharing (bad) opinions with the masses. It all started when I wrote a piece for my college newspaper praising corporal punishment for bad-ass white kids, because I didn’t know what I know now.

In my mid-to-late-20s, I was a G-level local celebrity with a “sex column” in Chicago Tribune’s RedEye newspaper. Taking dating advice from a 26-year-old dude is like taking lessons in female empowerment from Drake; I grit my teeth thinking about some of the shit I shared with readers, and if ever I achieved anywhere in the realm of Hart’s national success, I’d have a lot of ‘splainin’ to do, Lucy.

I don’t think there’s a defined formula to when and why people come at others for scandalous tweets, articles, interviews and the like, but I notice trends: if you’re generally beloved and you’ve demonstrated that you’ve evolved, folks forgive far more quickly. Barack Obama put his aversion to gay marriage on the record, but he was also the first sitting president to publicly encourage it years later. Hart continues to get dragged because he failed to sufficiently let the world know he evolved (if he did) and his apologies for the tweets came too late and under pressure.

Hart might’ve also fared better had his tweets not come within the last eight years, during a period in which we were undergoing a societal sea change related to the acceptance of the LGBTQ community. Time and appropriate reparations are required for forgiveness: If Tomi Lahren’s bony ass has a Malcolm-Little-in-prison moment of clarity and announces on Twitter next week that she’s renouncing her trifling, racist bona fides, she’d catch all the digital tomatoes from black folks.

Really though, nothing you do matters if someone with a vendetta is looking to fry your ass – they’re going to find that tweet you rattled off when you were 23 and gassed off of Patron shots. Which is why it behooves you to come correct with that delete key.

Failure to delete is at the core of many of these issues. I’ve been on Facebook for 13 years and I know that I’ve written some terrible status updates that are in no way reflective of how I feel at age 37. I’m not sure how to go back and get rid of that shit, but I know it’s easy with Twitter, which regularly gets more people in trouble than Facebook ever thought about.

The zeitgeist demands that our thinking evolves on social issues, so it matters more to me what people say and do today instead of the shit they were about at the turn of the century, when it was still socially acceptable for the biggest rapper in the world to write a whole-ass song about murdering his wifeIf you are my age or older and you don’t look back at some of the media you loved in the 1990s and cringe, you might not be evolving.

That said, if you’re comprised of flesh and drawing breath, you’ve been on the wrong side of history at some point and likely still are about something. Forgiveness is part and parcel of enlightenment. Amanda Seales said it best in her recent Breakfast Club interview: “Cancel culture is a real thing but redemption culture should also be a real thing. You should allow people to demonstrate to you that they’re willing to change.”

If people demonstrate a willingness to change, we shouldn’t hang their old words over their neck like a millstone. If you do ever find my old RedEye columns, please bear that in mind. Please.


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