Jimmy Galligan is an 18-year-old college freshman from Leesburg, Va. — and cancel culture’s Count of Monte Cristo.
Some months ago, Galligan, who is biracial, posted a three-second video of a white, female classmate using a racial slur. Galligan had sat on the video for years, waiting for the moment it would do the most damage. After the girl, a cheerleader named Mimi Groves, was accepted to the University of Tennessee, the time had come.
“I wanted to get her where she would understand the severity of that word,” said Galligan. He said he was proud of himself: “You taught someone a lesson.”
The video showed Groves, 15 at the time and having just obtained her learner’s permit, boasting “I can drive, [slur].” The remark wasn’t directed at anyone in particular. The brief clip circulated on Snapchat until it was obtained and saved by Galligan, who had grown furious at how often he heard his white classmates using the N-word.
Galligan shared it publicly in June. In response, Groves lost her spot on UT’s cheerleading squad. Then the university pressured her to withdraw from the school entirely. The admissions office had apparently received hundreds of messages from irate alumni demanding blood. Groves is now attending a community college.
This story is a powerful example of several social phenomena: the militant streak in social-justice activism, the naivety of today’s teens, mob justice on social media and high-schoolers’ capacity for elaborate cruelty. But the wildest thing about this incident is that most people will learn about it by reading The New York Times.
“A Racial Slur, a Viral Video and a Reckoning” is the headline on the Times’ article on the subject, published the day after Christmas. Reporter Dan Levin tries to add considerable context by detailing a history of alleged unpleasantness at Heritage High School, which Groves and Galligan attended. It sits in a wealthy, predominantly white county where “slave auctions were once held on the courthouse grounds.”
Levin connects the outcry from students aggrieved by officials’ failure to respond to racial incidents to the broader Black Lives Matter movement. But nowhere does his article reckon with a very basic fact: The New York Times has opted to assist a teenager’s desperate quest to ruin the life of a young woman who said something stupid when she was 15.
People roughly 25 and older should thank their lucky stars that they completed adolescence before the age of social media and ubiquitous camera phones — because the country’s most important newspaper apparently thinks it is appropriate to shame teenagers over their juvenile behavior.
This is the very worst aspect of cancel culture — the burning desire to hold people accountable for mistakes they made as kids, even if they have long since learned their lesson and grown past them — and the Times has fully embraced it.
While the piece strives for a veneer of neutrality, it clearly lionizes Galligan. Levin never really challenges Galligan; in fact, the reporter lets Galligan get away with the assertion that his white father suffers from “white privilege.” Groves is treated somewhat sympathetically, but Levin really should have explained the difference between using the word as an epithet and using it in the manner Groves did — a boast too often heard in popular music and culture, which kids begin to absorb from a very young age.
Or better yet, he could have simply not written this story, which concerns bad but by no means uncommon teen behavior. No crime was committed; the utterance of the word didn’t even take place at school. The only thing novel about this situation is that it attracted the national media’s attention.
Galligan and Groves are both teenagers, and teenagers do really terrible things to each other. (Maybe you don’t remember high school? I do!) They should be corrected, forgiven and allowed to move on.
That’s why this new drive to reduce teens to the worst moment of their lives is so pathologically toxic. It’s completely at odds with the emotional and social journeys of most young people. Very few of us sailed through high school as saints, but today’s kids are practically required to be perfect from the time they turn 12.
The people who really ought to have known better are not the story’s teenage subjects, but its editors at The New York Times.
Robby Soave is a senior editor of Reason, from which this column was adapted.