The emotionally fraught, racially charged personnel drama that unfolded at Teen Vogue last week could be an opening for a national dialogue about redemption, racial reconciliation, and forgiveness. Think I’m being too optimistic? Many countries have overcome worse division than this.
As the late Nelson Mandela said of his victories for truth and reconciliation, “We were expected to destroy one another and ourselves collectively in the worst racial conflagration. Instead, we as a people chose the path of negotiation, compromise and peaceful settlement. Instead of hatred and revenge we chose reconciliation and nation-building.”
Employment in a high-profile editorial job at an elite employer like Vogue magazine is a privilege, not a right. The managers at Teen Vogue were well within their rights to fire Alexi McCammond as editor in chief because of decade-old offensive tweets she wrote when she was 17. But if they were to apply their standards equally, they’d also fire senior social media manager Christine Davitt, who publicized a letter reportedly signed by more than 20 staffers rejecting McCammond “in light of her past racist and homophobic tweets.”
Turns out Davitt has some explaining to do about her own past. Davitt reportedly wrote two tweets in 2009 to a friend, identifying him using the N-word, and tweeted the word again in 2010. The friend to whom the comments were addressed appears to be white, and Davitt said in multiple tweets that she is of Irish and Filipino descent. By Davitt’s own standards, she should resign for her statements, even if Teen Vogue chooses to give her a pass.
But once the race-based calculus begins, it’s hard to see where it ends. Should the magazine somehow show Davitt forbearance because of her Asian background in light of the troubling rise in violence against Asian Americans? And if so, would forbearance for Davitt suggest that Teen Vogue believes Asian lives matter more than Black lives, given both Davitt’s repugnant word choice and the fact that McCammond is partially Black?