I was around 12 years old, sitting outside at a restaurant in Santana Row with my parents when a woman in high heels and a black mini skirt walked past, and I said “And that’s why women get raped.” My parents nodded in agreement.
There was nothing particularly distinctive about that evening, but I remember it vividly — my repugnant words seared into my brain with shame and guilt.
As Indian parents go, mine were the image of progressivism, but there are aspects of our culture that are simply too deeply ingrained for even the most liberal of Indians to completely escape from. Raised in a culture that clings to ancient traditions, in which homophobia, racism, classism and sexism run rampant, I never saw anything wrong with this kind of thinking — to me it wasn’t prejudice, just plain truth.
Now, as a college student on Tufts’ largely liberal campus, my plain truths are different. My political and moral education occurred largely outside my home — influenced by the internet, my peers and social media. I now know that terrorism is not tied to any one religion and women are not assaulted because of their choice of clothing.
With the all-too-familiar pattern of celebrities and politicians coming under fire for “problematic” past remarks, I find myself questioning the evolution of my own values. In pop culture today, “cancel culture” is commonplace. From Kevin Hart to Jennifer Lawrence to Gina Rodriguez, it seems no one is safe from the wrath of the public.
I firmly believe that wrongdoers, especially those in the public eye, can and should be “called out” and held accountable for their actions. But the internet has proven time and time again that apologies and repentance are sometimes regarded by the public as meaningless. This is problematic in itself — it is far more productive and beneficial to society as a whole to allow those who have wronged to acknowledge and take responsibility for their mistakes.
I don’t talk about forgiveness because I believe that it is only the responsibility of the affected group in any one instance to forgive, and there is no disputing that there will be some whose actions are simply too offensive, too harmful, too abominable to absolve. Some never apologize, others are grossly un-remorseful. But as someone who carries immense guilt and repentance for the set of beliefs I held when I simply didn’t know better, I can’t help but feel that the public crucifixion of people for their old views sets a dangerous precedent. As we grow as people and gain life experience, our views, priorities and values inevitably change.
In reducing individuals to their past mistakes, we neglect the fact that we can grow and evolve as people and atone for our wrongs — once we are guilty in the court of public opinion, there’s no going back.