Likely you have heard of Mimi Groves by now. Ms. Groves is the young woman who was forced off the University of Tennessee’s cheer squad and then forced to withdraw from the University itself after a three-second snapchat video of her went viral on social media. In that four-year-old video, a 15-year old Ms. Groves exclaims with great excitement, “I can drive, n*ggers!” Her excitement at earning her learner’s permit found expression in the use of a fiercely offensive racial epithet that is, nevertheless, employed ubiquitously by rappers and others in the entertainment industry, and among African-Americans of all backgrounds and ages. But, Ms. Groves is not a rapper, not in the entertainment industry, and not African-American. As such, her use of the word was judged an intolerable and, apparently, unforgivable act of racism on the part of a privileged white girl. The video, originally sent by Ms. Groves to a personal friend, made its way around social media until it was finally shared with Jimmy Galligan, who attended the same high school as Ms. Groves. Most high schoolers would have shrugged and deleted the video with the offensive word. But, not Mr. Galligan. Mr. Galligan shared the video with high school administrators at the time, only to be told that there was nothing they could do about it, given that it was an act committed off campus and not during school hours. Frustrated and unsatisfied Mr. Galligan, in what can only be considered an act of extraordinary connivance, held onto the video for three years with the intent of employing it against Ms. Groves at the worst possible time. When he learned that Ms. Groves had been accepted to the University of Tennessee and as a member of the cheer squad, he shared the video on social media. The result was the destruction of Ms. Groves’ reputation and her plans for her future. Mr. Galligan, who says he has no regrets for sharing the video, has congratulated himself on teaching Ms. Groves a lesson about white privilege. The irony, of course, is that there are few privileges greater than that which Mr. Galligan enjoyed – the privilege of impacting another person’s life, for better or worse, for the rest of his or her life.
There is great sadness in this story. The first sadness is that Ms. Groves, quite obviously, lived or still lives in a culture where the use of the N-word is seemingly so natural that it never occurred to her that its use was problematic or offensive. She was apparently informed by a friend later and apologized for it. I really wonder how that can be. I have taught my children that the circumstances do not exist that justify the use of that word, or any number of others, intended to direct insult or disparagement on others on the basis of their race or ethnic identity. How is it that Ms. Groves, even as a 15-year old in 2016, didn’t get the memo? Does she live in a culture that approves of the word? Mr. Galligan’s complaint is that the word was used often in the high school he and Ms. Groves attended. I’ve already mentioned the use of the word in music and among African-Americans themselves. Yes, it’s only a word, but words matter. We can’t pretend they don’t. Of course, a good start would be to stop bestowing on entertainers such as Cardi B. song of the year awards for songs that make use of that word, or others intended as racial insults. It hardly makes sense to award one person and destroy the reputation of another for use of the exact same word.
Another sadness is that Mr. Galligan clearly has been taught to think of himself first and foremost as a victim. What else explains his behavior? Ms. Groves’ use of the word was not directed at him, or anyone for that matter. It was an exclamation point on the end of an expression of excitement, employed in an attempt to sound “cool” – you know, the same reason rappers use the word. That Mr. Galligan would keep the video with the intent of using it to destroy her reputation and her plans for university is far more disturbing, in my mind, than Ms. Groves’ use of the word itself.
Still a deeper sadness is the decision of the University of Tennessee to ruin the hopes and dreams of a young woman who admired its cheer program and the University itself over a four-year old offense committed when she was 15 years old. The grown ups are the ones who are supposed to have level heads on these matters. That UT would decide so quickly and choose such an extreme response reveals the administrators of that supposedly august institution as weak, knobby-kneed miscreants more desirous of proving their wokeness than in leading future generations to greatness.
How would things have turned out if everyone, or even just someone in this soap opera, had stopped and thought to respond as Christ would have responded? Had Ms. Groves done so, the N-word would not have even been in her vocabulary, it’s use not even contemplated as an option. Had Mr. Galligan done so, he would have reached out to Ms. Groves, whom he knew from high school, when he received the video and talked with her about the importance of being respectful of others, and how even our speech is important. Had administrators at the University of Tennessee done so, they would have reached out to both Ms. Groves and Mr. Galligan to find a way to use this sadness to improve their lives and teach us all lessons about decorum, respect, civility, not seeking revenge, forgiveness and reconciliation.
Teach your children well. Teach them about respect. Teach them about forgiveness. Teach them that in Christ they are not superior to others or a victim first and foremost. Rather, they possess a dignity in Christ that is beyond anything the world can give or take.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.