Celebrity

Yes, Camila Cabello Apologized, But That Doesn't Mean She Should Be Forgiven

Her comments have IRL repercussions

camila cabello racist comments: Camila Cabello poses in a black velvet dress with big sleeves

(Photo: Getty Images)

Camila ooh na-na, that’s not going to fly girl. The Havana singer was back in the headlines this week, and not for her much hyped relationship with Shawn Mendes, but instead for a series of recently unearthed racist posts from her old Tumblr account. On December 17, Twitter account @motivatefenty shared a thread with links to Cabello’s Tumblr account and several of the posts in question (the account has since been taken down). “Exposing camila cabello’s racist and downright disturbing tumblr reblogs: a thread,” the user tweeted, before sharing the links in subsequent tweets. In screenshots, posts from the account feature the use of the N-word and reference and make fun of Rihanna’s 2009 domestic assault at the hands of Chris Brown. One particularly offensive re-post features a cartoon drawing of a small Black girl with a racist term beneath it. The posts were from 2012, when Cabello would have been 15 years old.

The day after the Tumblr posts resurfaced online, the former Fifth Harmony singer shared an apology message via Instagram stories and Twitter, writing: “When I was younger, I used language that I’m deeply ashamed of and will regret forever. I was uneducated and ignorant and once I became aware of the history and the weight and the true meaning behind this horrible and hurtful language, I was deeply embarrassed.”

The singer went on to say that she has since apologized for the posts and “would never intentionally hurt anyone.”

“I’m 22 now, I’m an adult and I’ve grown and learned and am conscious and aware of the history and the pain it carries in a way I wasn’t before,” Cabello wrote of the language. “Those mistakes don’t represent the person I am or a person I’ve ever been. I only stand and have ever stood for love and inclusivity, and my heart has never, even then, had any ounce of hate or divisiveness. The truth is I was embarrassingly ignorant and unaware.”

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It wasn’t long before many of the singer’s fans came to her defence, accepting her apology on behalf of the Black community, saying her comments were a byproduct of being young and naïve, and telling others online that they were overreacting and should forgive Cabello. But TBQH, just because the singer apologized doesn’t mean we have to forgive her. Here’s why.

Age actually *is* a factor

As much as I personally want to roll my eyes at Cabello’s claims of youth as an excuse for her comments (I’ve known plenty of 15-year-olds who don’t use racist language), it turns out that age does factor into her decision to make the comments—or at least Cabello’s impulsiveness in posting them. While Toronto-based psychologist and author Sara Dimerman says that an individual  has the potential to begin learning right from wrong from the moment they’re born (additional research puts it around 19 to 21 months), that doesn’t account for those teenage years when you can feel like you’re *literally* invincible. “When we’re 14 and 15, you’re more inclined [to act impulsively],” Dimerman, the author of multiple books including How to Influence Your Kids for Good says. This is partly due to the fact that teenage brains don’t fully develop until much later than you might expect. Young women’s brains, in particular, aren’t fully developed until the age of 25.  The other part, Dimerman says, is that “you live for today, you live for the moment [and] you sometimes make poor choices. Even if you do know good from bad, you make poor choices,” she says. And this includes saying (or posting) things that could potentially haunt you later, something that has become even more glaring thanks to the rise of social media and the ability to dig up content from our younger years with the click of a button.

Another age-related factor to take into consideration is socialization. “For me, the biggest factor [that affects the ability to discern right from wrong] is the family in which we’re being raised,” Dimerman says. “In terms of developing a moral conscience or thinking what’s right versus wrong, a lot of that is part of what you grow up believing and what is taught implicitly and explicitly within the family, and especially by parents and the influences that our parents exposed us to.” Dimerman uses the example of a young child who’s taken to a conservative church service every week. “If the priest condemns gay marriage, for example, then that child may grow up believing that to be gay is wrong. And therefore that would be part of what he or she develops as being right or wrong.”

And unlearning that, Dimerman says, can be really difficult. “It’s a process, it’s not something that would happen overnight,” she says. And it depends on the intensity to which the individual has been raised in said environment. Say that same conservative kid then leaves for University. “They will go into the world and realize that the world is not black and white, that it can be very grey as well,” Dimerman says. “So they may hear a professor saying something that could pique their interest and open their mind to exploring options.”

“If the desire is there and the awareness is there and the motivation is there, people absolutely have the capacity to think for themselves and to develop other belief systems that are not consistent with their families.”

But that doesn’t mean she’s off the hook

And while it’s important to take into consideration the fact that Cabello’s adolescent thinking was likely informed by a particular environment or the values being taught around her, that shouldn’t necessarily be enough to let her off the hook. When Yamikani Msosa, a Toronto-based Anti-Violence Educator, initially saw the posts from Cabello’s Tumblr account, she wasn’t actually that surprised. “My initial thought was ‘this is very much so reflective of how folks take slang that is used by Black folks and then appropriate it without the context,'” she says of Cabello’s language. “It’s like, ‘Oh right, you’ve probably heard [the N-word] countless times and think it’s appropriate.'” Working with young people, Msosa says that she’s had numerous conversations with teens who will use the word to describe their non-Black friends. Part of her work is to break down the historical (and truly horrible) context of the word to those teens, encouraging them to realize that it’s not synonymous with “friend”—and that it’s not an innocent term.

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The same came be said for Cabello’s memes of Rihanna and Chris Brown. While Cabello and others may have seen the meme as innocuous or “just a joke,” sharing it actually has real effects. Mainly, it diminishes and belittles the severity of domestic violence, making it easier for it to be swept under the rug and normalized. “When we talk about rape culture and we talk about the normalization of violence against women, language is part of the continuum of harm,” Msosa says. “[Sharing the meme] is validating the behaviour within the meme and finding humour in it when there’s nothing humorous about it.” Which is 100% true.

And it’s exactly these real-world repercussions that make Cabello’s claims about age and ignorance so difficult to swallow. “It’s a hard thing because at the same time, even if [you didn’t mean for it to be harmful], you need to be held accountable for your words and actions,” Msosa says. “I don’t think age necessarily is a forgiving factor because children experience anti-black racism,” she continues.

“When a kid gets called the N-word on the playground, they know exactly what that means. They know exactly where they’re situated when those words are coming out of another child’s mouth.” And, she says, even though the person saying the harmful world may not know the full gravity of what they’re doing, they know that there’s *something* negative in the word. It’s not just an inappropriate comment, but with increased racism in Canada and the continued brutality against and deaths of people of colour by police across North America, it’s a violent, racist word that has material impact, Msosa says. “So it’s hard for me to say, ‘Oh,  but she was young and so we should forgive her.'”

Because her words—or lack thereof—do have an affect on people

And although Dimerman wants to give Cabello the benefit of the doubt, seeing her apology to fans as healthy and a good example for younger fans, Msosa is careful to see her apology as an identifier of growth. Especially because her apology itself left a lot to be desired. While Cabello did refer to the language she used as “horrible” and “hurtful,” she never once named it for what it is: racist. And if you can’t even name what you’ve done, then can you truly have grown from it?

“People think that if they say, ‘what I did perpetuated anti-Black racism, what I did perpetuated anti-immigrant sentiment,’ then they’re actually naming the power structure and the privilege,” Msosa says. “And so there’s this innate fear that if you do that,  people are going to label you.” Meaning, if Cabello called her comments and language racist or anti-Black, people would label her as racist and anti-Black.

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Which isn’t necessarily always the case, Msosa says. Instead of focusing on the individual, Msosa stresses that these comments are the product of racist societal structures, which have socialized Cabello to think this way. “It’s a symptom of racist structures, beliefs and practices,” Msosa says of Cabello’s actions. “[Cabello] didn’t think it was okay to make racist comments, she thought it was okay because structures have enabled her; society has enabled these behaviours to be okay.” She draws a comparison to actress Gina Rodriguez, who has a history of making anti-Black comments, and her own comments being a symptom of systemically embedded racism in our society.

“It’s not to say that she is a racist, but she has committed racist acts,” Msosa says of Cabello. And it’s important that she acknowledge that fact—explicitly.

And it’s not really up to us to accept her apology

And BTW, the only people who can accept Cabello’s apology, if they choose to, are people from the community her words and actions harmed. And TBH, the only way that may ever happen is if Cabello actually shows she’s changed with tangible actions. “I’m really sick and tired of people issuing these apology statements without action,” Msosa says. “So you were 14, you fucked up, you did this thing that was not okay. But my next question is: how are you going to be accountable in a meaningful way?”

Which means that an apology alone just doesn’t cut it. As we enter 2020, it’ll be important to keep an eye on what—if anything—Cabello does to show that she’s working towards growing from her past comments. What is she speaking out about and for? What communities is she supporting? This is one problem her silky smooth vocals alone won’t get her out of.