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“I don’t want you in that house full of n*****s,” the mother of my close high school friend screamed in Spanish.
She was at my front door.
The friend asked me to host practice for a dance routine that would be performed at her quinceanera. My family owned the bigger home, so we both agreed there would be more room to twirl, spin, merengue, and bachata. But there was one thing that was clear: I would not be a part of her “court”—the friends who would perform alongside her on that special day. I was given no reason why.
I was grappling with the disappointment, confusion, and sadness from being left out when her mother arrived and screamed the racial epithet, angrily and repeatedly. My friend quickly ran outside screaming “callate,” but by then my neighbors were all peeping out of their windows. The group of 10-15 boys and girls (who were all also Hispanic) quickly dispersed.
And I was left alone to bear the humiliation, shock, and horror of blatant racism and dehumanization.
“Sorry,” the friend told me plainly.
Her apology felt hollow. She never returned to my house for her practice. And I never attended her quinceanera.
When I first read of music star Camila Cabello’s unearthed, shockingly racist Tumblr posts and subsequent shallow apology, I instantaneously re-lived that humiliating experience. Last month, social media users unearthed Cabello’s old posts and it set off a trending firestorm. Not only were the posts insensitive and distasteful but they also came as a slap in the face to one of the singer’s former Fifth Harmony bandmates, Normani, who is Black and endured an onslaught of racism from Cabello’s fans.
As a Black woman who was raised in a majority-Hispanic town, I know too well how painful racism stings and how it is especially difficult to endure when other friends of color deny, diminish, or are unable to support you through such traumatizing experiences. Cabello and Normani were apparent besties during their Fifth Harmony stint, the pair often appearing in pictures and videos together on social media. That friendship was certainly challenged after Cabello’s fans were angered by the way Normani briefly described Cabello during an interview and inundated Normani with hateful, racist messages, including one with a digitally altered image of her head superimposed onto the body of a Black person being lynched—and many others filled with slurs.
In an interview, Normani explained that Cabello and her other Fifth Harmony bandmates “offered support” but failed to truly grasp her trauma.
“They don’t have to face on a day-to-day basis the things that I have to,” she told the Fader. “I definitely learned after that that I had to walk a different way. I can’t look like everybody else.”
Cabello’s unearthed racist Tumblr page has likely reopened and deepened this wound for Normani.
The now-deleted and reblogged posts shared by a younger Cabello perpetuated racist stereotypes about Black people and Asians—like one with a Black boy excitedly smiling, paired with a photo of watermelon and fried chicken. There’s another fried chicken post. Another asks: “Why do Asians speak the ching chong language?” A few used variations of the N-word, including the “er” spelling. One was an image of a brown-faced, afro-wearing Piglet, from Winnie the Pooh, renamed “Niglet.”
The online backlash over the account was swift, forcing the singer to issue an apology, where she blamed youthful ignorance for her racism.
“When I was younger, I used language that I’m deeply ashamed of and will regret forever,” she said. “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 I ever used it. I apologize then and I apologize again now. 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’s apology reminded me of the empty, shallow one I received after that hurtful encounter. Not only did it fail to adequately express remorse for the harm done, but it also used age as an excuse for racist behavior, while offering no tangible recourse for those impacted by her racism. Every child who was in my home the night that my friend’s mother used racial epithets knew that such language was very wrong and even dangerous. I know this because I scanned the faces of every child present to gauge how I should react to the situation and all I saw was a collective look of horror, discomfort, and sadness.
In that moment, my heart sank and I was frozen because I realized I had to grapple with the fact that an adult was judging me and my entire family merely because of the color of our skin. And I had to face that shameful reality alone because everyone—including the friend for whom I was doing a favor—offered no true support or allyship both in the moment and after the fact.
Both Cabello’s fans—many of whom are Black and Asian—and her former bandmate deserve more than empty apologies: They deserve an ally, just as I did that night. I deserved a friend who would stand up for me and at least be willing to proudly invite me to her birthday party, even if that meant facing scrutiny from her racist family. (I recognize that it’s unfair to place the onus on my friend to have done more at the time given that we were so young.)
Cabello, however, is now an adult with a huge platform and the power to make a change. Instead of using youthful ignorance as an excuse for perpetuating hurtful ideologies that traumatize and denigrate people of color, she should be using her platform, and newfound maturity to become an anti-racism advocate both on and offline, in the same way that she is spreading awareness about Australia’s wildfires this month.
these pictures have left me speechless. I’m sending love to all affected by these horrific fires. below are places you can donate to help the wildlife & those affected and battling on the frontlines: https://t.co/ck3Bg2ib4mhttps://t.co/4zkuxCSSqMhttps://t.co/zsKMAWkDlg pic.twitter.com/RaPbN2Fqqs— camila (@Camila_Cabello) January 5, 2020
She remains silent about systemic racism.
Now that Cabello is no longer a child, her silence equals complicity, especially as her racist posts continue to spread through the blogosphere. It will take more than a half-hearted apology to extinguish the anger and hurt that those posts have caused.
Cabello must actually roll up her sleeves and do the necessary work to battle against the racism she has helped to perpetuate.
Tiffanie Drayton is a geek culture and lifestyle reporter whose work covers everything from gender and race to anime and Xbox. Her work has appeared in Complex, Salon, Marie Claire, Playboy, and elsewhere.