Must There Be Consequences?

In a surprisingly insipid post, L.D. Burnett attempts to rebut Nick Grossman’s Arc Digital post that the damage done following the utterance of a racial epithet in a three-second snapchat failed to recognize that young people’s lives shouldn’t be ruined for the poor decisions that are emblematic of children. Considering that Burnett’s writing is usually thoughtful, this was disappointing, as was her reaction to criticism.

But considering her very progressive stance, this stood out above the myriad other failings of her argument:

But committing racist acts without expecting to face serious consequences is not a sign of immaturity; it is a symptom of assumed impunity.

So much of what was wrong in her post, and wrong in the knee-jerk viciousness and hypocrisy of delusional progressive thought is packed into that horrific sentence. This wasn’t just an exceptionally dumb utterance by a child, but a “racist act.” That it couldn’t be anything else is reflected by the universal understanding that no white person can utter the word without knowing it to be a racist act.

But that is so precisely because every white person beyond the age of accountability (8? 10? 12?) knows that it’s not a word that white people should say or write. It would be a very sheltered white child indeed who had never learned before the age of 15 that this isn’t a word for her to throw around as a joke, even if she is imitating a rapper.

Not only does this impute her sensibility to “precisely” every white person, a common theme of the self-righteous that they are the moral arbiters of the universe and anyone who fails to adhere to their notion of propriety is “precisely” racist. It can’t be otherwise, as no one can dispute their perfect sense of propriety. This is not to say teens shouldn’t recognize that this is a word they should not say, even if imitating a rapper, but the absolutist conclusion that a child must be racist because it couldn’t be otherwise is absurd.

Because of this, Burnett concludes that it’s not a sign of immaturity, but “a symptom of assumed impunity.” One of the most significant understandings of criminal law is that young people are immature. They don’t think like adults. They don’t behave like adults. They act impulsively and foolishly. Most believe in their own impunity, never considering that their childish choice will have consequences. That’s what immaturity is.

That, however, is not what Burnett means by immaturity, as she distinguishes it from her “symptom of assumed impunity.” What she means her is that this girl’s assumption of impunity isn’t based on her youth, but on her race.

Thus, to put the young white kid who dropped the N-word and the young Black kid who publicly shared and condemned the video in the same category—young people making typical young-people mistakes—denies both the moral inequality of their acts and the social inequality of their prospects vis a vis public scrutiny.

There are substantive differences between the two acts which rationally differentiates their conduct and distinguishes which “category” they should be placed in. She said it in a vacuum, not directed at anyone or used in any way to cause harm. No, that doesn’t mean her use was acceptable, but it also doesn’t mean her use was intended to harm anyone.

He, on the other hand, specifically sought to teach her a lesson by subjecting her to viral social condemnation. Burnett says this “denies . . . the moral inequality of their acts,” which is substantively correct, but that’s not at all what she’s saying. In her vision of “moral inequality,” neither the facts nor intentions matter. The only thing that matters is race, and consequently what the white kid did was inherently morally worse than what the black kid did.

But the most vicious aspect of that conclusory sentence was Burnett’s leap to punishment, that her utterance of the word, even if not directed at anyone or spoken without any overt racist intent, demanded that she “face serious consequences.” Not just consequences. Serious consequences.

Much of the reaction from the woke was along this line, borrowing the same tough on crime phraseology used to put black guys in prison for life plus cancer, “if you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.” It’s a good reminder that the mindless extremes share the same perspective and depth of thought, only with different heads on the corpses.

Why must there be “consequences”? Why isn’t this a teachable moment, when someone says to the 15-year-old girl that her use of this word offends them, hurts them, and she really shouldn’t do it? Maybe this should come from a parent, if it hasn’t already because young people are notorious about ignoring the lessons their parents try to teach. Maybe a teacher. Maybe a close friend. Maybe a black kid at school who inadvertently saw the Snapchat.

Even if the teachable moment passed without mention, there is a matter of proportionality. At another moment in time, someone would yell at her to shut up, and that would be it. Instead, this ended up costing her college and putting her name in the New York Times as a racist monster. Even that doesn’t strike Burnett as excessive.

It is primarily white kids who grow up with the ability to mess up morally or ethically, or to hurt their peers, or show callous disregard for others, with the expectation that their misdeeds would be forgotten with time, or written off as youthful follies now outgrown. That was true before the internet, and it’s still true.

For example, white kids and black kids use marijuana at pretty much the same rate, but black teenagers are arrested for the same “crime” way more frequently than white teenagers, and are charged more harshly.

As Burnett isn’t involved in the legal system, and consequently doesn’t realize that she’s factually wrong and simplistic, and her conflation of uttering a word with committing a crime aside, this is what makes the carceral hypocrisy of the woke most disingenuous. The objective is to do better by black teenagers for the missteps of their youth, not to do excessive harm to white teenagers to balance out the social justice perception of karmic damage. Rather than try to do better by kids, all kids, Burnett would have no mercy for a young woman, but only if she’s white.

16 thoughts on “Must There Be Consequences?

  1. orthodoc

    You are correct that L.D. Burnett’s argument does not hold up, logically or morally. She is far too interested in heaping on retribution when retribution does not belong in the discussion at all.
    But in trying to see the other side’s point of view, maybe we can say her underlying argument is that although Mimi Groves might have suffered disproportionately, making her an example promotes the correct amount of general deterrence.
    I think that still fails logically (impetuous kids might not be easily deterred, if at all) and it fails morally (there must be limits to disproportionate suffering, despite the expected value calculations, otherwise we’d execute computer hackers (as proposed by Steve Landsburg in Slate years ago)).
    Somebody smart once said “Sentencing isn’t a right or wrong proposition, but a balancing of values within the legitimate factors.” L.D. Burnett’s values are not mine, and we don’t share a definition of “legitimate factors” either. Thus, I don’t think one can sway her with reasoning. But I am glad you tried.

    1. SHG Post author

      First, I’m not trying to reason with Burnett, but using Burnett’s post to show the hypocrisy and untenability of social justice ideology. This story has become a litmus test of reason and ideology, and I take the risk of calling liberal bullshit on progressive beliefs.

      Second, any thing that’s gone bad can be rationalized as a “good” by arguing that it can serve as some sort of lesson. This was the “go to” argument for people who lied about being raped, being victim to a racist attack, etc., as it would at least “start a conversation.” It’s a garbage argument then, and it still is now. It’s a bad thing, even if one can find some iota of theoretical benefit hidden deep below the wrong. But it’s still bad.

  2. Richard Parker

    ” . . . it is a symptom of assumed impunity.”

    But that is the Default Setting for an American Teenager.

  3. Paleo

    You nailed it by pointing out in response to her “moral inequality of their acts” statement that he intended to do damage while she did not. Their races don’t change that. His action was worse by several orders of magnitude.

    Burnett and her ilk are as racist as any group going right now, so her favored race gets the pass. She’s engaging in precisely the behavior she’s decrying. Talk about impunity.

  4. Elpey P.

    Of course her underlying premise that white people should never under any circumstances speak the word is incoherent, totalitarian nonsense and it only gets traction by ignoring how untenable it is. “Impunity” is a word that gets used a lot by authoritarians.

  5. Rengit

    In regards to this issue, there’s increasingly a full-on embrace of a might-makes-right form of argument: it’s wrong to do because the consequences (getting punched in the face by someone who becomes angry, getting reported to an employer or your school by a mob of angry people) are foreseeable, and the people who deliver the consequences have the capability and will to execute them. And those consequences can be as extreme as they would like to deliver.

    I think a lot of people were willing to accept this argument when it came to old-school racist males ages 18-45 who called a black guy the n-word to his face in a bar, and then got slugged in the face as a fight broke out. Technically criminal, but hey, *you just don’t do that and not expect to get swung at*. I don’t think most people accept reactions at this level of extreme when it comes to, say, a 14 year old white or Asian kid reading Huck Finn out loud in class or a 54 year old white woman, unplugged from social media, being overheard singing along with the lyrics of her 20 year-old son’s favorite rapper: the argument “they should know how unacceptable that is” ultimately boils down to the willingness of the would-be prohibitors to socially and emotionally scare and terrorize non-black people into accepting what has fast become a parody of the “don’t say Voldemort” rule.

  6. KeyserSoze

    Ms. Burnett’s arguments are so bad I am not even going to try.

    But I find the viciousness and cowardice in this affair repulsive and inexcusable.

  7. Rxc

    Cable – You’ve got to be taught
    To hate
    And fear
    You’ve got to be taught
    From year
    To year
    Its got to
    Be drummed in your dear little ear
    You’ve got to
    Be carefully
    Taught

  8. B. McLeod

    Whenever these people come out from under their rocks, they reveal their own pervasive hatefulness. If nothing else, they have destroyed their earlier efforts to paint themselves as paragons of tolerance and goodwill. Really no different than the white supremacists, except they are pushing a different shtick.

  9. artichoke

    Impunity is only a problem when it’s about something that should be absolutely prohibited. To say “white kids have too much impunity” or “black kids have too much impunity” requires the identification of specific things they should be proscribed from.

    Impunity should be the default setting for all of us, with clearly identified and agreed specific exceptions of the nature of “your right to swing your fist ends where my face begins”. Let’s get out of their verbal trap and agree that in general, impunity is to be celebrated for everyone!

    Hence, complaining about her action because of her “impunity” makes no sense.

  10. Rob McMillin

    Because of this, Burnett concludes that it’s not a sign of immaturity, but “a symptom of assumed impunity.”

    At some level, isn’t this Burnett simply asserting the ability of mind-reading?

    Unlike, say, lying in wait to murder someone, actual motive here is far from clear-cut.

    1. SHG Post author

      That was the point, that someone who believes will project the reason onto others that validates her belief.

  11. ETB

    “But that is so precisely because every white person beyond the age of accountability (8? 10? 12?) knows that it’s not a word that white people should say or write.”

    This is about where I’d embed a video of John Wilkes Booth’s song about Lincoln in Stephen Sondheim’s “Assassins” or any number of artistic works in which a white person has written (and said or sung) the word that shall not ever be said or sung or written by a white person.

Comments are closed.