[Written last night]
Woof, what. A. DAY.
If you’ve been anywhere on the web where kind people congregate, you may have seen this story in which a kid is filmed crying after being bullied. The post stood anchored to Reddit’s first page throughout the day and trended on Twitter. Thousands spoke up to support the child, including University of Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano, who spent Sunday with the kid, and Tumblr favorite and all around good person Chris Evans invited Keaton Jones and his mother to attend the Avengers: Infinity War premiere next year. Gal Gadot even offered kind words.
But, it seems context may transform this into a very different kind of story. After he offered kind words to the boy, scammers tried to approach MMA Boxer Schilling, perhaps related to a fake GoFundMe account, pretending to represent Keaton’s mother as a Racist profiteer. To complicate matters, Keaton’s mother appears to be genuinely racist, as the above link will show. In a Twitter Post by Keaton’s sister, apparently, the family denies that Keaton’s mother is a Racist (but doesn’t address the posts that indicated this), that they set up a Go Fund Me, even that they spoke to Schilling.
The sister also denies accusations that had arisen directed at her brother, namely that he was the instigator of bullying, calling African American schoolmates the N-Word, and that the video occurred after their retaliation. While I have yet to uncover the source or verification for these rumors, they might be true.
But it doesn’t matter.
People who wrote to back this kid, you were right to support a victim of bullying. As far as you knew at the time, he was. Whether or this kid’s mother fudged the truth behind posting this viral video, whether or not the kid started it is irrelevant to the good these sentiments did to the countless victims of bullying who saw and read them. This kid may be among those, he might not be, but speaking in support of the victims of bullying demonstrates the healing power of community and compassion. The instigation of that display is irrelevant to the good the display does. If Keaton turns out to not have been bullied, it will simply reduce the astronomical number of those who needed to hear it and did by one.
To the celebrities who reached out with gifts and platform, perhaps this is a time for reflection. Is too little research done before you lend the relative weight of your voice to victims, are extravagant gifts given too readily or maybe should not have been given? Perhaps, I assume the answers are highly dependent on the situation and this instance is one in a menagerie of celebrity outreach opportunities all of which need to be considered individually. If you are burnt out on this, or feel like the controversy is burning you out, maybe step back until the matter can be viewed with the clarity of hindsight. But I don’t think these actions are inalienable from the goodwill that offered them, nor the culture of amplifying victim’s voices and bolstering them in their struggle of which these gestures are a part. A culture that needs more nurturing and less pessimism.
To those criticizing/laughing at the people who offered compassion for Keaton or are debating those who are bringing in concrete details about the situation and calling for consideration of context: your services are not needed. On one hand, it’s reasonable to say many of these encouragements were given about a situation that was not widely understood at the time and may not be fully understood now. But on the other hand, that doesn’t make the calls of support presumptuous; the story was reasonable and the encouraging response was a reasonable response to that story. What value do we have in ridiculing kindness? We cannot observe the context of the video while eschewing the context of the kind responses, namely that the message of encouragement and empathy they carry to all victims of bullying is sorely needed and never wasted on a public audience.
Criticizing those who bring up the mother’s racist posts or further details on Keaton’s behavior isn’t helpful either. We lack the power to limit Keaton’s situation to a palatable level of simplicity simply by silencing new sources and unheard form perspectives. We shouldn’t assume that doubters of the story are malicious, and there is no threat in the possibility that we sympathized with the perpetrator and not the true victim. We can know that we acted out our moral reasoning on the situation that was presented to us, that we have demonstrated our willingness to listen to and support victims of bullying, and have given that support to any victim in our individual audiences.
What I’m trying to say is that people can be misinformed, and yet standing up for victims of bullying is still right. We can admit our fallibility as humans while being faithful to our moral center. Racist trolls could have taken advantage of our goodwill, and yet standing up for victims of bullying is still right. We can be fooled, but that’s not the same thing as being Wrong. The right person may not have been the target of our sympathy and reassurance, and yet standing up for victims of bullying is still right. We can be in doubt of the details of this situation while still being certain that our message of broad support was heard by those who are made to feel isolated by bullying.
As long as our moral certitude is affixed to altruism and the human dignity of all people, as long as our messages of encouragement are addressed to all victims of bullying and we welcome those who can to come forward to seek community and care, we accomplished demonstrable good. If not without imperfection this time, we can work on improving our effect next time, and take heart in our will to do just that. Not allowing pessimism to rob you of that hope is the next step in strengthening a movement that can change the prevalence and nature of bullying in our society. Don’t stop encouraging and listening to victims.