Over the past weekend, I saw a video that made my blood boil. In the video shared on Twitter and Facebook, a New York City man approached a young Jewish boy with a traditional Hassidic haircut and begins mocking him to his face.
"I’d be crying if I looked like that, too, bro," the grown man said to the stone-faced boy. "That’s f**ked up what they be doing to you."
In the abstract, I could understand why people found it funny; there's something humorous about the idea of a grown man tearing into a small child. It's the sort of thing where if I saw it happen in a movie, I would've laughed. But I knew that it wasn't fiction, that it was a real kid being accosted and insulted, and for publicly practicing a faith that has been subject to denigration for millennia.
One tweet sharing the video picked up more than 30,000 retweets almost entirely from people who thought it was funny. It was eventually deleted as more and more people pointed out how horrific and unfunny it actually was (you can still see it here).
The news cycle moved on, and eventually people forgot and found other social media outrages to dwell on. But then the unexpected happened. The man who posted the video, Quaishawn James, began making efforts to apologize and reach out to the Jewish community.
— Quai James (@quaijames) May 8, 2018
So this just happened 🙏🏽 today after work i went back to the Jewish community to seek forgiveness from those who have been affected & as soon as i started talking this man instantly realized who i was from the media & Asked to take a photo also invited me back for a dinner🙏🏽 pic.twitter.com/eNGutGT5Vb
— Quai James (@quaijames) May 9, 2018
In his video apology, James apologized directly to the boy, to his family, to the Jewish community, and admitted without reservation that he was wrong.
"[Jews] have been through too much. Too much. We’ve been through as much as they have. They’ve been through worse," he said. "That was just me being real immature. That was one of the most immature videos I’ve ever recorded and posted online."
"It’s my fault that I didn’t think about this while I was doing, before I even did it. I should have been more considerate and more open to other people…" he continued. "That right there was a form of bullying. I cannot take that back."
There wasn't a real pressing need for James to apologize, from a strictly PR standpoint. He's an aspiring comedian, but not one with a wide reach or a professional reputation that needs to be protected. His target audience ("Black Twitter" and Instagram, mostly) wasn't terribly offended by the video. To the extent the video received media coverage, it was mostly in the Jewish and Israeli press.
By the time James made his apology tour on Tuesday, I had legitimately forgotten all about him. It's safe to say if he had laid low and started making content again a month later, he would've been in the clear. But he did the right thing, and he did it because it was the right thing.
How rare is that these days? It's telling that some random guy of the street who bullied a little Jewish kid showed more grace, contrition, honesty, and self-reflection than professional politicians and media personalities. There was no "sorry you were offended," or "you didn't get the joke," or embarrassingly transparent denials. He owned up to his own failings.
Seriously, compare the James apology to any of the embarrassing half-apology, deflections, or denials to come out in the past week:
- MSNBC host Joy Reid's old blog turns out to have decade-old homophobic and offensive content. Instead of simply apologizing and saying her opinions have changed, Reid blames nefarious hackers (time-traveling hackers, apparently).
- NBC responds to Matt Lauer's years of sexual harassment on their watch by investigating NBC and ruling that NBC did nothing wrong.
- New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is accused by several exes of emotional and physical abuse. Instead of apologizing, he dismisses his actions as "role-playing."
- Clinton PR flunky Philippe Reines posts a creepy and sexist post about Donald Trump Jr.'s ex-wife. Only after being called out by Chelsea Clinton, he replies with an "apology" that shows zero remorse. This was only a week after he was outed for making a creepy and sexist comment to a New York Times reporter and doubled down.
- D.C. city councilman Trayon White bizarrely suggested in a Facebook post that Jews control the weather. After first doubling down, he apologized to "anyone I offended," but insisted it wasn’t anti-Semitic. Then as part of his attempt at redemption, he seemingly defended Nazis during a tour of the Holocaust museum, which he abandoned halfway through.
- On the other side of the aisle … has the Trump administration ever issued an apology, for anything? Ever?
The most compelling parallel might be Tamika Mallory, the cofounder of the Women's March. Like James, Mallory is black and was attacked for insensitivity to the Jewish community. But in Mallory's case, she refused to renounce her affiliation with the blatantly anti-Semitic Louis Farrakhan and defended the Nation of Islam.
Compared to the relentless fake apologies and doubling down one encounters on a daily basis, James is a breath of fresh air. He's human, he's imperfect, and he acknowledged that and tried to make amends when he probably didn't have to. A week ago, he displayed some of the worst instincts of humanity. Today, he's trying to redeem himself. There are plenty in the media who might want to live up to his example.