Camila Cabello and the Art of the Racism Non-Apology
The pop diva issued a lame non-apology after her deeply racist Tumblr from some years back was uncovered, joining the ranks of actress Gina Rodriguez and comedian Shane Gillis.
Another day, another celebrity victim of “cancel culture” that will definitely not be meaningfully held accountable for her actions.
This time, it’s Camila Cabello, Fifth Harmony-defector and one-half of the duo behind steamy Top-40 hit “Señorita.” On Dec. 17, a Twitter user posted a damning thread of screenshots from Cabello’s personal Tumblr page featuring racist memes and messages in which the pop star repeatedly used the N-word as a teenager.
The “Nicotine” singer issued a lengthy apology via Instagram story on Wednesday night. “When I was younger, I used language that I’m deeply ashamed of and will regret forever,” Cabello, who is of Cuban-American descent, wrote. “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.”
She insisted that, now that she has reached the wizened old age of 22, she is finally mature enough to understand that reposting memes that make light of damaging racial stereotypes about black and Asian people is wrong. Notably, though, Cabello herself did not describe her “mistakes” in such explicit terms. Nowhere does her apology include the word “racist” or directly address the specific communities targeted by her posts.
The singer instead used vague, euphemistic language about pain, history, and inclusivity. “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,” she said in the statement. “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.” She chalked the whole thing up to being “embarrassingly ignorant” and urged people to move on (“I can’t go back in time and change the things I said in the past.”)
It would be easier to believe Cabello’s claim that she has never harbored any divisive attitudes toward people of color if it weren’t for the sheer volume of disturbing posts. And that’s to say nothing of the content of the memes, many of which are jaw-dropping in their blatant propagation of stereotypical imagery. In addition to the inexcusable use of the N-word, some of the posts contain hateful photos or drawings, and one mocks Chris Brown’s infamous 2009 assault of Rihanna.
While any espousal of racist or xenophobic views is condemnable, the length and contents of the incriminating Twitter thread clearly go beyond what could be written off as youthful ignorance, as Cabello seems to be trying to do. The glaring absence of race in her buzzword-filled blanket apology undermines her sincerity, as does the fact that the Tumblr page remained active until she was publicly called out earlier this week. Rather than an expression of remorse for her actions, Wednesday’s Instagram story reads like a non-apology in response to getting caught. Disappointingly, Cabello’s approach to the controversy reflects a greater trend. She is one of many of celebrities who, after being confronted with indisputable receipts, have “apologized” for past incidents of racism without actually holding themselves accountable.
In October, Jane the Virgin star Gina Rodriguez came under fire for posting a video to her Instagram story of herself saying the N-word while rapping along to The Fugees’ song “Ready or Not.” The tone-deaf moment marked the latest chapter in the actor’s documented history of questionable comments regarding race. Rodriguez had attracted criticism in the past for undermining discussions of black representation in Hollywood, like in a since-deleted tweet apparently responding to the release of Marvel’s Black Panther by asking why there was not more Latinx inclusion in superhero blockbusters.
In response to the Instagram story backlash, she posted a follow-up video, saying, “I am sorry if I offended anyone by singing along to The Fugees, to a song that I love that I grew up on.” Unsurprisingly, Rodriguez’s apology was quickly deemed disingenuous and inadequate. She later did some damage control in a post to her main page, writing, “In song or in real life, the words that I spoke, should not have been spoken.” She added, “I have some serious learning and growing to do and I am so deeply sorry for the pain I have caused.”
No recent non-apology is as egregious, however, as the one that Shane Gillis issued prior to being booted from Saturday Night Live this fall. The conservative-leaning comedian had just been announced as one of SNL’s new featured players (along with Bowen Yang and Chloe Fineman) when Twitter users uncovered offensive “jokes” he made about Chinese Americans, the LGBTQ community, and women on his podcast. In one since-deleted video, Gillis mocks a Chinese accent, uses a derogatory slur, and remarks, “Chinatown’s fucking nuts.”
Instead of owning up to his ignorance and taking the obvious, old-fashioned route of humbly apologizing, he said via Twitter statement, “I’m a comedian who pushes boundaries. I sometimes miss. If you go through my 10 years of comedy, most of it bad, you’re going to find a lot of bad misses.” He then generously offered to “apologize to anyone who’s actually offended by anything I’ve said,” a conclusion that manages to be both evasive and vaguely threatening. Lorne Michaels fired him before he could even appear in his first episode of the show, and the Notes-app tweet has since been deleted.
The “sorry something I said offended you” approach to apologizing is a tried-and-true Hollywood PR tactic to place blame on the victims of language that is, at best, ignorant and at worst, hateful. Though Camila Cabello’s apology feels more heartfelt than these other examples (or, at least it is intended to be read that way), it is disheartening that it was forced out of her at the risk of jeopardizing her career. Ultimately, her refusal to explicitly label her actions as racism is just another, slightly more tactful way of saying “sorry, not sorry” and alleviating herself of responsibility.