The internet never forgets. And thanks to the power of the social media, things we posted online years ago can resurface at any moment to become the elephant in every room we walk into, sparking belated backlash. Yesterday’s faux pas, once uncovered, can permanently stain your reputation. You may have long forgotten the slip, having filed it under “young and dumb,” but the internet has not.
And so it’s gone with Michael McCauley, the gay plus-size model whose past social media posts have come back to incriminate him just in time to stain Abercrombie & Fitch’s new inclusiveness campaign in which he’s featured. It’s not clear exactly when he made the posts, but at least two of them were on Facebook, and in one, he wrote:
A group called “black lives matter” is blocking the streets downtown and just made me late for a crucial meeting. Thank you for making your point – I’m glad your life matters more than mine.
Social media historians began digging into McCauley’s Facebook past almost as soon as he created his official Twitter account on February 6. Detractors came out in droves in response to McCauley’s March 14 tweet about Queerty’s recent Q&A interview in which he touted the importance of diverse representation. Many screen-grabbed the original Facebook post and several shared a response to a comment under it in which McCauley made yet another damning BLM declaration.
It’s a group of extremists that don’t really represent the majority of the black community.
Unfortunately, his past public displays of racism don’t end there. In an old video someone posted on Facebook (it appears to have been made during the #OscarsSoWhite boycott of the 2016 award season), he took a time-out to rant about another black movement.
“Jada Pinkett Smith, so, uh, since you’re going to be boycotting the Oscar’s, I’ve decided I’m going to boycott the Grammys because not enough white people are nominated,” McCauley said.
It’s almost like he plagiarized scripts from a cartoon racist. Although he’s guilty of making some of the most unoriginal racist pronouncements known to black people, should he get cancelled and lose his A&F gig and all prospects of a model future over this? Well, that’s up to A&F and casting agents looking for plus-size models. Personally, I’m over “cancel culture.” But people will talk and they’ll judge, and when they’re talking about/judging you, you can either shrug it off or listen and learn.
Regardless of how McCauley and A&F ultimately decide to handle the backlash (he has yet to address it), here are four things we all can learn from this latest retroactive race scandal.
1. You don’t have to think you’re racist to be racist.
Racism is in the eye of the beholder, and McCauley probably wouldn’t self-identify as racist. I mean, who does? He’d probably say something like, “I’m just being honest.”
Newsflash: You don’t have to use the N word in public, march with white supremacists, or attend an alt-right rally to qualify as racist. Little microaggressions, even stuff that might be barely perceptible to the naked eye or ear, can give you away, especially to black people. When you’ve spent your entire life fielding side-eye and being judged by the color of your skin, hitting glass ceilings at work, and living in a society that values white over everything else, you learn how to spot racism.
2. Not every private thought needs to be tweeted or documented on video.
To be human is to be racist to a certain degree. We’re not responsible for the thoughts that cross our mind, but we are responsible for what we do with them. People blocking traffic can be frustrating, even when it’s for a good, legitimate cause. But complaining about in on social media using clever wordplay isn’t about a fleeting thought. It requires concerted effort.
It doesn’t matter if you did it yesterday, last decade, or last century. There may be a statute of limitations on certain crimes, but there’s no statute of limitations on being held accountable for one’s words. Free speech goes both ways, and unless you’re talking to yourself, as soon as you put an idea out there, you have to accept that people will respond and likely judge you for it in perpetuity.
3. Black Lives Matter matters because of the very people who have a problem with it. (And Billie Eilish probably doesn’t think the Grammys are too black.)
First off all, sorry to break the disappointing news, but Black Lives Matter is not and has never been a fringe movement. McCauley would know that if he were qualified to speak for the black community or if he were an informed white person who took black issues as seriously as he does the prejudices overweight people face.
In other words, even if he posted his Black Lives Matter complaint in the earliest days of the movement when someone may have been forgiven for not fully understanding what it stood for, his outright dismissal of it speaks volumes.
4. Those who question a minority group’s proactive measures to achieve equality are as dangerous as those who actively try to undermine that equality.
As long as white people insist that black people just shut up, they pretty much guarantee that we won’t. And dear gay men: It’s not just about you. Every oppressed group seems to think they have it worse than the others. Activism should not be a contest. If current world events have proven anything it’s that we’re all in this together.
If anyone can understand what it’s like to be part of a disenfranchised group, it should be someone from another disenfranchised group–or in McCauley’s case, two of them. Gay men know their lives aren’t as valued by society as straight lives. Overweight people know that as far as casting agents are concerned, thin is always more in.
Is it that hard to understand that blacks are in the same leaking boat? If gay men need special protection, why not blacks? We can’t criticize proponents for Straight Pride while shouting “All lives matter” on the side. More than 50 years after the Civil Rights Movement and Stonewall, it’s time to finally get this right.
Jeremy Helligar is a New York City-based journalist from the U.S. Virgin Islands and the author of the travelogue/memoir Is It True What They Say About Black Men?