Social media is known as a platform for users to express their thoughts and opinions, seemingly without censorship. However, it’s undoubtedly also a platform where users can post hateful rhetoric and deem it as mere opinion, when there’s indeed permanence to the internet that ties everyone to their word. As such, background checks are increasingly prevalent; many organizations now complete an extensive search of their applicants’ social media. As a result, it’s not surprising that colleges have rescinded admissions offers from students who’ve previously posted racial slurs.
Yet these weighty consequences weren’t initially applied to Alexi McCammond, who was appointed editor-in-chief at Teen Vogue March 5. Though her position was originally scheduled to start on March 24, she faced controversy for her anti-Asian tweets in 2011 and 2012 (which were deleted in 2019). The series of tweets perpetuate harmful stereotypes of Asians: “Outdone by Asian #whatsnew” and “now googling how to not wake with swollen, asian eyes.” While in college, she mocked an Asian teaching assistant, tweeting, “Give me a 2/10 on my chem problem, cross out all of my work and don’t explain what i did wrong..thanks a lot stupid asian T.A. you’re great.”
At first, despite controversy, it didn’t look like McCammond would go away any time soon — with reports of Condé Nast’s Global Chief Content Officer Anna Wintour remaining adamant about her choice. Meanwhile, partners like Ulta Beauty took initiative by suspending ad campaigns with Teen Vogue amid this controversy. However, on March 18, two days after the devastating hate-motivated shooting of eight people (six of which were Asian women) at spas in Atlanta, Ga., McCammond finally resigned from her EIC position.
In 2019, she briefly addressed these tweets after being called out, saying they were “insensitive.” But these tweets are blatantly racist, not just “insensitive.” This two-sentence remark in 2019 wasn’t an apology, as it had rather been communicated without sincerity or any commitment to reflecting on her past actions: “Today I was reminded of some past insensitive tweets, and I’m deeply sorry to anyone I offended. I have since deleted those tweets as they do not reflect my views or who I am today.” These simple apologies are accepted and the instance is quickly forgotten, partly because anti-Asian racism frequently gets a pass, given its normalization in American media and society. In fact, Asian Americans often have to convince others that what they’ve experienced are acts of racism as society often downplays our feelings. Back in 2019, anti-Asian racism wasn’t at the forefront of the news like it is now. So, I almost wonder if these resurfaced tweets would have elicited similar outcries if it weren’t for the current climate where anti-Asian hate crimes are on the rise and finally acknowledged.
Instead of calling her tweets “deeply insensitive” and posting her apology in 2019, McCammond should have acknowledged her actions were racist and addressed her mistakes much earlier, before others called her out for it. Soon after the announcement of her appointment, 20 Teen Vogue staffers issued an open letter to Condé Nast, their parent company, demanding these tweets be addressed again. Many subscribers of Teen Vogue and the general public expressed the same demands, calling for Alexi McCammond to be fired from her position or to personally step down with dignity.
While it’s important for people to grow by learning from their mistakes, it’s hard for the public to grant forgiveness to those like McCammond who apologize, ask for forgiveness and expect it to be granted before they make the slightest of amends. After all, there exists much difficulty in determining the sincerity of internet apologies — whether the apology is a true acknowledgement of past mistakes in order to learn and grow, or simply to save face in a critical time.
After the backlash she’d received from supporters and colleagues, she finally issued an official apology on her Twitter March 10. She victimizes herself as her apology asks the reader, “to judge (her) based on the work that (she does) from here on out.” With dramatic rhetoric from her apology also including, “This has been one of the hardest weeks of my life, in large part because of the intense pain I know my words and my announcement have caused so many of you” and “To better days ahead — of which I know there are many,” those who were hurt by her previous actions, including myself, weren’t convinced she was sincere. With slight exaggerations and mentions of the “better, happier, safer days ahead,” McCammond’s apology rather seemed like a required one in order to move forth and maintain her EIC position. Either way, this ineffective apology is very self-centered, and I wonder if it was “one of the hardest weeks of (her) life” not because she caused so much harm, but rather because she was about to lose a highly reputable job.
In her resignation letter, McCammond still fails to offer a sincere apology, instead noting that, “(her) past tweets have overshadowed the work (she has) done.” However, she could have started to actively support the Asian community after acknowledging her past tweets in 2019, but chose not to until now. Simply put, true leaders would have addressed these issues in advance and shown progress before tweets like these resurfaced, in order to come to the public with accountability, instead of another apology.
Other than McCammond’s recent apologetic statements, what truly disappointed me was how a spokesperson for Condé Nast initially stood by McCammond whilst releasing this statement:
“Alexi McCammond was appointed editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue because of the values, inclusivity and depth she has displayed through her journalism. Throughout her career she has dedicated herself to being a champion for marginalized voices. Two years ago, she took responsibility for her social media history and apologized.”
But do McCammond’s tweets show that she’s been a champion for all marginalized voices? Is Condé Nast implying that this controversy should be done, over with and forgotten about? Do they not understand why people are frustrated about the apparent lack of accountability in her apologies both two years ago and now?
To me, the tone and verbiage of this message reveals that Condé Nast doesn’t recognize the severity of this issue for the Asian American community; for many of us, McCammond’s tweets conjure up feelings of self-hatred due to years of microaggressions that have often been overlooked. Whether it be how our accomplishments are downplayed given our race or the names we’d be called for having different eye shapes, these statements deeply sting many in the Asian American community.
Though these jokes might have been normalized due to the media’s role in perpetuating Asian stereotypes, it’s time everyone comes to understand the gravity of this hateful rhetoric against Asians. Yet the cold, remorseless tone in Condé Nast’s official statement didn’t help alleviate our pain. Not only did they not display any notions of sincerity or apology, but Condé Nast rather displayed deep negligence on the issues they’ve caused with this EIC hire. If Condé Nast’s definition of McCammond taking “responsibility” is the two-sentenced tweet she sent out in 2019, I can only imagine what their definition of “racism” is. Racism includes hateful rhetoric — it shouldn’t take a life-threatening racist hate crime for Condé Nast to acknowledge: “Wow, we’ve messed up.” In other words, all forms of racism — whether verbal or physical — should be acknowledged with genuine repentance.
Teen Vogue claims to build a reputation as a platform that advocates for voices of the BIPOC communities’ youth, but the morals behind their so-called “progressive” steps are highly questionable. After the fall of teen heartthrob print magazines in the late 2000s and early 2010s, many female magazines like Teen Vogue understood that girls weren’t just attracted to fashion and beauty anymore; they cared just as much (if not more) for serious journalism. So then came their re-branding around 2016, where op-ed articles covering political issues like “Donald Trump is Gaslighting America” caused the site’s traffic to increase more than 200%. Simply put, Teen Vogue recognized that being “woke” sells. Therefore, I can’t help but wonder whether Teen Vogue’s extensive coverage of politically aware issues were motivated largely by profitability. After all, the inner-workings of the magazine fail to reflect the type of articles it publishes when the new EIC’s tweets go against basic human decency — and Condé Nast did little about it.
McCammond’s resignation is the first step towards her taking accountability for her anti-Asian sentiments. As she likely remains in the journalism world, I wish to see more done on her (and Teen Vogue’s) behalf — action that shows a true commitment to enacting change. This includes donations to different organizations like Stop AAPI Hate and Asian Americans Advancing Justice or initiating conversations with different members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community and shedding awareness on the issues and implicit biases against AAPI.
Though McCammond’s resignation was met with relief and support, it has also been met with criticism. Her friend and former fellow reporter at Axios, Jonathan Swan, continued to support her and questioned the reasons to why she resigned.
Swan tweeted, “I worked with @alexi for four years. I know her well and can say this unequivocally: The idea she is racist is absurd. Where the hell are we as an industry if we cannot accept a person’s sincere and repeated apologies for tweets when they were a teenager?”
The problem here is that someone who clearly doesn’t understand the gravity of the situation feels the right to determine that “the idea she is racist is absurd” rooted in “(her) sincere and repeated apologies.” McCammond might have been a great colleague but, as mentioned earlier, her racist comments at ages 17 and 18 have shown her excluding Asian voices from her advocacy for marginalized voices, which she didn’t make efforts to make up for until she was about to lose her prestigious job.
I wish Swan could acknowledge the fault of his friend’s actions, in lieu of labeling McCammond’s resignation an industry-wide problem of not accepting apologies or providing second chances. If McCammond didn’t resign, how could she truly take the time to reflect on her past actions? How could she promise to represent all minorities at her time in Teen Vogue? Would she ever succeed in establishing feelings of trust between the readers and the team at Teen Vogue? Instead, McCammond would have trudged on and be met with concern. Therefore, I think this break will serve better for McCammond’s future career as a period of reflection. It’s an opportunity to show genuine growth and sincere acknowledgement for her harmful tweets.
Ultimately, I believe in the power of forgiveness. I’d like to believe that McCammond is a good person, but her initial appointment as EIC was a mistake, given her inability to tangibly address and learn from her past mistakes beyond two-sentence apologies. From now on, I wish for McCammond to view this situation not as one that ruined her professional career, but a chance for redirection. A redirection where McCammond can finally prove to us skeptics that she and the industry are heading towards creating an equitable space, growing after being held accountable for their mistakes and taking action to fight biases in media representation.
MiC Columnist Rachael Kong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.