Judging People From Past Homophobic Or Racist Statements?

Something I at least have thought about for some time now.

Should famous people (politicians, actors and other celebrities) be judged by homophobic and racist statements that they have made in the past? I say that, with the presumption that they at least have claimed to have changed.

And you will notice I include no names, because I don’t want this to turn into a finger-pointing thing (please don’t do that :slight_smile: ). It is, a hypothetical.

Thank you in advance for your civil replies :slight_smile:

Public figures should generally be judged for their entire record. How much weight to put on a prior misdeed if they have shown a genuine change of heart and behavior, combined with working to have done good in the world otherwise, is kind of a personal judgement call. I’m inclined to look past such things if the statements were somewhat long ago and the person no long appears to hold bigoted views and no longer spreads them. I think to do otherwise is both ungenerous and unwise, part of the goal of condemning bigotry is to promote a society in which less (or no) people are bigots. If we refuse to accept genuine changes of heart and attempts to make right by bigots, we are not giving a great incentive for people to change their ways.

It depends quite a bit on how long ago. Some of Abe Lincolns writings would be considered racist today, but he was quite progressive for his era.

It also greatly depends on whether or not the statements, etc are just outdated or true hate speech.

Jokes about gays, trans etc from decades ago should be given a pass. Same with offhand comments. However, crap like "round them up and put them in camps’ would be bigoted and homophobic even a century ago. Outdated is one thing, hate speech is another.

Boomers who can’t get over the outdated concept of “A man is a man and a woman is a woman” should be gently educated, not attacked. Name calling and attacking them just makes them stubborn. But again, they only get a mild pass on "A man is a man and a woman is a woman" stuff, not re-education camps or anything hate based. It’s okay to have held outdated ideas if you are older, as long as they are based on ignorance not hate.

If you want to go ahead, but I decide what gets a pass from me.

Society learns and develops, and individuals learn and develop. If we are to continue to promote learning and development, there must be space for the learning and development to occur. To me, this includes a certain amount of forgiveness of past sins.

The OP singles out public figures, which I think is an appropriate subset to focus the discussion on. Public figures are in the business of putting their voice out to the public, and one aspect of that is presenting compelling ideas, something that makes one take notice. Consequently, sometimes the compelling idea is one that does not stand the test of time. If the individual abandons or moves away from the bad idea or statement, then they should be given credit for that.

I can name one name, myself. Some of the things I thought and said when I was a young person in my 20’s and even into my 30’s were appalling. Someone once took the time to say a few words in my ear, it didn’t take much, and I realized (later than I should) how wrong so much of it was. All this is perhaps surprising when you consider that I was and am a member of one of the groups made most fun of and/or most vilified (gay men) at the time. It didn’t stop me from throwing shade at other people because I wasn’t bright enough to make the connection on my own (or I might have done so later, hard to say).

When I look at myself now (at age 72) I certainly cringe to think of things that I thought and said then, but I think on the whole I have made up for it. I hope so. I hope no-one is still holding those things against me (unlikely anyone would even remember, of course).

It’s very much a case-by-case basis with me, which may or may not be tempered by the notion of in vino veritas. Elvis Costello famously had a drunken racist outburst in 1979 (easy to google, it involved Bonnie Bramlett and Stephen Stills), but has been endlessly apologetic and publicly remorseful ever since, has hashed it out with African-American collaborators, his next album was basically a tribute to R&B musicians, and was active both before and after the incident with Rock Against Racism in the U.K. I don’t have much of a problem with letting that one go, but your mileage may vary.

On the other hand, RAR was founded in the wake of Eric Clapton’s drunken onstage rant supporting Enoch Powell and unloading a pile of racist slurs along with chanting “Keep Britain White.” Clapton has apologized for the way he expressed himself, but has, in the intervening decades, basically said “yeah, but I still agree with Powell.” In 2004 he called Powell “incredibly brave” in an interview. So basically, no growth there. And considering his COVID-era anti-lockdown rants, I’ll judge him plenty.

I’ll answer with a specific example.

While under contract with Ring of Honor as the ROH World Champion, professional wrestler Jay Briscoe talked about the state of Delaware legalizing gay marriage, and he tweeted, “If that makes you happy, then congratulations. Try and teach my kids that there’s nothing wrong with that, and I’ll fucking shoot you.”

He has apologized for that for the last nine years. When The Briscoe Brothers, he and his brother Mark, began a feud in another promotion with one of All Elite Wrestling’s teams, it was reported that WarnerMedia, ah… sent a strongly worded message to AEW owner Tony Khan that the Briscoes are not to be signed to AEW or any of its affiliates, including new acquisition ROH.

A lot of pro wrestling fans on the AEW fan page I’m on, on Facebook, are upset with WarnerMedia for that choice and calling it cancel culture. Similarly, Brian Kendrick was released by WWE and about to debut with AEW a few days later in a match against Jon Moxley, but a years-old antisemitic tweet got out and his debut was canceled.

Potential employment injustices aside, and apologies aside, how do you judge these two sports figures? Do you believe they have learned and changed since their previous public utterances?

Yeah, me too. We are all works in progress. I tend to think that statements from a decade+ ago, and particularly statements prior to the age of 30, should be given relatively little weight.

Well, there was the Michael Richards (Seinfeld) incident. Is he forgiven?

I am not famous, but recently had to deal with this on a personal level. A friend was occasionally sending me racist humor and I asked politely to stop. He got all offended and went on the attack accusing me of hypocrisy, since I found that stuff funny in the past. I held that I did not want that stuff any more and encouraged him to grow and learn. I got attacked more. I was not being offensive or even accusing him of being racist - I was just asking for that sort of thing not to be shared with me any more. I asked for and received an apology (I think he just wanted to be “right”). We’ll see how the relationship goes from here.

Hard to say. The Briscoes cultivate a redneck image that’s at least partially based on reality. But at least there’s a fair amount of people who were feeling that way when gay marriage was first being legalized.

Kendrick’s comments are a bit more on the side of kooky conspiracy theories.

He said that the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust was grossly exaggerated; that the Nazi gas chambers were meant to delouse and not to kill (I suppose they didn’t notice the failure the first time), and that the Sandy Hook shooting is a hoax.

He has also apologized, but he stated that those were never opinions of his. I think he’s just trying to ensure he can get a job in professional wrestling again, and isn’t really taking responsibility for his actions.

Hell if I know about Briscoe, though.

People grow, society changes. Should they be given a pass? It depends. If they have made a clear apology, which to me means they can identify what they did that was wrong. Have they made positive steps to help those groups they have wronged?

Otherwise, nope. You live with the image you created.

To simply “go forth and sin no more” is enough for me to forgive mere statements when people are young enough. People will make mistakes, they don’t need to take more steps than leading a life that shows they don’t harbor such offensive ideas.

Uh, I don’t think DrDeth was telling you how to react, as you seem to think. I believe the good doctor was merely answering the question in the OP.


Yes. Otherwise, there is no point in discussing the OP.

If it is your opinion, that if someone in the past uttered something that is bigoted today, we can never forgive them, no matter what- then that is your opinion. That is why this is Great Debates.

We also should be careful about dragging in too many current real world examples, otherwise a hijack about that one celebrity might take over.


I guess it’s sometimes unavoidable to form opinions about people, to like or dislike them, to approve or disapprove of them. But mostly, I find it easiest just to not judge people, especially people I don’t know personally and will never interact with. If there’s some reason why I do need to judge them, that reason would probably inform my answer to this thread’s question.

Yes, they still should be judged, until they show they have clearly changed. Mere claims are worthless. They need to actively advocate for the causes they were bigoted against in the past. Loudly, profusely often. And contribute in material ways as well. Anything less is suspect.

Well then, Mel Gibson is history

Let’s take John Doe. John Doe is a public figure with an image as inoffensive and good-natured.

Yesterday, documentation from 10 years ago surfaced showing that John Doe had some truly terrible thoughts about minorities, women, and fur fanciers.

Can we use that documentation to judge who John was? Yes. John was clearly a prick.

Can we use that documentation to judge who John is? That depends. Has John, as a public figure, done anything to suggest that he feels differently about minorities, women, and fur fanciers? Has he supported their causes or spoken on their behalf?

If no, in the absence of evidence that he’s changed, it’s not unfair to judge him on his own words and actions.

It is wildly important to accept that bad people can change. A just society should make outcasts of the wicked, but should also be willing to embrace them if they can show change. That’s hard, but it is important.

But words aren’t apologies. “I’m sorry I said that” means exactly nothing, and “I’m sorry if anybody was offended” means even less.

It’s easy to put evil into the world. All you have to do is open your mouth. It’s a lot harder to take it out again. That requires deeds. Absent the hard work, I’m content to assume that a piece of shit is still a piece of shit.