Resurfaced 10-year-old racist tweets from beloved influencer couple prompt conversation about cancel culture

The fuss around the fairy-tale wedding of influencers Lunden Stallings and Olivia Bennett came to a screeching halt this week when the couple’s past racist tweets resurfaced.

The backlash from Stallings’s tweets prompted the couple, who were on their honeymoon, to film an apology video, which they uploaded onto a TikTok Story that disappeared after 24 hours. Screen recordings of the apology showed Stallings, with Bennett in the background, explaining that her usage of racist language was from when she was a teenager growing up in the South.

“That’s not who I am today,” Stallings says. “That’s what kills me the most, that at one point in time I thought that that was OK, I thought that that was normal.”

“It’s truly just a really unfortunate and disgusting and ignorant mistake that you made as a teenager,” Bennett adds.

However, tweets from Bennett from 2012 were discovered on Thursday using similar language.

Many social media users were unimpressed with the couple and their fans for suggesting that thinking racist language “was OK” 10 to 12 years ago was an excuse.

“Growing up…in the era of 2012??” one Reddit user asked. “Nobody who came of age in the 21st century with access to the internet should be confused about the fact that this word is racist.”

Former fans of the couple were frustrated because they had leveraged their very public relationship as “proof” that LGBTQ perception in the South was changing and that they were fighting to make it more inclusive.

In the People magazine write-up of the wedding, which took place in Georgia, Bennett said, “There was nobody back then that looked like us, that was represented as a lesbian. … We’re very grateful that we’re part of this movement.”

(Some social media users are additionally accusing the couple of picking a former plantation for their wedding venue; however, Naylor Hall was not a plantation — although its history does have ties to the Confederacy.)

“Their initial appeal was derived from the paradox they present: two Lily Pulitzer ladies emblematic of Southern class and grace embrace progressive values and each other,” Jezebel reporter Kady Ruth Ashcraft wrote. Ashcraft argued that when the racist tweets resurfaced, it showed that “these two lesbians are de facto queering that [Southern] aesthetic, but they’re simultaneously upholding it, too.”

Others also pointed out that the couple, who share a joint TikTok account with almost 700,000 followers, have not posted a permanent message or statement regarding the tweets. As of reporting, the last post on their TikTok is a recap of their wedding.

The situation is not unique. There are countless examples of white influencers and even A-list mainstream celebrities who have had previous comments and social media posts resurface and reexamined for their content. TikTokers have pointed out that every wave of backlash seemingly results in the same thing: The person apologizes in a video or in a post, claims they’ve grown since then, commits to a short pause in posting content until social media has moved on and then resume what they were doing before.

“Your favorite white creator just had their racist tweets released,” creator Cameron Kira starts out one TikTok. “What’s funny about that statement is, while obviously I’m talking about Lunden and Olivia, I could say that statement every single year from now until the day I die and it will always be applicable because it happens every year.”

Clarke Peoples (@claaaarke), an influencer with over 500,000 followers, commented on not only the specific situation regarding Stallings and Bennett, but also the larger conversation of how social media seems to sweep these “alarmingly common occurrences” under the rug.

“There’s a whole faction of people in this society who are just so vehemently against cancel culture and hate it so much,” Peoples explains. “Let’s be so for real right now, if you can comment 10 people who have actually been canceled — 10 public figures who have lost their jobs, lost any source of income … lost the support of their family and friends, lost all of their followers. … [Cancel culture] is not a real phenomenon.”

Pew Research Center found in 2021 that the U.S. population’s definition of “cancel culture” is split. Some view it as a call for accountability for public figures, while others think of it as censorship or an excuse for “mob mentality” online.

“After the media firestorm ends in like a week and a half, the people who were offended and no longer support them will no longer support them and the people who [weren’t offended] will continue supporting them and life goes on,” Peoples says. “That is almost always what happens.”

Peoples also called out the majority white commenters who are quick to say they “forgive” on an apology video.

“Who are you to determine whether or not an apology or whatever is satisfactory to a group of people that you do not belong to, who are the people who are offended? They’re the ones that have historically been on the receiving end of this slur, but you’re the one who’s going to say that the apology is accepted?” Peoples asks.

Blavity, an outlet created by Black millennials for Black millennials, made a similar argument in 2018. Bishop Talbert Swan, a pastor in Massachusetts, reflected in an article that it always seems that following a traumatic experience, people of color are asked if they forgive.

“Somehow, Black people are expected to immediately forgive violence done to them by the state, government or individual white people,” Swan wrote. “Forgiveness should never be used to salve white fears that justified Black anger will hold them accountable.”

Peoples pointed out that this immediate “forgiveness” given to white creators like Stallings and Bennett is part of society’s larger issue with “infantilizing” white people. According to Peoples, who references some of her experiences growing up, the “Oh, well, she was a teenager and didn’t know” excuse doesn’t make any sense.

Bria Jones (@heybriajones), another creator on TikTok, said in a video that she also couldn’t wrap her mind around the idea that white teenagers wouldn’t know they shouldn’t say a racial slur.

“I just don’t buy that you didn’t know it was wrong because I guarantee you, even if we went 10 years back in time, you wouldn’t go up to a group of Black people and say it to their face,” Jones argues. “Why? Because you knew it was wrong.”

“We do not get the privilege of being infantilized, we’re not often seen as children who don’t know things,” Peoples concludes. “To sit here and infantilize white people when they’re teenagers — as if the N-word hasn’t always been a terrible thing to say and a 16-year-old wouldn’t know that or be expected to know that — is crazy.”

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