What Tory Lanez and Aaron Coleman Reveal About Our Capacity for Empathy

 

 

This past week has been… exhausting, to say the least. In case you missed it, Megan Thee Stallion recently confirmed that Tory Lanez shot her in mid-July, and Aaron Coleman, a young political candidate from Kansas, admitted to extortion and revenge porn while he was in middle school. 

These scenarios differ in that one reflects the complex dilemma Black women face when deciding to bring attention to the harm caused to them by Black men, while the other calls into question, yet again, whether we should bestow additional power onto people who have been accused of harming others. However, the reactions to both of these events reveal that society still prioritizes the livelihoods of men when they commit harmful acts over the wellbeing of those they have hurt, usually women.

In response to Meg’s revelation, she has been called a snitch and told that she “violated street code”. Some have also labeled the incident as a publicity stunt, which is reminiscent of the arguments that survivors only come forward for the fame. While it seems that most people have not tried to challenge her statement, it also seems that many wanted her to keep it to herself.

Similarly, some have responded to the Coleman situation with little concern, mainly due to his age at the time of the allegations. This bothers me for a variety of reasons.

Coleman and I are both 19 years old. Supporters of Coleman fixate on the “middle school” aspect of the situation, but middle school was not that long ago for him or me. I graduated from middle school in 2015, which was long enough ago for me to feel removed from it but still recent enough for me to remember what it was like — there’s a reason it’s largely viewed as a uniquely terrible experience. How is it that we can all recognize that middle school is a tumultuous time in our development while still discounting the actual harm some people experience, no matter how old the perpetrators? 

What people fail to recognize about the accusations against Coleman is not only that they refer to extremely recent events in terms of his development, but that his abusive behavior occurred during a time when the internet’s influence on youth in particular was expanding.

No matter how many times our school district or the local news warned us about the potentially harmful effects of social media, I still witnessed firsthand how my peers were harmed online. I can’t even count the number of times “exposing” accounts dedicated to posting students’ nudes popped up on my Instagram feed. In eighth grade, someone created a fake account under another student’s full name and set a nude photo of them as the profile picture, then sent follow requests to all of our classmates. I heard stories about a classmate who had compiled an entire Dropbox full of photos. Any time someone brought up the damage that sharing these images could do, the general response was, “well, she shouldn’t have sent them in the first place.”

To pretend like these instances of harassment don’t have long-lasting effects is disingenuous. For instance, there was a rumor that a couple at my middle school had had sex, and I didn’t find out that it wasn’t true until my senior year of high school. While I didn’t give it much thought at the time, it’s clear that the rumor had a significant enough impact on the people involved that they felt the need to dispel it years later.

Beyond analogies, the people Coleman hurt are still impacted by his actions. At least one woman told the Kansas City Star Editorial Board that he should not be running for anything. The fact that some of his actions took place online only makes the effects more severe, as those images will be forever embedded on the internet.

Social media has also exacerbated the hurt that Meg is feeling, to the point where she has had to publicly defend herself multiple times. Although other female celebrities like JoJo have come to Meg’s defense, male artists have largely remained silent while the public onslaught continues. 

Regardless of whether the internet is the original source of harm or merely compounds it, both of these situations show that we’re expected to be empathetic to men and understand what they could lose while not always extending that same courtesy to what their victims have already lost. If you find yourself in a position where you are pondering how allegations of abusive behavior can harm the person being accused, be sure to ask yourself how the accuser may have been affected as well.