When does our past not haunt us?

When is enough enough? When do we stop dredging up ancient history to sling mud at others? I am referring to the recent spate of accusations of inappropriate sexual conduct, black face, and racially charged comments.

Now, I agree, certain behaviors should not be tolerated. Violent sexual assault and murder should be punished; but when you start digging up events that happened once, decades ago, is it really fair to bring someone down for an action that happened in their youth?

Who among us has not done something stupid, regretful, or downright illegal at some time in their youth? I certainly have and I’d hate for people to judge me today for something I did forty or fifty years ago.

If there is a pattern of behavior, such as Harvey Weinstein and his decades of unwanted sexual advances, then yes — throw the book at him.

If you have grown up in affluence and don’t understand “the links between behavior and the consequences because they are rarely held accountable for their actions,” such as Ethan Couch, the Texas teenager who killed four people while driving drunk and was sentenced to ten years probation instead of jail time, I’m so sorry — throw the book at him! How about Brock Turner, the Stanford University student who assaulted and raped an unconscious girl? His sentence was six months in a county jail, partially because the judge said prison time would have a “severe impact on him.” Turner’s father called on the judge for a lenient sentence because he had already paid a “steep price for twenty minutes of action.” The father went on to say, “He will never be his happy go lucky self with that easy going personality and welcoming smile. His every waking minute is consumed with worry, anxiety, fear, and depression.” Poor Brock. How about the girl he assaulted who woke the next morning in the hospital? Throw the book at him!

On the other hand there’s Al Franken, former comedian turned Senator from Minnesota who resigned in disgrace for a comedy skit he performed showing him groping a woman. Was there a pattern of assault or abuse? I am not privy to all the details of his life, but he was disgraced for an incident that happened decades earlier.

How about Brett Cavanaugh, Supreme Court Justice? He was confirmed even though a woman from his past tried to torpedo his nomination due to a sexual encounter decades earlier. He has no pattern of that behavior. I’m not a fan of his, but I’m glad his career wasn’t trash-canned because of one incident that may or may not have happened.

And now there is Virginia governor, Ralph Northam being embroiled in controversy because he wore blackface during a dance contest in 1984.

Thirty-six years ago. I remember Minstrel Shows when I was a kid, where prominent men of the community would blacken their faces, do a little song, do a little dance, do a little seltzer down the pants. …Times were different.

We (white folk) weren’t sensitive to the situation among black Americans. We were stupid, naive, and woefully uninformed. Were we criminal? Should those who participated in the old Minstrel Shows be prosecuted now, 30, 40, 50 years after the fact?

Social mores, the accepted traditional customs and moral attitudes, have changed, thankfully. What we once may have thought was funny or acceptable, we now realize is degrading and humiliating to other members of our society.

Hopefully we have grown as a nation. Sometimes I’m not so sure. We have a long, long way to go. But if we keep dragging up past, then socially accepted, behavior to persecute people, I think we are just as wrong as the behavior we bring to light. Convince me I’m wrong.

Robyn Near is a Ripley resident. Send comments to editorial@observertoday.com

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