Kyle Kashuv won’t be going to Harvard next year. The young gun-rights activist and survivor of the February 14, 2018, Parkland school shooting that killed 17 of his schoolmates had his admission rescinded once Harvard learned that he had used racial slurs while editing a document shared with friends, including a reference to a black classmate as a “niggerjock.” Kashuv apologized for his past remarks, but also criticized Harvard for its own racist past, arguing that rejecting him was “deciding that someone can’t grow, especially after a life-altering event like the shooting.”
The news of Kashuv’s rescinded admission sparked anger on the right, where pundits such as Ben Shapiro accused Harvard of being “disgusting,” arguing that in “a normal world, [his apology] would have been enough.” Mainstream media outlets have been similarly enraptured with the story, which not only touches on recurring questions about redemption and forgiveness, but also fits neatly into the class concerns of the media elite. Newsrooms are more male, less diverse, and more educated than the American workforce at large, so the children of most journalists are unlikely to be the targets of racial slurs.
Young people are being more frequently deployed as advocates and symbols in American political disputes. Both right and left have their young champions, and both sides sometimes forget that, despite their presence in the public eye, these are, in fact, children. That perspective should not be lost in a haze of rage over their political advocacy. At the same time, to paraphrase James Baldwin, children may not listen to the adults in their lives, but they never fail to imitate them. Perhaps Kashuv’s remarks were just an example of a teenager pushing the limits of decency, as some teens are wont to do—or perhaps, like many of his peers, he perceives the essence of Trumpism to be something adults are loath to acknowledge. As Alex Pareene put it, “Teens, while quite good at figuring out ways to hurt people, are less skilled at plausible deniability.”