Forgiveness is difficult, as is redemption. One begets the other, of course, but there is an air of trepidation to the whole business of letting go and moving on.
Forgiveness summons a storm of questions: If we forgive, what does it say about us? Are we forgiving too soon? Too easily?
Eventually, if you ask enough of these questions, you could quietly resolve to never forgive again. Of course, there are things that are more so beyond reproach, people who have earned less forgiveness than others.
There are also people who have done everything—on paper and in practice—to the best of their ability, have done everything we’ve asked of them and of others in similar situations. There is the case of Brockhampton, moving forward without Ameer Vann following allegations of sexual misconduct, and the ultimate question: is it okay to forgive Brockhampton?
It is; it must be.
Forgiveness and agreement are not synonymous. If you forgive the remaining members of the group, you’re not co-signing sexual misconduct. Forgiving the Brockhampton of the present moment is not the same as forgiving or absolving Ameer Vann. That is a separate conversation entirely. Instead, forgiving Brockhampton is rewarding the type of behavior you would like to see in these situations going forward: an apology, a statement, swift and definitive action, a direct address in the music.
To talk about forgiveness, we should also touch on cancel culture and why the process of canceling is only as effective as the subsequent steps.
Cancel culture is appealing because it makes everyone feel like an activist. If a celebrity or company does something obviously morally reprehensible, we throw out the “Canceled” label on Twitter, collect our retweets and social clout, and go about our day. This is why cancel culture largely doesn't work. But, if you follow the idea of a boycott to its logical end, to the point of supporting other celebrities or businesses who need your dollar and align with your morals, then cancel culture can be a great resource for you to determine how you should move as a consumer.
We are only as good as our follow-through, which is largely shown by the use of our dollar, but also by the use of our moral goodwill.
In the case of Brockhampton, cancel culture worked. They are a unique case, too, because they are not a single person or even a duo. They are a 10-plus creative hive. Removing one key member fundamentally reforms the group, makes them a new business to follow the above analogy and primes them to realign with the morals of their core fans. Brockhampton has done everything fans could have asked of them. We must reward that behavior if we want to see more of it and if we truly wish for the group to set an example for other upcoming artists. That is, hip-hop hears from and cares for women and survivors.
Where activism requires action, the group moved about as swiftly as they could. They released a string of genuine statements. Ameer is gone. They’ve scrapped their previous album and a tour, forged on anew with the upcoming album, The Best Days of Our Lives, and addressed the situation in song with the TV debut of “TONYA.” All of their moves have been expedient and public. Most importantly, from the lyrics on “TONYA,” to the despondent live performance, the song and their actions are enveloped in genuine remorse—a prerequisite for forgiveness.
“Sometimes it be so spot-on it hurts / Like when Auntie couldn't decide between going to work or church / I've been in my feelings on an island in the dirt / I feel like brothers lie just so my feelings don't get hurt / I said, I'll try vacation, and I'll try to run away / I deleted Facebook, I'll trade fame any day / For a quiet Texas place and a barbecue plate / I'll switch my place if that's good for you; is that good for you? / My ghost still haunt you, my life is I, Tonya / Big-eyed monster, only face to conquer / I hated songs about fame 'cause that stuff meant nothin' / Until them headlines came, then first flight I'm jumpin'” —Kevin Abstract, “TONYA”
Kevin Abstract is nothing if not self-aware here, opening his verse by admitting it’s awfully on-the-nose, which is not necessarily a bad approach to take when you wish to speak candidly on such a weighty and sensitive issue. He admits to wanting to run away from the issue, to feeling misled and the larger remorse that follows the implication of believing a lie, to referencing the Tonya Harding scandal, to finally closing with the knowledge that even this gesture might mean nothing. Of particular interest is Abstract’s desperation and willingness to sacrifice himself, in what capacity we don’t know, for the greater good of the situation.
In truth, Kevin’s verse on “TONYA” is more substantive and impactful than most professionally prepared statements from far more high-profile acts. We should rejoice, then. Once again, Brockhampton are setting an example with their music and their actions, right? If only it were that simple.
Yes, Brockhampton represents a move towards a larger social good. Their music and message are a safe haven for those who live outside ascribed societal norms and feel invisible. Of course, that demographic carries with it an understandable, if not partly self-destructive, amount of skepticism and rejection.
With that, we can center our conversation around the line “I feel like brothers lie,” which speaks to the counter notion that the group was complicit in Ameer’s actions. Dive into any comment thread or spark a conversation with a grip of Brockhampton fans, and you’ll likely happen upon one or two who firmly believe the group were well aware of Ameer’s abusive ways and enabled it to either stay together or preserve their image.
This line of thinking supposes the group to be hypocrites, as turning a blind eye to Ameer’s actions would be contra to the entire Brockhampton platform. The thought is as ridiculous as it isn’t—former heroes have been letting us down for years. In the context of the “TONYA” verse, we can conclude that there was some awareness on the part of the group, why else would there be a lie at play? What we cannot and will never know, is just how much awareness there was, and by whom.
This is something we have to live with.
Yes, there is a chance that the entire group was well aware Ameer Vann was sexually harassing or abusing women. There is also a chance they thought of him as a shitty boyfriend, as he has described in his own music, but did not know to what extent. With there being more than 10 members in the group, in their shared house, there’s also a high likelihood that some of the members had no idea what Ameer was doing day-to-day. There is a chance for absolutely anything, but for us to move towards the general good, we have to assume the general best.
Forgiving Brockhampton is not an acceptance of sexual misconduct; it is a step towards the apprehension of the very actions you are worried about supporting. Where so much of sexual misconduct is predicated upon power, celebrating Brockhampton’s actions and continuing to patron them sends a message that abusers don’t always have the power. They will be apprehended; there will be a fallout.
Are the allegations against Ameer repugnant? Without question, but if we do not forgive the group, we have to ask ourselves, then, what qualifies as “enough”? What more could have been done in the wake of the allegations? If the answer is “more” without definition, then we enter into a damning space where there is no “enough,” there is no forgiveness and no redemption, and that goes against everything we stand for as a progressive culture and society.
There is no progress without the viable opportunity to earn forgiveness. Without it, sadly, very few people will be inspired to change. We have to reserve dire consequences for dire situations, otherwise, all people and all movements will be dead in the water and the water will turn grossly murky as we drown.