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Why we need to cancel “cancel” culture
Click. The tweet is sent out, and it is only a matter of seconds before the world decides your fate.
The first response comes rolling in. “Wow! She is really going to undermine BLM like that?”
The second comment isn't much better. “She needs to learn to read the room.”
And the third comment is the inevitable. “She is cancelled.”
“Cancel culture” has become a complicated trend on social media, fueled by recent political and social movements like Black Lives Matter (BLM). It goes something like this: someone will say something or do something that is called out as offensive. Soon backlash erupts, and people boycott by inciting mob mentality to “cancel” the offender. This often results in a refusal to support the offender's business, services or social media platforms in an attempt to ruin their reputation.
Recently a famous influencer and Youtube star, Colleen Ballinger (better known as Miranda Sings) was “cancelled” when old videos surfaced of her making fun of Latina stereotypes and making unnecessary remarks about individuals who are overweight. Due to this, she lost support and received vast amounts of hate from those who were previously fans. This is one of just many examples of a Youtuber who has been impacted by cancel culture.
“Cancelling” does not only happen to social media influencers. Activists, journalists, authors and even academics are getting cancelled because of how openly they voice their opinions in their work.
Recently 150 liberal writers and activists signed an open letter called “A Letter on Justice and Open Debate” in Harper’s Magazine to petition against the toxicity of cancel culture. Signatories included people like Margaret Atwood, Bari Weiss, J.K. Rowling, Noam Chomsky and even Gloria Steinem.
Although it is important to make sure people face consequences for their actions, cancel culture is not the way to go about it. I am here to tell you why we should “cancel” cancel culture.
Cancel culture doesn't bring about change
A component of cancel culture is call-out culture. People have been encouraged to call out people for their racist or close-minded actions or words spoken in intended allyship to LGBTQ+ and BLM communities. Although call-out culture points out people’s mistakes, it fails to take the extra step of teaching people how to not make the mistake again. Does this really bring about change?
In an interview with USA Today, Barack Obama said that young people sometimes think that the way to bring about change “is to be as judgemental as possible about other people, and that's enough.” He continued, “That's not activism. That's not bringing about change.”
Willow Smith also contributed to the conversation around cancel culture in a Red Table Talk episode in honor of Juneteenth.
"[Cancel culture] is so prevalent right now... I'm seeing people shaming others, saying really terrible things, shaming people for what they're choosing to say, or shaming people for not saying anything at all,” she said. “But I feel like if we really want change, shaming doesn't lead to learning.”
Instead of hating and shaming people for their mistakes, we have to encourage them to listen and be aware of their implicit biases. We should learn more about why people feel or think the way they do and work to help them change their mindset. By doing this, we can help people become aware of prejudices that they may not have realized they had.
Cancel culture is a form of unfair punishment
Cancel culture can affect anyone, ranging from celebrities to high school students. What makes cancel culture controversial is that many wealthy celebrities or established brands with the help of public relations consultants can quickly bounce back after being cancelled.
On the other hand, high school students, college students, minorities or smaller businesses may be impacted in ways that permanently impact their future. Even at my own high school, some students were exposed and cancelled for racist behaviors and are now at risk of having their college admission rescinded.
Although it is hard to look past their mistakes, it is essential that they are educated rather than cancelled so they can pass down this new knowledge and awareness to future generations. Though some people need to face the consequences of their actions, the public’s goal should be to help people enter discussions about topics like race and sexuality with an open mind.
Cancel culture breaks people down instead of building them up
In a world of sexism, racism and hatred, we activists must stand together to create change. Instead of using our differences to unite us, cancel culture divides us.
As Jada Pinkett Smith, actress and host of Red Table Talks, said in the Juneteenth episode, “…people are going to have different views about a whole lot of stuff, specifically in these times.”
In the open letter mentioned from Harper’s Magazine, writers, artists, journalists and academics defended freedom of speech. They encouraged discussions of comprise and reform instead of automatically shutting people down for having a differing opinion.
“The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted,” the letter stated. “... censoriousness is also spreading more widely in our culture: an intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty.”
We need to recognize that some people are born into privileged lifestyles that shield them from racism or sexism, and some people have experienced it firsthand. People are bound to make errors, as they don’t fully understand what life is like as a member of a minority group — learning from these mistakes is part of the process of growth. Instead of shunning each other from society when we make errors, we need to focus on lifting each other up through education and support.