The phenomenon of “cancel culture” only creates an environment of hostility across various social media platforms. For those unfamiliar with the concept, it involves publicly calling out, shaming and boycotting celebrities and their products. However, its usage has stretched beyond celebrities and is now used to target the average citizen. As a result of cancel culture , ordinary people have faced consequences such as losing their jobs, being shunned by friends and family, or having to remove their online presence.
Cancel culture is believed to create a sense of accountability for those who say or do controversial things. Instead, it creates an environment where harassment and bullying are accepted and embraced. Social media gives anyone the opportunity to weigh in on the person being “canceled,” which not only jeopardizes that person’s safety, but also puts them at risk for being alienated completely. Unfortunately, that is sometimes the goal in these types of cancel culture situations.
A few days ago, I was scrolling through social media when I came across a reposted picture of a woman wearing a shirt that said the words “Drunk Wives Matter” in the style of a BLM (Black Lives Matter) shirt. Out of curiosity, I clicked on the original post to read the comments. In a matter of minutes, people on the platform had joined together to find this woman’s employer, her property owner, extended family and even the person who watches her dog. Several had already contacted her employer and her property owner in hopes of getting her fired from her job and out of her apartment.
While her decision to buy the shirt and post a photo of it was deplorable, those who were “canceling” her do not seem to understand it that only creates a sense of resentment. In a country where repairs to relations are already crucial, it seems unnecessary to cause extra harm. It is not creating a sense of accountability for her actions; it is simply harassment. Those who took part in “canceling” her felt a sense of power and purpose in doing so, but the action did not address any of the institutional issues that come along with it. There is a reason this woman decided to buy the shirt and then post it for everyone to see. It does not make her a white supremacist; it makes her an incredibly ignorant and uneducated person. Chances are, she does not understand why. “Canceling” her is the opposite of the educational culture that we must instead create.
When someone is experiencing hate, especially over social media, their first instinct is to defend oneself and justify their actions. They are not going to be open to hearing what others say and instead are put on the defense, seeing every comment as a threat. If this woman genuinely believes that she did nothing wrong, she is either going to stay silent or seek affirmation from others who also believe that her actions were not wrong. She is going to disregard the commentators as “haters” or those who are just overly sensitive to a shirt that she thought was funny. The next day, there will be someone else being canceled, as this is a temporary situation for her.
The constant instances of cancel culture solve nothing. There are greater issues beyond this single woman buying a shirt. The shirts are openly mocking Black Americans struggle for justice in this country. Someone decided to create and market these shirts to the public, and a quick Google search confirms just how many retailers have hopped on the trend. These retailers only believe that their product is marketable due to the Fox News personalities and members of Congress who reinforce the belief that BLM is not something to take seriously, but to mock.
This country is dealing with not just deeply rooted white supremacy, but the certain phrases such as “white privilege” and “Black Lives Matter” trigger those who do not understand the foundation of those phrases. As I mentioned before, the first reaction is often justification or deflection, which is why we hear “I don’t have privilege” and “All Lives Matter” in response. There is a conspicuously obvious educational gap when it comes to the coverage of American History. Non-people of color have a moral duty to understand why systemic racism exists and persists in this country.
Cancel Culture must become educational culture. Former President Obama weighed in on cancel culture, saying “That is not activism,” to those who take part in the public harassment and shaming of others. I include his quote not because he was the first Black president, but because he spent years in his early twenties supporting and working on grassroot campaigns. As a young person who also takes part in grassroots activism, it is deeply troubling to hear cancel culture being expressed as activism.
Instead of taking part in the hateful rhetoric, I urge others to instead concentrate their efforts into voter’s rights organizations, civil rights organizations, LGBTQIA+ organizations, or wherever their passion drives them. There are too many who face lawful discrimination to this day, and the focus should be on extending equal rights to all Americans. Racism and ignorance do not deserve a platform and cancel culture does just that. Instead, we need use those same platforms to amplify the voices who are pushing for positive change, rather than allowing others to pull us decades back.