Is cancel culture stunting the growth of America?
By Autumn Brown, Senior Editor| Reading Time 2 mins 30 secs
Unless one has been living underneath a social media rock, cancel culture is a phrase that is well known and common in today’s sociopolitical climate. Cancel culture is when the general public withdraws support or cancels a public figure or place after doing or saying something considered objectionable.
When someone or something is “canceled,” it is null and void. In January 2018, the famous clothing store H&M photographed a young Black boy in a hooded sweatshirt with the phrase, “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle,” plastered across his chest. You guessed it… canceled! I haven’t shopped in H&M since.
Cancel culture is a way to hold people and places accountable for offensive behavior but has it gone too far? Is cancel culture a mob mentality or an essential tool for social justice?
I wonder if this phenomenon inhibits one’s ability to grow in their beliefs. We’re currently living in a world where we want people to grow in their understanding of others’ experiences. If depolarization is genuinely the goal in this nation, we must be honest about what cancel culture does, and what it does is isolate us from people we’re supposed to be reaching. If we cancel everyone and everything with differing views, we surround ourselves with “yes” men; what good does that do as we work toward upending our nation’s polarized state? Is cancel culture stunting the growth of America?
Lil Wayne is canceled, and he is exempt from the message I am trying to land here. That stunt he tried to pull before the election (throwing his support behind Tr**p) was dangerous, and why I will always skip ‘Go DJ’ no matter how fire the song is.
Canceled is the evolution of the phrase “to murder” and dates back to the 1990s. In the 1991 popular film, New Jack City, Nino Brown (played by actor Wesley Snipes) dumps his girlfriend by saying, “Cancel that b**ch. I’ll buy another one.”
Canceled, or cancel culture, took ablaze in the mid-2010s when Black Twitter would cancel public figures or places around discrimination and racism issues. Cancel culture taps into the public’s consciousness, much like the #MeToo movement. And if a celebrity is canceled, they risk losing their careers, reputation, and future work opportunities; though, some figures risk losing their lives as they know them.
It’s hard to call whether or not cancel culture is advantageous in today’s climate, as very few canceled celebrities or places have suffered professional setbacks. But within Black culture, the act of canceling dates as far back as the Civil Rights boycotts of the 1950s and ’60s.
Anne Charity Hudley, University of California-Santa Barbara professor, described canceling as “a survival skill as old as the Southern black use of the boycott.” To cancel someone is akin to boycotting–a person as well as a business.
Hudley studies Black vernacular and the use of language in cultural conversations and says, “If you don’t have the ability to stop something through political means, what you can do is refuse to participate.” In a way, cancel culture grants us individual agency to decide who to support and why or why not.
As individuals, we may not have the power to change structural inequalities, but we still have power beyond measure. So canceling Kanye is a statement that says, ‘we elevated your social status, your economic prowess, and we’re not going to pay attention to you in the way that we once did.’ So while I may not have far-reaching global power, I do have the power to mute Kanye and his blasphemous “Christian” music.
Despite which side of the argument you are on, in thinking about cancel culture, an important question to ask is whether canceling gives us more than a short-term release of cathartic anger.
Autumn Brown is a doctoral candidate in social foundations of education at Oklahoma State University. Social foundations analyzes and explains educational issues, policies, and practices through the lenses of history, philosophy, anthropology, sociology, and cultural studies. Its goal is to improve the educational experiences for members belonging to marginalized groups. Her dissertation will be educational biographies of Clara Luper, Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher, and Nancy Randolph Davis. She also researches racial body politics, sexuality, and intimate justice for black women. She has published a book chapter titled “Breaking the silence: Black women’s experience with abortion,” and has presented her work on the intense policing of the black female body nationally. Autumn plans on continuing her pursuits in bringing awareness to the injustices imposed on members within her community, and advocating for equitable education for black and brown students. She plans on finishing her Ph.D. in December 2020 and hopes to move into a tenure-tracked faculty position at a top tier research university or into the Non-Profit Sector.