Last week, former President Barack Obama called out cancel culture for not being activism. Allowing this to persist and become our legacy will only further divide the nation. Not allowing dialogue or attempts to understand those with different views from us is the wrong path to go down in 2019.
Obama is right in warning young people that cancel culture is not a positive form of activism. It is not really even activism, as there is no attempt to make something better. While it can point out serious issues and highlight the historically-ignored situations of minorities, there is no attempt to change society in a positive way.
“Canceling” someone is like how you might stop subscribing to a magazine because they run an opinion piece labeling all black women as welfare abusers.
The article is obviously hurtful and stems from the deep racism that still persists in our society. A woke Gen Z-er will tweet at the author, call them a hateful person stuck in the past, and solve nothing.
The better thing to do is reach out and have a conversation. Explain how the article is offensive and false to the author, then listen to them explain why they feel the way they do. Only by treating someone with civility and allowing a dialogue to happen will the gap that has been growing in the United States for years start to shrink.
“Canceling” Someone Is No Joke
A recent New York Times article asked teenagers, members of Generation Z, about cancel culture. Some responded that it was not that serious and that the term was simply a joke. Others detailed times when they had been “canceled” or they had to “cancel” others.
The pain that can come from one day waking up and being ignored and cast out of your friend group is unimaginable. High school is already difficult, and being shunned for a mistake or a difference of opinions would only make it worse. It is time to learn and grow as a person. Cancel culture destroys that.
Without an opportunity to talk about how saying a racist word while singing along to a famous song is wrong, for example, how would a teenager ever learn? It will not have a positive impact on society, but rather a negative one. Those who are “canceled” may not see it as a joke. It could make them feel alienated and less willing to change their behavior.
The basis of “canceling” is taking away someone’s platform, whether that is unsubscribing from their YouTube channel or kicking them out of your lunch table. Cancel culture is really about that gut reaction you have when you hear derogatory language or see someone harassing another person.
What cancel culture is missing is the next step. Without a serious, face-to-face conversation, how can you know if that person made a mistake? If they truly meant what they said and are unwilling to listen to someone else’s point of view, cutting them out of your life is reasonable. Not letting someone learn and understand the issue and simply casting them out is not.
Who Deserves To Be “Canceled”?
People have been “canceled” for a wide range of offenses. In March, popular beauty influencer James Charles lost three million YouTube subscribers after promoting a vitamin company. The 19-year-old found himself in a feud with a fellow YouTuber and rival vitamin seller Tati Westbrook.
Other celebrities made arguably more egregious mistakes, including Kanye West. He came under fire in 2018 after suggesting that 400 years of slavery in the United States was, “a choice.” Using his platform to promote this narrow viewpoint, which ignores the work of abolitionists like Harriet Tubman, is ultimately more harmful than Charles’ disloyalty.
While both celebrities have bounced back from the scandals, cancel culture is still dangerous. Not every mistake should be treated the same. Accidentally misgendering someone whom you have just met is not the same as making repeated, homophobic comments.
Those with their hearts in the right place should not be handed the same punishment as those will malicious intentions. Generation Z should not begin its influence on the world by doing away with discussion and compromise. This cannot be the legacy we build, especially as we grow up surrounded by bitterness and divide.
Who Holds The Power In Cancel Culture?
Those who “cancel” others see themselves as the ones in power. They can unfriend and unsubscribe, changing ad revenue and promotional deals. Yet, cancellation is not forever, not even for those who commit the worst acts. If it was, Donald Trump would not be in the Oval Office because speaking so brazenly about sexual assault would be a socially-fatal offense.
Some people do face real consequences for their actions. Kevin Spacey was replaced in the film “All the Money in the World” after being accused of sexual assault. Shane Gillis lost his new job on “Saturday Night Live” after racist and homophobic remarks surfaced. Many, however, are criticized and then forgiven.
Simply ignoring someone or no longer buying their merchandise is not a solution. They still have a platform and an audience, albeit a smaller one. If no one confronts them to challenge their views or educate them on the potential harm their words or actions can have, nothing will change in the long run.
No one really holds all the cards in Generation Z’s call-out culture. Activism and positive dialogue requires work on both sides. That is the best path towards change and the only way to fix this divide in the country. That is the point Obama was making when he challenged “canceling” people and being “woke”.
Generation Z is just getting started. 2016 was our first election and, in less than a year from now, many more of us will go to the polls. The impact Generation Z will have on society is not yet known, but we should heed Obama’s warning and not let it be a culture that refuses to listen and confront problems head-on.