Chances are you’ve heard the phrase “cancel culture.” It’s a concept that is polarizing — some people think it’s a tool to sow division. But in reality, it’s a type of action that can have varying degrees of effectiveness. When a person finds themselves being cancelled, it’s because they’ve done or said something harmful. So people will decide that they’re no longer worth supporting. Cancelling someone has various levels of reach, whether it be a person losing their cultural foothold, or in more severe instances, losing their jobs or endorsements. Some will argue that cancel culture is too extreme, but cancelling someone is about accountability. People should know their actions have consequences.
In the last ten years or so, the meaning of cancelling someone has evolved. It originated from Black twitter in 2014. Back then it was fairly innocuous — sometimes the reason for cancelling someone was a joke. But sometimes the reasoning was serious, even if the actions weren’t. But as more people began to catch on to the phrase, it became so much bigger, and sometimes had for more severe effects. Men found themselves cancelled after sexual harassment allegations as a result of the Me Too movement to varying degrees. People going on racist or homophobic tirades publicly found themselves facing cancellation too. You don’t have to be famous or a public figure to be cancelled either. Regular people can face these same consequences.
We’re seeing a lot of conversation around cancel culture thanks to politically right wing supporters. As people they see as champions face consequences for their beliefs, conservatives are calling cancel culture a problem. But it’s not that people are losing their livelihoods because they’re conservative. It’s what they’re doing with that conservatism that’s the problem. Participating in the Capitol insurrection isn’t just exercising your civil rights, it’s doing active harm. And if that’s how you express your beliefs, you deserve to face financial loss.
It’s easy to blame cancel culture when people are held accountable for their actions. But holding someone accountable for their actions is seriously the bare minimum at this point. People know better and still do something wrong. That means they don’t think they’ll ever face any sort of repercussions. So what’s the only way to get your point across? You make them face repercussions. Either they’re going to learn a lesson or not. And unfortunately that isn’t something we can control. But we can do the bare minimum here and make sure they don’t get off the hook. They may not learn anything in the long term, but perhaps they’ll think twice about making the same mistake twice.
Let’s use for example Amy Cooper, the white woman who tried to have a Black man arrested in Central Park. When Christian Cooper (no relation) reminded her she isn’t allowed to have her dog off-leash in the park, she got big mad. So she decided to call the cops and report that she was being harassed. Now, she knew exactly what she was doing by calling the cops on a Black man for “harassment.” Doing that can be a death sentence. All because she was mad that he called her out for breaking a rule. As a result of the story becoming headline news, Amy Cooper faced the consequences of her actions. She was fired from her job and temporarily lost her dog as a result of her actions.
Some will say that this is cancel culture going too far. But it’s not, not even a little bit. Because Amy Cooper was well aware of what she was doing. When she called the police, she knew what could happen. Especially when using the phrase “threatening my life.” There’s no way you can say she was doing anything other than trying to get that man hurt. You can’t call the police on a Black man for no reason and not expect there to be no consequences. Not when there is video evidence to show you’re up to no good. And especially not last year, when there was actual reckoning happening. She’s lucky that all she lost was her job. While it doesn’t undo the harm, it will hopefully give her pause the next time she thinks about doing it.
This is an important thing to remember when it comes to cancel culture. No one is 100 percent cancelled solely for their views. It’s what they choose to do with those views that gets them in trouble. Often, the views they’re sharing can actively do harm. Amy Cooper was looking to put Christian Cooper in harm’s way. She wanted him to suffer for his existence. It’s the same thing with the actress who recently got fired from “The Mandalorian.” She chose to share her incredibly bigoted thoughts in a public space. By sharing those thoughts, she was doing emotional harm to the fans of the show. There are people from those marginalized groups who saw what she said. Can you imagine if someone you admire made it clear they don’t think you’re a valuable person? That is nothing short of devastating.
When someone has a large platform, they know they’re going to be held to a different standard going forward. And it’s not even a different standard. People who think others are less than equal (or worse) shouldn’t be able to have a platform. Because they’re going to do a lot of harm using that public forum to spew hate and nonsense. They should know their line of thinking is dangerous and will hurt someone. There are definitely other people out there who think like them. And by seeing that someone with a larger platform can get away with it, it’s a slippery slope. Because then they feel like they can get away with it too. And that can cause even more direct harm.
Deplatforming people with harmful beliefs is just that: giving people less space to spread their harmful way of thinking. We shouldn’t enable people to be openly shitty and not face consequences. And it’s not about differences of opinion when it’s something like racism, transphobia, antisemitism or sexual assault. These are ideologies that can lead to people losing their lives. That isn’t something that you can explain away as a difference of opinion. Those “opinions” are dangerous as fuck. And if you want to put that shit on display, you shouldn’t be allowed to have such an outward facing place to do so.
If people lose their job because they try to inflict harm on a marginalized person or group, it’s a small price to pay in the grand scheme of things. Because if they’re willing to espouse that rhetoric publicly, imagine what they must be like privately. A white woman who will call the cops on a Black stranger will undoubtedly do the same to a Black person they actually know. Even if they claim to be cool with Black people, the level of trust is broken. How could Amy Cooper’s Black co-workers ever feel comfortable with her at work? If her company has Black clients, they risk losing business by keeping her employed. Because what Black person is going to trust her with their business? She’s proven that she’s untrustworthy, and she should face consequences.
Cancel culture isn’t a symptom of an overly sensitive society. It’s a course of action in which people are deservedly being held accountable. If you’re afraid of losing everything because of your beliefs, chances are your beliefs are harmful. And if you’re willing to share them in a place where they can do harm, you deserve to lose everything. That’s the only way we can begin to move forward.