2021-22 Letters to the Editor
Pictures of the Met Gala quickly surface throughout social media. People compare Kim Kardashian to a dementor from the Harry Potter series, hate on ASAP Rocky’s clothing choice, and discuss the abundance of people who didn’t fit the gala’s theme this year. Pictures of progressive Democratic politician Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) in a wedding-like white dress appear. Her back faces the camera and red duct tape crudely spells out “TAX THE RICH.” Angry captions and comments accompany the photo as it moves through social media. Some people are fed up with AOC’s “performative activism.” One popular Instagram comment states, “Nothing like pulling up in your Tesla to go to a $35k event.” People pushed back in response, stating that it was a professional courtesy she tried to make a political statement with. Politicians are often invited to the Met Gala and it can be seen as part of their responsibility to attend. AOC was invited and didn’t pay for a ticket. Other comments argue she should have been outside the Met Gala with BLM (Black Lives Matter) protesters instead of toasting with the very rich she wanted to tax. Regardless of the discourse, AOC has now been “canceled”.
What is cancel culture and what does it mean? For the last two years, Nobles’ adults have somehow discovered cancel culture, yet their rules pertaining to the subject seem very detached from the social media-based world of cancel culture I’m familiar with. Cancel culture, also known as call-out culture, is by my definition a culture that points out and ostracizes those who are deemed to have done something socially unacceptable and/or harmful. According to the Pew Research Center, the term originated from slang in the 1980s; to “cancel” meant to break up with someone.
Regardless of my definition, however, cancel culture is very complex. Many use cancel culture similar to its origins; they stop putting a person or entity on a pedestal and relinquish support until they are held accountable. Essentially they “break up” with said thing, until the perceived problem has been resolved. It can be a way of putting up boundaries; as a queer black person heavily immersed in social justice, that’s the case for me and many people I follow and know.
A person stays “canceled” when they refuse to own up to their mistake and the resistance is perceived as a malignant offense. Blatant ignorance and most microaggressions are perceived as intentional, especially after the outburst of social justice resources and education in 2020. Many activists don’t feel it’s appropriate to let go of transgressions that are well-known to be deeply offensive and oppressive for decades. Someone with a “habit” of saying slurs on social media cannot just be “forgiven,” but rather face the same consequences they would in real life. Of course, within this particular community of cancel culture, you can redeem yourself the same way you would in real life. This is by apologizing, truly understanding the harm you caused, and getting rid of said negative behavior that got you canceled in the first place. A conscious effort, not done out of spite or in effort to stop negative attention, is always welcomed and wanted. Being canceled in this context means you did something wrong, not that you, as an individual, are bad. The action or behavior is not seen as you in your entirety. Canceling is not a way to shame. It is a way to assert boundaries and demand due respect for yourself and others.
However, others use canceling as a way to justify bullying and/or violence towards people. It is internet trolling disguised as activism; people like this are often called “performative activists.” Generally speaking, performative activists are people who have zero ties or no real connection to social justice; their so-called “activism” just regurgitates or even takes all credit for providing and spreading social justice education. Their “activism” is a performance based on trying to be seen as socially, politically, and morally correct as possible. Of course, actually encompassing all these things means there is no need to check others in an effort to show your superiority to the person you “corrected” or “canceled.” In the cancel culture I talked about before, what is demanded is basic respect (some might even say human “decency”) whilst this version is all about being seen as progressive (or as conservative, in some cases) as possible solely to win approval, positive reception, and “clout” or recognition.
This seems to be the community Nobles’ is very against, and reasonably so. However, the addition of “forgiveness” is something people on both sides are extremely tired of hearing. I do not need to “forgive” or “empathize” with someone who called me a slur that has been known to be a harmful word for centuries. I do not have to forgive someone who is repeatedly transphobic despite the resources for self-education on the walls of this school. I do not need to forgive anyone with any “-ism” or phobia that goes back decades. To be forced to do so is the same reason true accountability or understanding never happens. It is the same as forcing a little kid to apologize when it is apparent they don’t actually care about the person or situation at hand. It creates even more “performative activism” and generally perpetuates negative behavior with more intensity in private, whether through internal thoughts or in group chats.
Cancel culture is important and has existed for decades. In most cases, it is
about disillusionment and deglamorization, particularly of public figures. In its worst cases, it is fleeting and perpetuated by those that don’t actually care about social justice or reform or so-called radically progressive ideas. Although I understand and empathize with those who refrain from using the words “cancel” or use it in a satirical sense, I personally will not be “canceling” cancel culture. I think it is an important and telling aspect of social media and American culture that I can’t dismiss or ignore.
Marieko Amoah (Class I)
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