I’m gonna quibble over semantics in this post. Bear with me.
Cancel culture is not the same as consequences. Cancel culture is gross and toxic. Consequences are not.
Here’s how I see the difference.
Mike* has a reasonably large internet following for some reason and has built a business out of it – merch, public appearances, whatever. Mike goes on a diatribe about, say BLM or LGBTQ rights and how fucking stupid they are. It turns out, with some digging, that Mike has also publicly said some stupid racist shit, and that this is something that happens a lot. When the inevitable backlash begins, Mike posts a non-apology. You know the ones. “I am sorry if what I said offended anyone; I was just saying how I feel. It’s just my opinion.” Mike’s business tanks and he vanishes into the internet graveyard reserved for people with shitty opinions.
These are consequences. This is happening in real time. Mike had an opportunity to genuinely do some soul searching and do better, and instead he chose to double down behind “it’s just my opinion”. He deserves what he got.
Paul** was a bit of a dick in his youth. He said some stupid racist shit on Twitter. Since then he has read a lot of books and watched a lot of talks by people who know their shit and he has listened to their lived experience and learned better. He now makes solid internet content that is informed by his growth as a person and tries to keep learning and be better all the time. But, alas, someone digs up some of those shitty tweets and uses them as evidence that Paul is actually a racist piece of shit. Paul comes out and takes ownership of said shitty tweets, agrees that they are shitty and explains that he has done loads of work in the intervening years to get past that crappy viewpoint and now still constantly works to be better. The mob doesn’t care and Paul is cancelled, with no account given for the work he has done in the interim.
This is cancel culture, and is toxic. Because it doesn’t allow for the fact that people grow and change and learn to be better. I really think before we throw the baby away with the bathwater, we need to stop and consider which of these categories we’re dealing with.
People can and do change. Isn’t that what so much of our work is predicated on? I have to believe people can learn to be better, or everything I do is a waste of time, including this post. We need to encourage that, not destroy people for once having held a terrible viewpoint.
I remember seeing something once about how we shouldn’t punish people for doing the thing we keep asking them to do. If your kid never comes and hangs out with you, and then one day they do, it’s counterproductive to go “Oh! Look who decided to join us!” because you don’t know what it cost them to give it a try. “Oh hey, it was awesome to hang with you today” is far more likely to encourage the behaviour.
So when we see people GENUINELY (this bit is important) trying to learn and be better, when we see people who have actively moved themselves from a place of bigotry or casual racism/sexism/homophobia to BE BETTER, can we maybe say to them, “Wow, look how far you have come! I am so proud of you!” instead of “Gods, you once had a terrible opinion, you are now a PARIAH FOREVER.”
That’s not encouraging people to change, my loves. ❤
This is one of my life mantras:
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then do better.” – Maya Angelou. (Paraphrased slightly to make it an imperative. 😉 )
* Mike is a fictional example
** Paul is also a fictional example