Following on from my last post on colourism, another recurrent theme was calling for those who got exposed to be cancelled. Over the past few years on social media, I have noticed that cancel culture has become increasingly problematic. Does cancelling someone ever work? What are the repercussions?
What Even is Cancel Culture?
Cancelling (to cancel a person) is defined as an end to the support a person and/or their work receives. It is normally in response to controversial or offensive statements or behaviour and results in the person being called, usually on social media. This typically leads to a loss of endorsements/opportunities, a change of public opinion about them and usually forces them off social media. Suddenly, thousands of people are attacking you or demanding that you apologise for what you have done. Cancelling has now become the automatic response to these statements or behaviours which is what I mean when I say cancel culture.
My issue with cancel culture is that it lacks consistency and sensitivity. You may be cancelled, and rightly so, for racist comments and violent behaviour but also because you disagree with popular opinion or you don’t like a certain person. You may lose your livelihood and never make it back or you may just have to apologise, and your career barely gets touched. This is what I mean when I say there is a lack of consistency with cancel culture. I find it so annoying knowing that some people will get away with it and some lives are ruined. I also think cancel culture reflects issues of gender, race and class and being in more favourable demographic groups can protect you, in the long term, from the wrath of those who do the cancelling. One discussion that I saw during the whole twitter drama was that some lighter skinned artists and celebrities who have had their tweets exposed in the past have still managed to maintain their careers. So, the question now, is will darker skinned women be treated with the same grace? We have already seen how the conversation moved from bringing attention to the past harmful tweets of both men (mainly) and women, who were both light skinned and dark skinned, to a focus on darker skinned black women. There was no consistency in the outrage, and it seemed like most people were gunning for easiest and most visible target.
I never really know how to feel when it comes to exposing old tweets. On one hand some of these statements have been disgustingly racist, colourist, sexist etc. and those who make them should be held to account. On the other hand, some reflect the time and what was acceptable to say back then. Since then, many have learnt the damage of those beliefs and have realised that they aren’t acceptable. Cancel culture doesn’t really allow for this kind of growth, usually ignores it and is mostly out for blood. In regards to this specific drama, there was unfortunately a time in the UK amongst black communities were a certain kind of poisonous colourism and misogynoir was acceptable. Sometimes, it was even praised and allowed you to gain popularity. If you played your cards right and were funny about it, people would love you and think you were hilarious. I think it is important to note that especially for black women, this time was especially hard. It led to a lot of internalised racism, colourism and misogynoir, making you feel bad about yourself or boost your self-esteem when didn’t fit into demonised categories or had ‘acceptable’ features. You also wanted to disassociate yourself as much as possible from those categories if you did. I think this explains much of the tweets we saw from black women. Since then, there have been so many movements and discussion that have empowered black women and helped to realise that this is not the way forward. Many women had to do a lot of thinking and self-love practices to change the way they think and were exposed to more people who could help them make that change. I know for myself that when I was younger, long/straight hair was idolised and was a marker of beauty, so I wanted it. I used to beg my mum to let me relax my hair (which she didn’t let me thankfully). Since then, with the growth of the natural hair movement and changes in the way I think, I no longer think that way. I also think that I just had to grow up as well to be able to reach that stage. When you are a kid or teenager, it is so easy to take things at face value and you will never understand fully how things like racism manifests itself. Cancel culture doesn’t take these things into account. As I said, it’s out for blood. It doesn’t allow for growth and doesn’t allow you to acknowledge that there was a time when you held negative and damaging views. It doesn’t see that when you’re younger you wanted to fit in so if everyone else is demonising black women, you must join in. They don’t see that there was once a time where it was bully or be bullied.
Another thing that makes me uncomfortable about cancel culture is who gets to be the judge. It seems that any and everybody gets to judge a person’s life and that qualifies them to join in on the public shaming. Now people who don’t even grasp the context of some of the themes at play here, get to attack you. I think this is so damaging. Firstly, because it’s usually 1 vs 1000+ people and its easy for this to affect you. Secondly, if you don’t get the cultural context of the situation, you are ignoring and downplaying what the issue really is. Sometimes cancelling is biased when the incident involves multiple well-known people where some may automatically come to a person’s defence regardless of the situation. This could also mean that many will use this opportunity to attack someone they don’t necessarily like, not because what they did was wrong but because it has become socially acceptable to hold negative views about them. No one even seems to know when the cancelling has been achieved. This means the attacks keep going on and on and often go too far. I even saw people bringing in people’s dead family members. Some of the people who were so vocal about the emerging tweets, also had their own problematic tweets brought up showing that we often don’t have much ground to stand on when it comes to cancel culture.
What are the repercussions of cancel culture and does it even work? I don’t think anyone really knows. I think its works when its applied well and in the right circumstances, for example with R. Kelly. After details of sexual abuse and assault came out about the singer, public opinion about him quickly changed. Now, you’re questioned if you speak about him positively, many stopped listening to his music and I don’t think anyone would even dream of booking him or working with him. However, people still do listen to his music so has he really been truly cancelled. What do people want to gain from this specific twitter drama? People called for apologies and acknowledgment of the issue but when the apologies arrived there seemed no slowing down to the backlash and an unwillingness to accept the apology. It has never made sense to me, what do people hope to get from cancel culture.
Don’t get me wrong, I 100% believe that people should be held to account for their actions, but I don’t think cancel culture as it is is the way to do it. It often moves the conversation away from where it should be and into a weird and sometimes childish place. Not everybody has the capabilities to grasp the full extent of topics such as colourism and misogynoir and some just want a chance to bully people at a time where it seems acceptable to do so. Having thousands of people attack you does more harm than good. When it comes to the issue of old tweets, I think that how people react to being exposed today is just as important, if not more. It highlights a change in behaviour and if they are really remorseful for what they have said or done. Still, cancel culture remains a tricky and complicated subject but I wish that people would just treat each other better.