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Getting to the Roots of Cancel Culture: Where Intentions Do Matter

A generation of justice 

To “cancel” someone has been made the virtual “ostracize”  or “shun” of the 21st century. I wonder, in a world where everyone is “connected”, is this more a symptom of society than a solution to its issues? Because, in reality, we are all just products of our environment, right? And here we are, a generation of youth stuck in a society that is an amalgamation of all those before it, trying to make sense of it all and to do justice to ourselves.

I am very much a proponent of self-education (especially regarding social issues), but have you ever had a friend (or stranger) tell you that you’ve said or done something offensive without realizing what you did wrong? You didn’t start a conversation with someone or get dressed that day with the intentions of sounding or looking socially unaware, yet it happens. And the thing that you hope for when it does happen is that whoever noticed your unintentional ignorance will  be compassionate enough to inform you of this mistake rather than attack you for it.   

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Adding trust to the relationship

We should all be open to a little moral debate for anyone willing and wanting to inform our opinions on a matter. Even if this relates to our personal ethics, there is no harm in analyzing and criticizing them. In my opinion, every major social movement should have an empathetic forethought and assessment. Consider if you made this potentially grave mistake and your life as you knew it got “canceled”. Shamed, disconnected and displaced: how would you feel if you lost your job and your friends without being given a chance to learn and grow? 

There is this concept of earned trust in a friendship (or any relationship) that I think is missing in our relationships with celebrities and businesses. For example, if someone told you that your best friend had been spreading rumors about you, you would probably go to your friend and ask for their explanation. On the other hand, in this untrusting relationship, we immediately believe that our friends have bad intentions and we cut them off – this way, no one gets closure.

It seems hypocritical to fight for social justice with hatred. MLK Jr. famously said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” I think this idea runs true in other social movements. Issues arise of people who claim to be “feminists”, yet do not support the equal rights of BIPOC, or LGBTQQIP2SAA. Of course, these issues are more complicated than I have just made them seem, but it’s important to have a thorough understanding of, passion for, and connection to these issues. Could it be hard to be personally connected to every social issue? Yes, but the traits we develop from being tolerant, understanding and caring of any issue will help us be more sensitive to the ones we stumble upon. We learn how to listen, how to be an ally, and how to check our privilege and intentions before slipping up.

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I really don’t blame anyone for participating in cancel culture, though it is fair to consider our motivations and possible alternative solutions. The way I see it, cancel culture has a substantive theoretical justification, is often abused, and has undecided outcomes for reaching the objective overall. It does spread awareness of social issues because celebrity gossip and bad news travel fast. It is often a trend that fails to consider proof of the situation or the overall character of the subject. It typically holds individuals and companies accountable only to the extent that the subject is motivated to learn and change on their own, but it is questionable whether it has done more harm or good. I really believe that we should demand more for these causes.

How we move forward

What does all this say about our current society? This new era of social-justice empowerment in an increasingly interconnected world has produced consumers that can be aggressively judgmental when considering the ethics of others. Maybe this comes from a lifetime of pressure to meet unachievable standards, decades plagued by inequality, and an inability to control our environment. On a broader level, this all happens within a fast-growing global movement towards equality while combating the effects of a lack of human connection. 

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To me, this idea that “If we cancel them, they will go away”, or, “We are punishing them” does not hold up. Where is the social responsibility in that? I think we are missing this aspect of social connectivity and that possibly relates to cancel culture being predominant through social media. In reality, when you cancel someone, they still exist, they are still uninformed, and their hurtful beliefs have still not changed. I do like to believe in the idea that I am not defined by the worst thing that I have ever done or said. Teach me, grow with me, help me see the errors of my ways. If you notice the ignorance of a person, isn’t the best solution to offer guidance in hope of building better informed communities?

So, for me, the question was never, “Is cancel culture good or bad?” but rather “Why is cancel culture trending?” and “How do we achieve the change we want to see?” Nothing will be positive across the board for everyone, but a benefit of cancel culture is that advocates have expressed a willingness to forgive. This, to me, is equal to saying, “If you enlighten yourself and become more tolerant, we will support you again.” And I think that is great because forgiveness is not easy to give!

Patricia is a fourth year Bachelors of Environmental and Urban Change student at York University. She enjoys getting into trouble with her friends, reading poetry, gardening, baking and spending cuddle time with her fur babies. Don't wake her up too early unless you have breakfast ready, she likes to sleep in and get a relaxing start to the day with fresh fruit, tea and a good stretch. Read her articles, you will enjoy them. :)
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