“Did you read about the famous actor from the tv show we used to watch?,” my sister asked me, during one of our customary face time sessions. I feel my stomach drop before she even says anything. I know that his fate is now sealed. The actor has probably gotten cancelled for some problematic tweet or some explicit remark or some other foolish thing that the public has deemed offensive.
Now let me get one thing clear, I definitely believe in and strongly stand for political correctness. I think there are some jokes that are just tasteless and offensive that people should just steer clear from. I believe that there are certain slurs that you should just not say even if they are part of your favorite song or what not, because they are rooted in years of systemic oppression and pain. It takes very little to be socially conscious and aware of your words and actions have the ability to hurt others.
My problem however is with the whole idea of this cancel culture phenomenon that has arose in recent years, probably due to the increasing importance of social media. Thanks to social media, everything you post is out there forever and can be tracked back to you.
Former president Barack Obama recently raised issue with today’s idea of a woke cancel culture, saying, ““This idea of purity and you're never compromised, and you're always politically woke, and all that stuff, you should get over that quickly.” He went on to add, “If all you are doing is casting stones, you are probably not going to get too far. That’s easy to do.”
Personally, I think holding people accountable for their actions is super important, especially if what they have done has caused harm to people. But the problem is when people scroll down all the way to dig up tweets or Facebook posts that celebrities posted in their youth, when they were naïve and frankly a little stupid.
The good news with political correctness today is that people have become more aware of the fact that their words have an impact and are therefore more careful about the sentiments of other communities. The bad news is that it has led to people believing that political correctness has always been part and parcel of our culture and that everyone is expected to be perfect and socially aware at all times. This is a very unrealistic expectation to have.
There was a time when people were not as careful with their words, and carelessly said stuff that they probably didn’t even believe. They grew up from it, moved on with their lives, and now years they get attacked for something their past selves did. This cancel culture is toxic and frankly a little unfair. How can we expect growth and learning if we just attack people and bury their career because of something problematic they said years ago, and have since disavowed?
The solution is to be respectful, to be kind and yes to hold famous people accountable for their actions and words if they are hurtful, but not to actively engage in judgement and harassment just because someone disagrees with you or uses potentially problematic terminology. Work towards positive change by educating people when they make mistakes, not cancelling them. That is the mark of a true socially “woke” culture.