Has Cancel Culture Divided Us?
Last year, I hosted a conversation on the social-audio app Clubhouse that I titled “Is it cancel culture…or just karma?” The room drew nearly 100 listeners as we hashed out whether cancel culture could be chalked up to being the consequences of one’s actions or something more sinister.
As I had hoped, there was a wide array of individuals with diverse views ready to participate. One man passionately ranted about Donald Trump’s removal from Twitter and the right to free speech. A lawyer followed up to explain the complexities of social media regulation. Another participant spoke about the need to acknowledge that people can change after fucking up. Gradually, as the conversation continued, people got heated.
To steer the conversation away from American politics, I asked a question about media. “Can you separate the art from the performer?” My close friend disclosed to the room that he still listens to Chris Brown, and to my surprise, all hell broke loose. As if personally attacked, another participant in the room started screaming insults and calling my friend a misogynist. Just like that. In a room of adults, I had to ask everyone to refrain from name-calling when someone expresses an opinion you dislike, especially without adequate evidence to back it up. That participant left shortly thereafter.
I will say that, until last year, I was somewhat for cancel culture. I am all for compassion, but in select cases I really do think that shit should follow you. As I look at the landscape of Canada today, I can’t help but wonder if the now common idea of cancelling the things you don’t like is literally the worst way to handle our problems.
This past weekend, Ottawa was finally cleared of protestors who had been parked in the downtown core for the better part of this month as part of the “Freedom Convoy.” In the lead up to their arrival, I couldn’t help but notice their immediate characterization as a “fringe minority” with “unacceptable views” by our leaders who opposed their movement. Despite this characterization, it was clear that they had the support of many Canadians, who lined up alongside highways nation-wide in the thousands throughout the week to cheer the convoy on.
When protestors brought paraphernalia emblematic of darker times to the demonstration, the ill-fitting metaphor comparing vaccine mandates to Segregation and the Holocaust was lost on news media despite nearly a year of reporting on that very issue. Instead, the handful of offensive flags were conflated to represent the movement and, much to my chagrin, a number of people I followed began to call just about anyone supportive of the protest a racist or white supremacist.
Despite the fact that our own prime minister managed to gain power after donning blackface himself, many Canadians decided to ignore their previous actions in the ballot box and a moral panic ensued. Should there be an effort to engage in dialogue? Of course not, the new Canadian stance says, because we don’t negotiate with terrorists!
What about the non-white groups who were present and supportive of the protest? The Women’s Studies majors (no offense) would say that they are “tokenizing” themselves. Because everything people of colour do is for the benefit of white people. It doesn’t matter what that person of colour thinks they are supporting, they’re wrong and nothing but a placeholder apparently. As if for decades we haven’t literally always had to side with people who may hate us to even get a seat at the damn table. Do you not see how faulty and dangerous this logic can be? If you don’t, let me spell it out for you: as per usual, it only serves to silence the marginalized. The Canadian media is still focusing their camera on the white people at the centre of their narrative, at the end of the day. I’m hardly surprised.
Between my Clubhouse talk and the dumpster fire of a convoy, I can’t help but roll my eyes. I don’t know when the left decided to employ racism, tokenism, and white supremacy so freely to silence others, but it is a dangerous path to be on. How useful will those terms be moving forward if mere attendance at an unrelated protest is enough to rise to the level of racism? When we use these words incorrectly, we cheapen them. When we use them in a blanket fashion towards groups that contain the marginalized and unheard, we are not being anti-racist. The language of intersectional analysis means nothing when employed for pure ideology.
How easily logic can be twisted to fit an individual’s ends so they can feel justified in their extreme views. Apparently, some of the convoy attendees’ logic led them to believe that oppressive mandates were justification enough to attempt to “overthrow the government.” Non-supporters feel it’s justified that other Canadians should be out of jobs for failing to accept a medical intervention that hasn’t even been widely available for a year yet because “it was their choice” to be “selfish.”
I’m sure someone is reading this thinking, “That’s a false equivalency,” to which I say you are right. The convoy attendees never actually managed to overthrow the government by a long shot, but tens of thousands of Canadian families are struggling right now due to mandates and are still feeling the ripple effects of the last lockdown. To be clear, I am not someone who supported the takeover of Ottawa, and I feel sympathy for those who had to endure the honking and traffic delays. But it is very clear that one of those things have been affecting Canadians outside of Ottawa for years at this point, and it was not the protest.
The reality is that we are all going through it and cancel culture has frankly turned Canadians into a bunch of children. Those being called names for having unpopular views decide to occupy a city for nearly a month out of spite. Those doing the name calling are actually trying to justify police brutality because “this is different.”
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” — Martin Luther King Jr.
As I observe it all, I can’t help but wonder: what is an “acceptable view”? Who gets to decide? Could it be possible that all views are valid in their own way? When we look at the world in strictly binary terms, it’s impossible to see the bigger picture. It’s a lot easier to put people in the camps of “them” vs “us.” People are forgetting that we are all Canadians — yes, even the racist ones.
What Canada needs right now is reality check, and it needs it quickly or else this past month will not be the end of unrest. It’s on us to come together and stop the division that’s being permeated among us.