The United States Have Literally Been Built on Cancel Culture
The movement of consequence has a long-standing history in this country
Republican leaders have increasingly spoken out against “cancel culture” as a liberal tool of censorship and mob mentality (while frequently attempting to utilize it for their own gains). However, this is not a new phenomenon and in fact has been a longstanding and important bedrock of American history.
Cancel culture, the act of widespread withdrawal of support, or in some cases even practical shunning, is a social tool utilized against individuals and entities believed to have committed transgressions that go against our values. In recent years, those who have committed acts of racism, sexual assault/harassment and other forms of oppression have been most frequently the target of this form of consequential justice.
The most visible current example of cancel culture is the fallout from Georgia’s new SB 202 voting bill, which has been widely denounced for its measures that correlate with voter suppression — specifically Black voters. A growing number of well-known businesses like Major League Baseball, Coca Cola and Delta, who are headquartered and/or have significant business interests in the state, have spoken out against the new law. This has resulted in many conservatives, starting with former president Donald Trump, calling for their boycotting.
These Republican efforts come despite an ongoing action on their part to denounce cancel culture. The theme of this year’s conservative CPAC conference was “Uncancel America.” Meanwhile, Ohio Senator Jim Jordan called cancel culture the single “most dangerous” issue facing the United States, and Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton has publicly complained about the “woke mob” attempting to “erase our history and cancel anyone who disagrees.”
Regardless of what side of the political coin you may fall on, two indisputable facts are that cancel culture is bi-partisan and it has a lengthy history in this country. Indeed, it would not be a stretch to say that cancel culture has quite literally helped build the United States.
Perhaps the first and most prominent example of cancel culture in this country was the American Revolution. Unhappy with taxation and lack of representation, those living on the left-hand side of the pond decided to disengage from their British origins and strike out on their own. Make no mistake about it, dumping chests of tea in Boston harbor, expelling British soldiers from private residences and fighting an entire war for the right to simply be a separate entity is cancel culture at its most extreme.
Less than a hundred years after that war was fought another was waged between the states over cultural disagreements. This Civil War was centered on the institution of slavery in the Southern states. Opposition to slavery took numerous forms at the time, including political, economic and ethical, with the focal point being ending what at the time was a bedrock of society below the Mason-Dixon line. The Emancipation Proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, which legally freed the slaves, is quite likely the largest and most impactful act of cancel culture in all of history.
Moving into the 20th century and beyond, American cancel culture took many forms but perhaps none so recognizable as that of the peaceful protest. For years, this has been an effective method to force and enact change in a variety of sectors. From labor protests helping establish unions and more humane worker rights, to civil rights, women’s rights and fighting for equal opportunities and protections, the social landscape of this country has been dramatically and positively altered due to the results of boycotting, denouncing and calling for change. This has continued to the present with the Black Lives Matter movement and so many American voters actively fighting against blatantly false allegations of impropriety in the 2020 presidential election.
Not liking or agreeing on the focus of a cancel culture movement doesn’t mean that the general practice is bad. Our history has shown us time and time again that it has been a positive agent of change. The more widely such calls are embraced, the more impactful and lasting the change. Likewise, half-hearted attempts quickly fall by the wayside, separating what is held as important from momentary posturing. To call it dangerous or a tool of one political party over another is simply wrong, as it truly has been an American institution that has helped embody the principles of freedom and justice in the face of wrongdoing and immorality.