Issue 7: Canceling Everybody and Their Momma
On why cancel culture doesn't exist and rethinking allyship
Hello everyone! I’m slightly changing up the format just to make life (and my eyesight) just a little bit better. Also, shoutout to all my new subscribers who found me through Insidehook. Your girl was featured on the list of 80 best single-operator newsletters — I’m moving up in the world 💁🏾♀️. Welcome to Blaxplaining! This week: why canceling someone is real but cancel culture isn’t. Also, should we rethink the way we view allies? And a few things that I’ve been enjoying.
The Art of Canceling
Let’s make this clear from the jump: cancel culture isn’t real, but canceling someone is. What’s the difference, you may ask? Canceling is to dismiss someone for a harmful, racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, bigoted act or idea, or to hold shitty people accountable for their actions. Cancel culture is the offspring of political correctness and the cousin of callout culture. It’s simply a catch-all phrase used when toxic people in power face criticism or consequences. Usually, when we hear phrases like cancel culture the conversation surrounding it is an oversimplified free speech debate and often ignores the harmful statements or arguments being made AND, it always takes accountability away from the person who said the harmful and shitty thing. So the result is that the argument surrounding cancel culture ends up silencing those who calling out the actions, ideas, jokes that are dehumanizing to them.
Last week, I read the infamous free speech piece in Harper’s Magazine, and my immediate thought was this was some white-privileged shenanigans. Let’s face it, those who are for this war on cancel culture come from places of privilege. Before social media, the information gatekeepers were generally white and male and were rarely held accountable for harmful viewpoints, but now we see this power and cultural shift where marginalized groups can use social media to call out bullshit when they see it. But is canceling undermining free speech? Most definitely not. You can still say whatever you want, but you just can’t call “cancel culture” when someone calls you out for your dehumanizing opinion. I equate it to the harm principle -- you should be free to act however you wish unless your actions cause harm to somebody else. You might publish an op-ed suggesting that police brutality is justifiable in dealing with Black people, but guess what? You’re probably going to be canceled with the swiftness.
Now canceling, like most art, is subjective and is not perfect. There are nuances and contrasting opinions on what constitutes an appropriate cancel; however, the argument against cancel culture disregards all of that and continues to reinforce power structures without addressing the issues at hand. Instead of panicking that free speech is being attacked, maybe we will do better in addressing why an action or article was harmful and giving the perpetrator a space to learn. But tbh, most people aren’t learning, and being canceled doesn’t necessarily mean that person is canceled. Kanye West recently secured a deal with GAP after years of problematic statements, and Donald Trump is STILL our president after...yeah. But what canceling is doing is holding people accountable for their actions, and that is what we need to continue to do.
Now What’s Wrong with Allies?
Earlier this week, I was watching an episode from the amazing web show The Grapevine, and one of the panelists said that she didn’t believe in allies. I immediately scratched my head after hearing this. What’s wrong with Allies? Don’t we need them to move forward? Are we canceling allies now? So I did some research to see if this viewpoint is commonly shared and surprisingly it is. There are a lot of nuances in the conversation on allyship, but one that’s been having me rethink allyship is the argument that allyship validates the ally, not the marginalized.
In Ernest Owens’ op-ed, “Why I’m Giving Up On Allies”, he states:
“The concept of allyship has placed its focus on those coming to aid rather than the concerns of those being afflicted. To be an ally in 2017 almost feels like being a trending topic — viral and vapid, yet presented as a significant revelation. It seems as though more people feel comfortable presenting themselves as an ally rather than doing the work it requires to prove they actually are one”
Although written in 2017, this idea is still applicable to today. It’s been two months since the killing of George Floyd, and in that time we’ve seen fewer posts on Instagram catered to anti-racism work, and it seems like everybody’s life is going back to normal, but don’t get it confused. Black people are still getting killed and disproportionately affected by Covid-19 and the ongoing recession. It takes a lot more than posting a black square to dismantle systemic racism, and it’s going to take being uncomfortable and losing some power.
Also, many have praised the “MomBloc” movement in Portland and other cities, but this type of allyship can also do harm and reinforce whiteness. Zoe Samudzi has an amazing twitter thread on how their protest plays on white women’s innocence and ignores the years of protest of Black mothers. It just makes me think, and I’m curious to hear from you all on your thoughts. I don’t have an ideal alternative for allyship yet, but this is definitely something I’m sitting on.
Things I liked this week:
Alicia Sheares’s argument that dismantling systemic racism has to start with white people giving up their power.
Ousmane Sembène’s 1966 film Black Girl.
America Passports Are Worthless Now by Indi Samarajiva.
A New America is Possible Now by Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis
SoulDecision’s Ooh It’s Kinda Crazy. Shoutout to this early-aughts bop
…and that we are 100 days away from the 2020 election. If you have not done so, pleaseeeee register to vote.
I always look forward to reading your thoughts, so please feel free to leave a comment, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org, or hit me up on Instagram (@tylerrharriss). If you like this post, please click the heart and share it! And if you’re not a subscriber, go ahead and hit that subscribe button!
Until next time,