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As someone who is quick to judge and unlikely to forgive, I’ve had a difficult time denouncing cancel culture. Cancel culture, or cancelling someone, usually happens to public figures after they do or say something that the public at large deems unacceptable. To cancel them then means to withdraw support from them, and often shame them publicly via social media. Cancelling someone typically implies that the person is irredeemable. Needless to say, cancel culture is all kinds of toxic. People who are cancelled are typically not given a second chance, even after apologizing. They continue to be shamed for their mistakes decades after the fact, even if they’ve owned up to their past misgivings. Because there is, after all, a difference between holding someone accountable for their mistakes and defining the person solely by this one mistake for the rest of their lives.
Now, the reason I’ve had difficulty not staying on the cancel culture bandwagon is because I firmly believe in karma, comeuppance if you will. There are certain people who, in my not-so-humble opinion, should face the gallows of public shame and henceforth sink beneath the earth, never to resurface again. But then there’s this not-so-fun truth that I too have made mistakes. Shocking, I know! I’m just lucky that I made most of my mistakes prior to social media so that there is some chance of deniability. In all seriousness though, while I am not excusing anyone who has ever been cancelled, I am asking all my white and white adjacent readers to at least stop cancelling your white friends and family who have a less than amicable relationship with the Black Lives Matter Movement and here’s why:
The “work” that Black people keep asking white folks to do? This is it!
Talking to your problematic white friends & family about racial justice and equity is your responsibility as a white person. It is your job to embrace them with kindness and compassion, no matter how ignorant or offensive they are in order to help them understand why they need to care about Black lives. Now let me be clear: I understand that you may have people in your life who aren’t just ignorant or offensive but straight up toxic to YOU! In that case, it is absolutely acceptable to distance yourself from them. Though I would ask that if you walk across that bridge, to leave the bridge itself intact rather than incinerating it. Leave a way for them to come back to you once they’re ready to begin their own anti-racism work. This is where not falling into the trap of cancel culture comes in. Cancel culture will have you burn all your bridges but the only goal that accomplishes is to create further division. It creates further lack of understanding amongst all of us. But by keeping a bridge there for them, no matter how rickety and unstable, you create a space for them to make mistakes and learn from them. Whether you’re walking away from someone you care about because of their toxicity or you embrace the most problematic of your family members to try to help them learn, it’s going to be a lot of hard work. But this is important work and the bare minimum you should do if you want to call yourself an ally or co-conspirator to the Black community.
Black people are tired
It’s been over 400 years, people! And Black people still aren’t free. And like I’ve said before, we’re not just sitting around twiddling our thumbs, waiting for white peeps to save us. Quite the opposite! We’ve been fighting for our freedom, equity and justice from the very beginning. The only difference now is that white people are finally waking up to this fight. Needless to say, your Black colleagues, friends, family – we’re tired. We need to be able to rest. What we don’t need is the responsibility to teach white people about racial justice, especially because it can be traumatizing for us to talk about. This is the least that white people can take off our plates, by talking to their white friends & family about racial justice and equity. Because I can guarantee, if you don’t do this work, your ignorant white acquaintances will either ask Black people to educate them (and again, we’re tired!) or they’ll remain ignorant which will inevitably lead to the continued perpetuation of white supremacy.
We need people
I mean this statement in two ways. The first: there is power in numbers. We need everyone to care about Black lives, to vote with Black lives at the forefront, to enact policies with Black lives in mind, and so forth. The second: you, as an individual, can’t fight alone. If you alienate every toxic or problematic person in your life, you may just end up alone. This is a problem on a multitude of levels but most importantly and most troubling, it may cause you to regress in your anti-racism work in order to appease those you’ve cut out of your life out of sheer desperation to not be alone anymore.
You’re still learning too
I’m honestly not a fan of the term “woke”. It implies that you’re either aware of all problems all of the time or you’re 100 percent ignorant. But we’re all constantly learning and unlearning. We’re presented with new information and we change our minds. We meet new people and we’re made aware of a new set of struggles. Rather than just being “woke” forever and always, we’re in a constant state of “waking up”. Some may be a few steps ahead of you and some a few steps behind. Regardless, you should always remember all of the growing you had to do to land where you are now. The same goes for your friends & family. They may just be a few steps behind you. So rather than condemning them for not waking up fast enough, how about you give them a hand instead? I’m sure if you think back on your own anti-racism journey, there were (and still are) incredibly patient and compassionate people who not only answered your questions but did so in a nonjudgmental way that kept you wanting to continue learning.
Resources to help you
If you’re not quite ready yet to do this crucial work, then please educate yourself asap and get ready. There’s no more time to waste. Below are some resources I have found helpful when doing this work:
The instagram account of the Union of North American Vietnamese Student Associations has lots of informative posts such as the one below on how to counter common arguments you may face
A news site based out of New Zealand, their IG account and website feature news from around the world along with helpful posts and articles such as the one below:
Eiselle Ty on IG
Eiselle Ty is a designer who runs a great IG account with informative and aesthetically pleasing posts on a variety of topics from defunding the police to cancel culture to internalized racism and more!