In a time of socio-economic and political upheaval when accountability is valued by young people above all else, it’s easy to get caught up in the rush of ostracising and condemning those we see as wrongdoers. But amongst the blur of the #XIsOverParty hashtags and blacklisting, is it possible to find the line and self reflect on our transformation into narrow-minded moral absolutists? Do we always have the correct motive in mind? And is the lawlessness of social media responses opening the conversation to bigots who crave a way to invalidate the fight for social justice?
What ‘cancel culture’ dangerously disregards is our human ability to change and, just as dangerously, affects vulnerable communities disproportionately. The vigilante mindset of “stans” in popular culture is sinister in its similarity to medieval mobs wielding pitchforks – POC, LGBT, women, and the lower class have been known to fall victim to cancel culture.
Take TikTok stars Chase Hudson (@lilhuddy) and @emmuhlu. Both Hudson and @emmuhlu (whose real name is not known by the public) have been rightfully scrutinised for using the n-word; the difference? Chase Hudson has shown little to no remorse and gave a less than adequate apology, whereas @emmuhlu has repeatedly apologised and taken accountability. However, the difference in response has been remarkable – Chase Hudson, as an attractive white male, has been largely forgiven, but @emmuhlu, a white woman, has consistently been recipient to a barrage of hateful messages regarding her past mistakes. It is a trend seen again and again that women are held more accountable for their actions than men are because it is instilled in us from a young age that women are more mature than men – so why is this fact is used only at their expense?
It’s not to say the premise of holding people accountable for their actions isn’t a noble intention, but it’s impossible to say the way in which we go about it isn’t deeply flawed. The term ‘cancel culture’ has become entrenched in a concept of not being able to move on from mistakes – but all too often, when a more severe consequence needs to be faced, not much happens. Instead, what we see are figures who have committed much larger infractions than insensitive social interactions – take J.K. Rowling and her harmful takes on the transgender community – coming to speak out against cancel culture. While the world can become carried away with ensuring there is punishment for prior actions, it is not to the degree that some make it out to be. Those who do not wish to be held accountable for their actions speak out against the supposedly unforgiving cancel culture to belittle the true importance of accountability and perpetuate a culture of silence in our society’s most vulnerable communities.
It has become all too common for backlash to be ignored due to the weaponisation of the term ‘cancel culture’. Instead of being held responsible for their wrongdoing, the culprit is viewed as a ‘victim’ of cancel culture. In actuality, cancel culture doesn’t even exist, because in instances where it matters, it does not prevail – people in power exist just as they had before, regardless of backlash.
What we have in place of this supposed cancel culture is the exact vigilante mob mentality that has permeated all of human history – a hue and cry, neighbourhood watch, all sorts. As time has progressed, you’d think this sort of anarchy in so-called pursuit of justice would have developed, but they have always been ineffective and biased.
On December 1st 2013, Taj Patterson, a gay black man, was chased and beaten by roughly 20 men identified as ‘Shomrim’ in the Hasidic Jewish community in Williamsburg, New York City. The Shomrim are essentially a neighbourhood watch set up by the Jewish community, funded by the NYPD. Patterson falling victim to a hate crime under the guise of it being in the name of justice is directly mirrored in how the so-called cancel culture affects those who are targeted.
The sensationalisation of punishing people for their mistakes has led to letting those in power get away with their actions, as they place themselves on the same level as those who fall victim to the system that ignores change. J.K. Rowling signing a letter condemning cancel culture is exactly why the existing structure for ensuring accountability must be upheaved – Rowling has victimised herself and uses the very real stories of vulnerable minorities to her own advantage.
We need a better system for social justice – we must realise the knock-on effects of our actions. The premise must remain the same – withdrawing support and demanding accountability – but we must apply pressure proportionately and to the right people. The dangers of the fight for social justice at the moment include the very minimal distinction between the severity of different infractions due to the overall social media response; as Bernstein said in his Instagram post, “the punishment rarely fits the crime”.
Written by Sammy Yasmin