Cancel the ‘Cancel Culture’ Label

Terry Schwadron
6 min readFeb 19, 2021

Terry H. Schwadron

Feb. 19, 2021

Maybe it is an actual awakening of our responsibility to take the extra step to show respect for one another. Perhaps it is an intensifying simultaneous drive to highlight perceived (and real) abuse by The Other.

By whatever name you want to call it, it feels as if we suddenly are up to our necks in the constant push and pull between desires to make our institutions and personal relationships inclusive — and to publicly shame the faults of those who don’t believe as we do.

Over breakfast news, we noted that every story in the Arts section focused on issues of inclusion, the Sports news was about who is excluded by race, the political news was, as always, about those who believe one way absolutely disintegrating their counterparts. Four years of Donald Trump certainly enabled a lot of anti-Other trash talk, but the continuing message was that it was the Left that somehow was shutting down messages from the Right. From the Left, by contrast, we got actual videotapes of police killing George Floyd in Minneapolis and a string of other Black arrestees in other cities to shove a point home about the need to “cancel” status quo.

After years of too often neglecting the issues, workplaces abound in newfound discovery of problems in diversity, inclusion, and plain decency — all too often seen as flailing as a result.

We saw the head of the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields having to resign and apologize for an job listing that said it was seeking a director who would work not only to attract a more diverse audience but to maintain its “traditional, core, white art audience.” We heard the staff of The New York Times roiled over the staff reaction to a forced resignation of a distinguished reporter for his use of a racial slur while serving as a tour host for teens in 2012. We’ve watched politicians get whacked (or not) for stupidity and television hosts barred for failing to watch their tongues. We witnessed Donald Trump offered his 1776 Commission to cancel truth about slavery, racism and lessons of the Civil War, until Joe Biden canceled Trump’s cancellation. There is a steady stream of stories of men tripped up over unwanted sexual encounters.

Conservatives complain they’ve been “canceled” for posting conspiracies and inciteful lies that lead to violence; liberals think they’ve been canceled in hiring, pay, or even walking-while-Black, or being women, gay or transgender.

Through it all, there is a direct link to our liberal-conservative divide, to the Trump-era insistence on dumping “political correctness” in conflict with those who see Trump-inspired rudeness — and physical attacks — as attempt to preserve white supremacy in a nation of changing demographics. There is no equivalency here, but there is plenty of noise.

Race — and More

Fundamentally, this divide is turning more and more to be about race, but it is also about gender choice, religion and marriage equity, financial equality and affirmative action policies. It is about whether to extend a hand and a set of civil rights or defending some era of the past, including its statues as well as its statutes.

We can’t talk about COVID vaccine distribution or school aid or Joe Biden’s Cabinet picks without discussing ethnicity — and without hearing a complaint that Biden is guilty of selecting his experienced advisers just to check off identity politics boxes.

In the Washington Post, Philip Bump noted that “Trump voters, more than anyone else, saw racism against Whites as a potent problem and were more likely to view Whites as victims of discrimination at rates similar to racial and ethnic minorities. Trump promised to make America great again — to wind back the clock to a time before things such as Black Lives Matter, to a time when the distributions of the rewards of American society weren’t questioned.”

In this theory of the case, we all are “victims” of whoever is calling us out.

Can we just agree that anyone “woke” already knows it, and that “cancel culture” is just another name for insisting that only we’re right? Do we really need to be reminded multiple times a day that we’re not part of the world for The Other? Can’t I be “woke” and feel “canceled” at the same time? And do we really believe that this is the only time in history that these conditions have held?

Enter the would-be modern philosopher Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, one of the cancellable aggrieved conservatives who regularly dumps on those who disagree with him: “We’ve all had it,” Jordan complains. “We’ve all got death threats. This is ridiculous. This cancel culture is so dangerous and we have to push back. . . it will only get worse. So, this is the number one issues for the country to address today.”

Of course, Jordan only sees “canceling” going against his point of view.

Maybe we wouldn’t be worrying about what Alan Dershowitz calls the “new McCarthyism of the hard left” if Republicans didn’t go out of their way to shut down polling places in Black districts, or challenge voting results only from cities with large Black populations, or talk up Blue Lives Mattering except at the U.S. Capitol after people of all stripes took to the streets to remind that Black Lives Matter.

Sustained political campaigns to cut money for health care, food stamps and legal abortion have something to do with creating a need for “wokeness,” as do policies to separate children from migrant parents, to turn public lands into commercial oil wells, and to denounce Science.

It is all more linked by our political attitudes than the individual situations would have us believe.

Hypocrisy in Every Direction

At the end of the day, insisting on firing pro football quarterbacks for kneeling while voting against convicting Trump for inciting a riot that killed Capitol police is hypocrisy.

Most of us live lives well short of the extremes, but it falls to us to do what we can to make sense of the noise. Maybe it isn’t about our politics at all, but rather about the more commonplace parts of our culture.

We do have real problems deciding what is socially or morally acceptable in our social media, in our public statues, in our institutional investments, in our policing and education policies, in the spread of White supremacism and race, in how we are preferring what we want to be true over doing the work to determine what is so.

Maybe Jim Jordan is correct in noting this canceling out of The Other is our top concern.

Biden calls it Unity or the Soul of America. Preachers call it humanity and the reflection of whatever God we recognize. Isn’t it the same thing?

Despite the worst of the pandemic, we don’t live alone, and we certainly don’t work, play, pray or solve problems alone. We need workplaces and arenas and houses of worship that start with respect for others, and draw their working rules and procedures from a basic contract to sustain one another. Successful workplaces worry about the financial and physical health of workers, about inviting worker participation over strict hierarchy and consider their sway in the community they serve as well as boards, customers and market rivals.

That we are fighting, sometimes literally, over asking people to wear COVID masks is simply nuts. That we have to pass governmental orders to insist on masks is also nuts. Left with a “small-government” approach to individual liberty, we still are able to individually choose to live in a way that shows respect for one another.

How about we cancel calling everything we don’t like “cancel culture” and just start respecting each other?