Cancelling Cancel Culture

By Arlenea Halyda, Content Writer Intern at Project Child Indonesia

Exile is a punishment that has been around for as long as human history stands. It’s a sentence that’s considered to be an alternative to death; to be tossed away from one’s home, stripped of any titles, and isolated from family and friends must feel like one’s life is over, as their presence vanishes from the world.

In this day and age, where so many of our social lives and interactions rely on social media (thus creating a sense of belonging to said social media), there’s a technique used to repent those deemed controversial. It’s eerily similar to exile: being ‘cancelled.’ But what does being cancelled mean? And what is this ‘cancel culture’ that seems to have spread throughout the internet?

Cancel culture is a modern and digitized version of banishment, in which someone is forced out of social circles and urged to abandon their online presence (in other words: deactivates their account) for doing or saying harmful things. The notion of this culture is rooted in promoting accountability for one’s irresponsible actions and silencing someone who is deemed not to deserve a voice.

At first, ‘cancel culture’ seems like a great solution to deal with bigoted individuals. For far too long, marginalized groups have been oppressed by careless people who wouldn’t get any consequences for their hurtful actions, whether it’s due to the protection of their privilege or other things—so it’s good that there’s now an internet ‘law’ that would snipe bigots when they step out of line, right?

Well… To a certain extent, yes. However, there’s a lot more to cancel culture than meets the eye. Turns out, cancel culture is not the panacea people thought it was.

Holding people accountable for their wrongdoings is incredibly important, and it’s time for us to stand up against hatred and discrimination; yes, there’s no doubt about that. On the other hand, cancel culture has morphed into something else entirely. It has created such a dangerous environment in which forgiveness and redemption are impossible, and harassment is accepted (as long as they’re against awful people, right? But doesn’t harassing people, no matter who they are, is also a form of bullying?). And if anyone dares to spare forgiveness to the people who are being cancelled, or even give them a chance to explain themselves, be careful! You might get cancelled too.

Not to mention that there are some instances where people who are being cancelled were someone who genuinely doesn’t know any better. They don’t mean any harm—maybe they just said the wrong thing, or perhaps they just weren’t educated in complex social issues and are voicing their concern, only to be taken out of context and be attacked. It doesn’t mean that these people should be given a free pass because they don’t know any better, but they deserve a chance to educate themselves and correct their mistakes. But ‘cancel culture’ doesn’t give them this opportunity. All it does is shun these people out without giving them room to grow, which only spreads more and more hate.

This sort of mindset is incredibly destructive. It perpetuates a behaviour that turns people easily swayed and influenced to join in the cancelling party without some of them even understanding the context or severity of the situation, in fear of being cancelled too.

So how do we stand up for this? How do we cancel the vicious cycle and toxicity of cancel culture?

We can start by practising compassion whenever possible and allow people to feel remorse for their actions. There’s no way to know a whole person’s life journey, so we might not understand why they have such a mindset. So we can start by treating them with kindness and holding out an olive branch of growth and forgiveness. How are they supposed to understand our point of view if we don’t give them a chance to show us theirs? Remember that there’s still a person behind a screen, with a life, a heart, and a feeling, and the things you say in a spur of a moment might haunt them for a lifetime.

In addition to that, we should also allow them to grow. Even if it’s not anyone’s obligation to educate anyone on any topic, it might be good to let them understand why their being harmful. For example, a man might not know that what he says was sexist. But women do, and that’s when we should stand up for ourselves, step in, and bring to the man’s awareness that what they said was sexist. Hopefully, they’ll listen and try to educate themselves. If they don’t, well… That brings us to another question:

How should we face harmful people who know that they harmed people, yet continue doing it anyway? How should we deal with people who refuse to grow and listen?

We can strip them away from their platform—but not in a hateful way the way cancel culture do. Let us stop giving them attention, stop giving them traffic to their social media engagement, stop giving their words so much power to stir up our reactions, and ignore them altogether.

We don’t have to be involved in malicious activity. Instead, let us direct our energy towards the people that have been hurt. Someone is being racist to indigenous people? Instead of cancelling them, we can go out of our way to support indigenous people by spreading awareness of their existence and resilience, and appreciate their culture (don’t do cultural appropriation, though). Someone is being ableist to people with disabilities? Instead of hurling vile words, we can raise awareness of said disability, or support their causes and campaigns, or even donate to their foundation, if there’s any.

Basically, this article boils down to this: instead of doing the performative activities that we call ‘cancelling’ someone, it’s better for us to actually take action and do good things for people the ‘cancelled’ person is hurting. Because your hate tweets, your #[Celebrity’s Name]IsOverParty trends… They only last a couple of weeks or months before they’re swept under the rug and forgotten. But support and love to communities that deserve our energy will go a long way.

Let us create an environment free of hate!