We are almost at the end of 2020. We are living through a pandemic, criticizing governments for their lack of empathy towards citizens and protesting against the violent police brutality towards Black people. The rise of racial and social justice on social media platforms does not come as a surprise right now. We are seeing those in the Black Lives Matter movement protest police brutality and are truly astonished by the demonstrations.
In the middle of the Black Lives Matter movement and calls for police abolition, a conversation of holding celebrities and higher-ups in companies accountable for their previous problematic actions comes to light. This includes editors, journalists, and authors accused of sexually inappropriate encounters with their female employees. J.K. Rowling’s recent essay titled “TERF Wars” revealed her opinions about trans women and how she believes that they do not qualify as women. These issues had nothing to do with the issue at hand: police abolition. However, it is interesting to see where this conversation is heading.
There is an outcry to cancel celebrities and writers who share opinions that are problematic — usually transphobic, sexist, or racist — online. While I understand the implications of cancel culture and the idea behind it, I must disagree with the notion that cancelling celebrities for their bad opinions has any real impact on their careers. Since they keep their financial assets, celebrity status, and loyal fans, does cancel culture really exist at all?
The sudden panic to undo racism
The change of tone and political attitudes of these individuals is changing. This is because of the current social and racial justice climate on Twitter. Companies are promising to hire a more ‘inclusive and diverse’ staff to change their working environment and tackle racism. They want to have an honest discussion about racism and other discriminatory behaviours that Black employees face in their work lives.
Social media is a platform where anyone can express their opinions however they like, and people can either agree or disagree with them. It is a space for criticism and open debates that range across various topics with many intellectual (and sometimes not) people from different racial and cultural backgrounds. When celebrities and writers target a marginalized community, it is not uncommon for other users to shut them down for their harmful opinions.
A critique of what can be tolerated
Recently, over 150 people signed a statement expressing their concerns about the media trend of cancelling people for their views and opinions. Those who signed include JK Rowling, Margaret Atwood, Salman Rushdie, and Noam Chomsky. They claimed that by using these platforms to express their opinions on certain topics, it is taking away their free speech. The exchange of ideas and information is not used efficiently as they believe that people are silencing them from further critique.
“Editors are fired for running controversial pieces; books are withdrawn for alleged inauthenticity; journalists are barred from writing on certain topics; professors are investigated for quoting works of literature in class; a researcher is fired for circulating a peer-reviewed academic study; the heads of organizations are ousted for what are sometimes just clumsy mistakes.”
Reading this statement, it did not surprise me at all who signed it. Most of the people who signed are noted transphobes who have recently made massively negative remarks online, even when their critique was not needed. It is not that we do not want these writers, editors, journalists, and authors to not express their opinions. Criticism and debate are always welcome on social media and other platforms. But these said criticisms are not open for debate if their views are transphobic, racist, and sexist.
Beliefs that don’t align with each other are not clumsy mistakes
We speak out against oppressive regimes and situations when minorities are involved. We have understood that most of these ideologies cannot be tolerated because they do not align with our own beliefs. This is where we draw the line. Transphobic, sexist, and racist attitudes are never clumsy mistakes. Critiquing and debating these ideologies is not an attack on free speech. The people who signed this statement believe that the conversations surrounding cancel culture are taking a toll on their career.
The reality is that cancel culture does not exist. These people cannot be held accountable for their actions when their careers and lives are not impacted. The punishment that they are speaking of is just temporary. Some people will return to their careers without any consequences.
All of the people that were ousted for being transphobic, sexist, and racist did not make clumsy mistakes. Why must we question and debate whether ‘do Black lives matter or Trans lives matter?’ Why is anything up for debate when lives are concerned?
It is immoral and their opinions come from a place of privilege as they want to justify their bad ideas as a form of free speech. It is obvious that their concerns are more aligned with hate speech. There is no room for debate when it comes to injustice. Rather than shutting people off for advocating the injustices in this political climate, it is more necessary to restrict platforms for people who are against advocating for injustice. People with different views, especially if they are transphobic, sexist, and racist, should not be given a platform to express their opinions.