• Tia Butts

The Cancel Culture: When To Cancel, When to Leave It Alone

Updated: Jul 15, 2020

The “Cancel” Culture

Right now, we are experiencing what people consider to be a “cancel culture.” Typically, this has been focused on "cancelling" individuals (particularly celebrities) that say or do something offensive. However, I want to explore the idea of the "cancellations" of statues, movies, and brand logos that have received media attention because of racist implications or something that is overall offensive to people.

When Should We Support Cancellations?

As time passes, people and society change with it. We are not the same people with the same ideals of those from 1950s. As we change and grow as a people and as a society, some things simply do need to go. The old statues that have been in landmarks for hundreds of years should be moved to museums as a representation of our history. When these statues are featuring people that may have been vicious slave owners or serious advocates of slavery, there is no reason to insult citizens by insisting that we keep the statue in its place. For example, the Lincoln statue could definitely be taken as an insult to many people – it features Lincoln with a black man kneeling beside him, and Lincoln is holding out his hand the same way that we do when we tell our dog to “sit.” This statue completely embraces and displays the white superiority mind frame that was widely believed during this time. If, supposedly, our society no longer supports these beliefs, what is the point of allowing such a statue to stand in a public place? History, you say? Well, that’s what museums are for, right?

The Redskins are also preparing to change their name now because the term “Redskins” is considered a derogatory term. The current owner of the Redskins, Daniel Snyder, at one point vehemently stood behind not changing the name of the team. After some important sponsors started to pull away from the team and other retailers refused to sell the Redskins gear, Snyder changed his tone and said they would start the discussion on the next steps to take. I think it’s safe to say that the term “Redskins” is not a nice term and it probably is time to change the name. I can’t stand behind calling Indian people “Redskin,” and I think in instances where old company’s names and logos are blatantly offensive and we have moved away from that type of language, then there is nothing wrong with change. 

School Name Changes

Princeton recently removed the name of Woodrow Wilson from its school of public policy and renamed the building. Princeton so eloquently explained their rationale:

"We have taken this extraordinary step because we believe that Wilson's racist thinking and policies make him an inappropriate namesake for a school whose scholars, students, and alumni must be firmly committed to combating the scourge of racism in all its forms.”

I commend Princeton on this decision, and I think when it comes to schools and education, we must practice what we teach to our students. As a teacher, I feel very passionate on this matter. It really doesn’t make sense to teach students that all people are equal and that racism, prejudice, and bigotry are wrong but at the same time allow them to come to a school that is named after a person that vehemently supported segregation and unequal rights to specific races. If a school is named after a person that does not support their view of diversity, then the name should be changed. Period.

I still think, however, some things are just being canceled for the sake of it and it doesn’t make any sense.

When the Cancel Culture Gets Out of Hand

Paw Patrol

Now, in the midst of everything going on with police brutality against black people, it’s understandable how people have really become sensitive about the depiction of the police in everyday situations. But I was really disappointed when I heard that people were pushing to get the character Chase from Paw Patrol taken off the show. Chase is a puppy police officer who always gets the job done when trouble is afoot. There has never been anything controversial on the show and the character Chase was not displayed doing anything unreasonable. People just wanted the character taken away just because he was a police officer.

I’m not just speaking on this just because my son likes Paw Patrol – actually, he loves it! But, seriously, that’s not the point. What point are we making to take a perfectly normal police officer character from a kids’ show? If anything, this is when the cancel culture hurts us. We are taking away any representation of the police away from our children and the only thing they are exposed to at that point is our negative comments about the police. When this happens, we are not allowing our children to see the positive side of things. We still need to teach them that all cops are not bad cops, and our focus is to get rid of the bad cops. But taking away the entire representation of a police officer leaves our children in the dark and the only thing they have to look at is the negativity that we discuss. This is why they build up a fear of the police at a young age. We know that they hear that bad things are happening with the police, but let’s try to show them the good side when possible. 

Gone With the Wind Pulled from HBO

People also wanted to pull the original Gone With the Wind movie from television. The film (with Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, Hattie McDaniel and Olivia de Havilland) was taken off HBO for a short time, but then was put back on with special commentary added. For many years, people have talked about how the movie romanticized the portrayal of slavery in the Antebellum South while still perpetuating racist stereotypes. Hattie McDaniels, who won an Oscar for her role in Gone With the Wind, was unable to join her castmates for the premiere of the movie because the movie theater in Atlanta had a strict “no-blacks” policy. Although this is upsetting, this has been no secret and has been talked about for years. Why decide to censor the movie now? 

Personally, I’ve never had a huge desire to look at the movie Gone With the Wind, so I have nothing to say about the content of the movie, but I am a huge movie buff and I am against the censoring of movies and books. If we eliminated every movie or book that contained sexually or racially offensive material, we pretty much would have no movies to watch or books to read. Now, I like what HBO did. Instead of taking the movie off altogether, they added a section that addressed the historical context of the movie to give the audience more background information and to acknowledge the roles of the black people in the movie. It doesn’t make the movie right or its racist portrayals any better, but it still gives people the right to view at their own discretion. 

Cancel Doesn't Have to Mean Erase

I don’t agree with censoring history or altering it to make it look worse or better than it really is. But I do agree with adjusting as our world changes. At a time when the world was fighting over the Confederacy, there were generals that led the war that were respected by many people. And yes, they had statues built in their honor. However, we don’t necessarily need that statue in the place that is was originally placed 150 years later. When the world feels uncomfortable about this person and their history as a slave-owner or racial segregationist, guess what? It’s normal to feel that way when we no longer live in a world that encourages or embraces racial supremacy. These parts of history existed, and no one is saying that we need to erase history. We just need to put these reminders in the appropriate place – a museum where people are free to view at their own discretion. 

July 14, 2020

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