“I can’t believe they’d do that. #cancelhim.”
These phrases are all too common across college campuses and Twitter alike.
As defined by CNN, cancelling someone is “diminishing someone’s significance by personal boycott, public shaming, or ostracization.” Cancel culture, a term popularized on Twitter along with the #MeToo movement, entails people, specifically young adults, cancelling those deemed problematic by the progressive masses. Whether by complete boycotting or by barrages of tweets tagged with “#cancelled,” those targeted face the wrath of an entire angry generation, fed up with politically incorrect tripe.
In conjunction with the #MeToo movement, cancel culture has helped crucify criminally problematic celebrities across the country. A glaring example is musician R-Kelly. After being imprisoned for sexual crimes, his music became taboo globally, thanks to the efforts of people on social media to condemn him and his work. He committed heinous acts, and thus faced appropriate fallout for his actions, thanks in part to cancel culture and the widespread outrage facilitated by publicizing the perpetrator’s transgressions.
This aspect of cancel culture is not problematic; in fact, it is admirable. It is only when something objectively minor in comparison—one joke, one tweet or ill-thought-out comment—elicits the same response does cancel culture become a problem.
This past week, former U.S. President Barack Obama hosted his third annual Obama Foundation Summit in Chicago’s south side. In an interview in front of a crowd comprised of adult political pundits and teen climate activists alike, Obama had topical and pertinent words regarding the explosive social media trend of “wokeness” and cancel culture. He said, “One danger I see among young people, particularly on college campuses … is the way [they make change] is to be as judgemental as possible about other people… If I tweet or hashtag something about how you didn’t do something right … That’s not activism. That’s not bringing about change.”
Obama has it right. It is counterintuitive to assume judging somebody who has slipped up and “putting them on blast” is an effective way to prevent them from continuing to be judgemental. After all, it’s a cyclical pattern: A mistake yields backlash, which yields a brewing dislike of those who are dishing out the backlash, which in turn sparks further judgement, and so on. Nobody benefits from this because it only angers the general public and causes the person who made the mistake to feel absolutely terrible.
In fact, the American Psychological Association goes so far as to suggest the social ostracism that results from being cancelled leads to a direct “depressive signalling” in the brain and, eventually, a numbing of our empathetic capabilities. In other words, getting cancelled makes the perpetrator less empathetic and more likely to continue exhibiting offensive behavior.
There is a fundamental difference in cancelling somebody based on their hatefulness and heinous behavior and cancelling somebody based on an ignorant phrase or mindset. Cancelling an individual for an ignorant mistake effectively removes any and all chance for them to cooperate positively, even if they are genuinely remorseful. There is little way for them to smoothly apologize and re-enter social circles—especially on a campus like Kenyon’s, where news travels like wildfire.
Kenyon must adopt a “call-in” philosophy and not a “callout” one, so as to prioritize educating people as opposed to harshly chastising and ostracizing them. “Calling in,” in this case, simply means bringing people in to have a discourse over the ramifications of ignorant and potentially harmful jokes and remarks.
In a campus full of progressive students, it’s only normal to want to enforce political correctness. Unfortunately, students who misstep are in the crosshairs, whether they are truly a hateful person or are sincerely apologetic and willing to learn. I refuse to believe any and all students who make a distasteful joke should be canceled and cut off from society. This solution, both morally and psychologically speaking, is ineffective. So while cancel culture is absolutely effective in publicly denouncing criminal celebrities, it is erroneous and fruitless to treat ignorant college students the same way. Call in, Kenyon, don’t call out.