Cancelling Cancel Culture

“Cancelling” someone has become increasingly popular among Millenials and Gen Z over the last couple of months. We not only “cancel” people as a joke, publicly scrutinizing them for having unpopular sports opinions or liking unusual foods, but also “cancel” groups on a larger scale, such as criticizing social institutions and public corporations. Goya, an American Hispanic-owned food company, for example, was cancelled and boycotted against when CEO Robert Unanue expressed his public support for President Donald Trump. At the root of this trend, though, it is imperative to understand that the modern generation sees cancel culture as a regulation technique—a means of calling out the offensive and obscene in order for others to become more socially aware of the harms that their actions could cause. While cancel culture does exist at Lawrenceville, rather than preventing offensive behaviors, it does little more than incite division, making people afraid to voice their opinions.

When cancel culture is taken to an extreme, people who genuinely regret their actions are shunned without regard for their sincerity. When asked if cancel culture has permeated Lawrenceville culture, one Lawrentian claimed that it “is definitely prevalent.” He or she went on to describe how one can be completely ostracized by a community because of one offensive act he or she commits. By turning against our community members so quickly, we make the mistake of discouraging others to see beyond their perspective, because they will only dwell upon the discomforting and harsh criticism they received. We, as Lawrentians, pride ourselves in our bond as a community, but we cannot maintain these relationships if some of us are constantly wary of being publicly shamed by our peers.

Although Harkness supposedly strives to foster a communal atmosphere in which everyone can speak his or her mind, cancel culture has made some afraid to voice their opinions for fear of retribution. The value of a Harkness education lies in our engagement in respectful and constructive conversations that expand our understanding of topics. However, cancel culture has led many of us to suppress unfavorable ideas around the table, particularly ones that concern sensitive topics such as race and culture. For example, if a student were to express a viewpoint about slavery in America that misconstrues its history as a long-standing social institution, more often than not, Lawrentians nowadays would criticize the individual and label him or her as insensitive rather than respectfully point out his or her misconceptions about the topic. At our predominantly liberal school, republican students are often cancelled, largely because they’re not seen as progressive enough. Publicly shunning viewpoints without engaging in conversation with our peers only ignores the purpose of our education.

Not only does cancel culture divide our community, but it also fails in its core purpose. In many cases, people affected by harmful actions or words who “bring up negative experiences” are “largely ignored,” and those who perpetuate ideas that can cause harm rarely face serious repercussions. In these cases, the efficacy of cancel culture must be called into question. If the goal of cancel culture is to change people’s opinions, then it fails in that goal because rather than pushing us to continue meaningful conversations, cancel culture ends conversations and leaves each party only less willing to engage in conversation in the future. All told, it creates unnecessary division where it aims to foster unity.

Cancel culture’s influence on our classes, conversations, and social lives cannot be ignored. We, as Lawrentians, must continue our non-tolerance of racism, bigotry, sexism, and collective offensiveness, but we must do so in a way that does not divide our community. Without a culture of cancellation and ostracization on campus, we can uphold a standard of respect in conversation for all Lawrentians. ‘Cancelling’ cancel culture is the way to create a welcoming constructive community for all.

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