February 7, 2023
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ColumnsSeeking Justice

Column: Cancel culture needs to be canceled

In John 7:53–8:11, you’ll find the story of the woman who was accused of committing adultery. The Pharisees brought the woman to Jesus, said she was caught committing adultery and that, according to the law of Moses, she should be stoned for the act. Jesus replied, saying that whoever is without sin should be the first to throw the stone. No one was able to throw a stone at the woman because they had all sinned at least once in life. Nowadays, everyone seems to be throwing stones instead of assessing their own faults.

I use this Bible verse as an example because it still applies today. In late March, Alexi McCammond, a Black woman, resigned from her new position as editorinchief of Teen Vogue when anti-Asian and homophobic tweets resurfaced. McCammond posted these nearly a decade ago when she was a teenager. Although she had previously apologized about the tweets, Teen Vogue got so much backlash that McCammond essentially had no other option but to resign. Has cancel culture completely eliminated redemption?

Cancel culture has made us far too comfortable, as a society, with pointing out the wrongs of others when we ourselves have done wrong as well. The only difference is everyone’s wrongs are not documented on social media. We’ve created a hierarchy of wrongs. Even after McCammond took accountability and apologized for her bigotry, she was still scrutinized for a past she could not change. Yes, we should all be held accountable, but we should also be awarded forgiveness. 

Cancel culture is dangerous — the precedent for what is too problematic and just problematic enough is left to interpretation. There seems to be some bias as to who should be canceled and who should be given forgiveness. It’s very easy to cancel a woman of color, but when it comes to those who hold structural power, there tends to be more grace.

Even the worst of the worst should have the chance for redemption. I stand by this. No one is so far gone that they cannot be redeemed. This is not to say they should not be held accountable, but if they have truly changed, their past should not be held over their heads like a dark cloud. This includes racists, thieves, murderers and more. You and I are no better and are not qualified to judge them. 

What we really need to cancel as a society is student loan debt, systemic racism, the prisonindustrial complex, inequality, homelessness and a whole host of other oppressive systems. All the things I’ve listed are social constructs in one way or another. I did not list a single individual. Canceling an individual does nothing but make us feel better about ourselves. We tell ourselves, “At least I’m not as bad as them,” but none of us are any better than each other.

Instead of cancel culture, let’s create a culture of redemption. Instead of shunning people for making mistakes, let’s give them the tools to do better. Instead of writing people off, let’s show them the forgiveness we would want to be awarded. In reality, we’re all one mistake away from being canceled. Wouldn’t you want the chance at redemption?

John Turner can be reached at jturner3@ithaca.edu