Cross-Fire: Cancel Culture

Ahmed Elsayed and Kainat Ansari

Cross-Fire is a new bi-weekly Opinion column where writers go head-to-head on the issues that matter. This week’s issue: cancel culture —is it anti-progress or a progressive utopia? Read, share and then tell us what you think!

Cancel Culture is Anti-Progress

Kainat Ansari

Whitman’s cancel culture works in its own peculiar and unique ways. There have been many controversies on campus where people have been canceled from groups, friendships or from a circle of people just because they have said something that is intolerant or unconventional to Whitman’s culture. What and who defines the boundary of this culture of intolerance? People on the campus are quick to call out others by canceling them—often giving little thought to the harm it can do.

Cancel culture does nothing other than cause damage to progress. To be clear, I am not talking about a culture where people are terminated due to their racist and sexist behaviors, as those are tantamount to crimes. I am arguing against a culture where people are cold-shouldered for exhibiting ignorant behaviors and uttering unpopular opinions. Cancel culture at Whitman is anti-inclusivity because it expects people coming from non-American backgrounds to know everything about American culture, its history and its structural oppression. Whitman should provide a space for people to learn and grow. Four years is a long period where people go through profound changes; how dare we even think of breaking that chain of progress by making them averse to advancement and growth? Cancel culture breaks that chain completely, taking away the opportunity to have meaningful conversations.

Fostering friendships at Whitman is one of the most important ways we develop a sense of belonging in this community. Being ostracized by your peers can be the worst punishment for the people who are still navigating their way on this campus. The bystander effect is very prevalent when it comes to cancel culture. People who witness it may then feel that canceling is a morally right thing to do and actively participate or promote it.

Cancel culture is anti-progress. It is innately exclusionary and it promotes a culture where people are ostracized without getting any chances for redemption and progression. This is by no means saying that an individual should not be called out for problematic behaviors. However, cancellation as a punishment is detrimental to growth and a catalyst to anti-progressive movements. The liberal arts college experience should be a learning experience for everyone; we must engage in uncomfortable conversations at times and provide people with spaces to find common ground.

Whitman, Check Your Privilege 

Ahmed Elsayed

Illustration by M Hu.

My friend says problematic things and they believe in harmful ideologies. Should I ignore those shortcomings and find a common ground where we can avoid having frustrating conversations? Should we stay friends as long as we don’t speak on certain topics?

Maintaining friendships like that speaks to privilege. When you belong to an overrepresented group—be it cis, white, heterosexual, man, etc.—those friendships wouldn’t directly impact your mental health and harm you.

Yes, you are an ally, but you won’t feel criminalized and ostracized when someone shouts a slur or supports an ideology that oppresses you.

Yes, you are an ally, but homophobia doesn’t impede your day-to-day life.

Yes, you are an ally, but racism doesn’t take away opportunities from you (and it is easier to just stay silent or send an angry emoji than to stand up).

Yes, you are an ally, but you are guaranteed autonomy over your body, and you won’t be judged if you don’t smile at random men on the street.

Yes, you are an ally, but nobody mocks or laughs at you when you introduce yourself with the pronouns you are comfortable with.

Having a loyal, dependable friend that actively discriminates against a group of people is a contradiction to your so-called allyship. If your friend isn’t actively working on improving themselves, then they are comfortable with their beliefs. Maintaining such a friendship is a stab in the back to all of your other friends who belong to the identities that your friend oppresses. How would you have a friendship gathering/party if the co-existence of your friends isn’t possible?

I’m not saying that you should only hang out with people who think like you. I’m not saying that we should cancel people for their ideologies. I’m saying that having a friendship with someone who is comfortable with their ignorance, discrimination and harmful ideologies is merely a contradiction to any allyship you claim.