Living in the Age of Cancel Culture

Published on May 14, 2021
by K. Todd Houston

Cancel Culture

The term cancel culture is used to describe a process of ostracism, a way of publicly calling out someone who has offended a specific group. The person is “canceled” or shunned due to controversial actions or statements. Those who are canceled often declare that they were unfairly treated or their words were taken out of context. For me, I do think that sometimes, we are too quick to judge someone’s words or actions. There’s a rush to judgment in a society that craves an immediate reaction, especially in social media and other online platforms.


One mistake that I think happens is that we judge someone’s actions using today’s expectations rather than the culture or time period in which he or she lived. Recently, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Abraham Lincoln were victims of cancel culture. These men were complex individuals who accomplished extraordinary things in their lifetimes. Were they perfect and without blemish? No, not at all; they were human. Former US President Barack Obama warned against cancel culture, saying that “People who do really good stuff have flaws. People who you are fighting may love their kids, and you know, share certain things with you.”


So, where do we draw the line in cancel culture? That is, in a free society that prides itself on the freedom of speech, how can we preserve a diversity of opinion and thought without ‘canceling’ someone who has an opposing view? Perhaps there are alternatives and improvements to cancel culture, such as those proposed by Professor Anita Bright. Dr. Bright supports “calling in” rather than “calling out” to bring forward the former’s idea of accountability but in a more “humane, humble, and bridge-building” way. Similarly, clinical counselor Anna Richards, who specializes in conflict mediation, says that “learning to analyze our own motivations when offering criticism” helps call-out culture work productively.


Holding someone accountable for their words and actions is the primary goal of cancel culture, and I certainly want this process to be fairly applied. We can try to put ourselves in the other’s person’s shoes before making a judgment and, as Anna Richards states, analyze our own motivations. Am I being fair? Why do I react to these statements or actions? Does the person make an intellectual point, or is he openly antagonistic?


There are other situations that require no reflection prior to ‘canceling’ the person. Those who stoke hatred through racism, homophobia, transphobia, religious bigotry, gender stereotypes, and ageism should not be tolerated. Likewise, those who actively engage in sexual misconduct, if guilty, maybe canceled and even imprisoned. In civil discourse, no one should be purposely offensive or antagonistic. Too often, those who share these vile opinions and beliefs complain about their treatment. For them, I say, “you’ve been canceled!”


Connect, Communicate, and Collaborate. That is the 3C way.





Bright, A. & Gambrell, J. (2017). “Calling In, Not Calling Out: A Critical Race Framework for Nurturing Cross-Cultural Alliances in Teacher Candidates.” Handbook of Research on Promoting Cross-Cultural Competence and Social Justice In Teacher Education

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