Cancel culture addresses real harm…and sometimes causes more. It’s time to think this through.
“Cancel” or “call-out” culture is a source of much tension and debate in American society. The infamous “Harper’s Letter,” signed by public intellectuals of both the left and right, sought to settle the matter and only caused greater division. Originating as a way for marginalized and disempowered people to address harm and take down powerful abusers, often with the help of social media, call outs are seen by some as having gone too far. But what is “too far” when you’re talking about imbalances of power and patterns of harm? And what happens when people in social justice movements direct their righteous anger inward at one another?
In We Will Not Cancel Us, movement mediator adrienne maree brown reframes the discussion for us, in a way that points to possible paths beyond this impasse. Most critiques of cancel culture come from outside the milieus that produce it, sometimes even from from its targets. However, brown explores the question from a Black, queer, and feminist viewpoint that gently asks, how well does this practice serve us? Does it prefigure the sort of world we want to live in? And, if it doesn’t, how do we seek accountability and redress for harm in ways that reflect our values?
With an Afterword by Malkia Devich-Cyril.