Activism, Election, Politics, Racism, Social Justice, Uncategorized

Who cancelled who?: Cancelling the discourse on “cancel culture”

I would like to start this piece out with an apology. I know I don’t have any readers that care too much about my absence, but I have been dealing with some epilepsy issues lately that have, frankly, prevented me from tackling complicated and nuanced topics. Typically I have something akin to brain fog after I have a seizure which, thankfully, is a rare occurrence. However, I changed my meds in early December and proceeded to have seizures in December and January. So many doctors, tests, and evaluations later, I have decided to return to writing. I feel like my brain has finally returned, as best as I can tell, to its normal state. All of that to say, I do apologize for being gone longer than I anticipated, and I am glad to be back with you.

That being said, we need to talk today about the boogeyman in the room lately – the discourse on “cancel culture.” It’s a conversation that needs to be unpacked in order to be assessed properly. Because if we don’t unpack it, and reveal the insidious nature of those calling out cancel culture, people like Trump will continue to rise to power and become a lightning rod and a magnet for the most pernicious and duplicitous groups in America: The Extreme Right. Before I give my best attempt at assessing the absolute ridiculous argument put forth by the right regarding cancel culture, it needs to be expressed up front that while the right wing seems to be the loudest in volume, the American center has also attached itself to the “cancel culture” narrative. I read an article, somewhere, in the last few days that credited Rush Limbaugh with being the father of the movement to stand-up to cancel culture. With his most welcome and recent passing, as well as the discourse surrounding Dr. Seuss publication changes and Gina Carano’s recent dismissal from The Mandalorian series, I figured it was a great time to try and undo a bit of that work. I’ll start with this, if you could boil this entire post into a single thesis point, it would be this: The narrative against “cancel culture” is not only old and tired, it is a clear and obvious form of gaslighting from a very large group of hypocrites who not only lack a complete understanding of the amendments they think “cancel culture” is threatening, but are also engaged in a far more nefarious and dangerous form of cancellation and the impact is deeper and much farther reaching than they would ever be willing to admit.

So let’s talk about what this specter of “cancel culture” really is. In doing this, I want to start by talking about what it is NOT. What the right (I am averaging out the center and extreme right and calling it the right as an explicit attempt to save on word count) loves to characterize “cancel culture” as can be defined as an attempt to fundamentally strip people, primarily those of a conservative persuasion, of their free speech by disassociating and de-platforming people simply based on a difference of opinion. This is a somewhat forest instead of the trees type definition of what the right calls “cancel culture.” It’s intentionally dishonest, morally repugnant, and shamefully ignorant. It’s premeditated to be so simplistic that it might spread like wildfire because of how easy it is to mischaracterize and apply to every situation. The only problem with the entire narrative against “cancel culture” is that it is a calculated lie to cover up an even more pervasive, powerful, and glaringly perverse version of their own cancel culture. A culture that has consequences that are far more egregious and long lasting than any they claim they have endured. Something that goes unnoticed, especially by the younger generation (this isn’t a pejorative, they just literally weren’t born to see this shift I’m about to talk about occur), is that the debate about “cancel culture” has its roots in political correctness. Sure – most of us know what PC stands for, but what it stands for now is completely different than what it used to stand for some 25-30 years ago. When I was young it was politically incorrect to be critical of religion. To express sexuality in any manner other than binary heterosexuality between one woman and one man was anathema to the political mainstream. Polyamorous relationships? Expressing one’s own gender in a way that did not conform to the politically correct notion of the gender binary? Homosexual relationships? These things could get you fired from your job, they could result in permanent expulsion from your family, circle of friends, and even your communities. People were literally cancelled for not conforming to what was deemed politically correct. This very real version of cancel culture resulted in lives lost either due to people dying from depression, to being murdered for not fitting into societal norms. If your skin wasn’t white you were derided for being a criminal, illegal immigrant, drug dealer, job stealers, and contradicting these notions was considered politically incorrect. The very people gaslighting the left for being the “PC Police” were very literally complicit in cancelling and policing people for being different. I want to be very clear about this last point – what has become PC has evolved over time, but the problems that conservatives have thrust on this country of racism, bigotry, xenophobia, and hate; these blights remain as constant as ever. The difference that has emerged is that the left has, at least culturally, gained more power.

The actions of the political right have not changed. We still live in a culture that supports black men and women being murdered by police on the street without due process, while people carrying thin blue line flags cry about how the #MeToo movement has stripped rapists of due process. Those same people are now claiming the free speech of Kens and Karens across the country have been violated because a company enforced a policy that asked them to wear masks. Literal tears are shed because their freedom has been stripped from them while they sustain a culture that supports the murdering of black people, throwing kids in cages, bullying and murdering members of the LGBT community, the litany of conspiracies and abuse given to people that wear masks and support social distancing so that things can return to whatever normal looks like after the pandemic, and finally – attempts to murder their own government, including their Vice President they so fervently loved just a few short weeks prior, because they won’t overthrow an election they lost in one of the most free and fair elections in recent memory. The right is perfectly fine with cancel culture as an idea, what they are not very fond of is a culture that will not support and sustain their hate. What they fear is a loss of power.

Make no mistake, the right still possesses an unreasonably high level of power. Politically it is almost a sustained idea that they possess enough power to still make lives miserable for minorities of all types in this country. And yes, they still use said power to cancel anyone that doesn’t fit into the right subset of categories. All of that being true, it is also true that they are losing power culturally. This power has allowed those that do not support hate (I will not categorize this as “the left” since being on the left doesn’t make you immune to being problematic – here’s looking at you Gov. Cuomo) to use the constitutional rights afforded to Americans, yeah those constitutional rights that conservatives said were going away, to limit the ability of hate mongers to peddle hate, conspiracies, and lies. They’re still free to say those things without government consequences, but they are not immune to other people and business using their own rights to limit that speech by refusing to associate with it.

There’s so much more that can be said with regards to the discourse against “cancel culture,” so I suppose I’ll end with this thought. “Cancel culture” isn’t the expression of stripping someone of their freedom, it is the pushback from a part of the country that is tired of being stripped of that and so much more. The consequences being experienced by the likes of Gina Carano, are not a result of someone using their free speech, but for pushing ideas that fundamentally seek to punish people for using their freedom of speech and expression. She isn’t being murdered, she’s still a multi-millionaire, and because this country still possesses a shockingly larger number of bigots, she presumably will have earning potential for years to come. My message to the critics of the left and “cancel culture” is to be very grateful that you weren’t cancelled in the ways you have and still continue to cancel those who don’t agree with you. Be grateful that we view the way you treat people as immoral. Take a look in the mirror, because “cancel culture” isn’t cancelling you, it’s cancelling the culture of hate and political correctness that got people killed and continues to get people killed. I’m perfectly fine cancelling that shit.

Thanks for sticking this one out.

Activism, Election, Politics, Racism, Social Justice, Uncategorized

Denouncing “Snappy Phrases” with Snappy Phrases.

It’s hard to explain just how unsurprising it is to hear moderates excoriate modern activists by telling them their “slogans” aren’t good enough, as if that is where the real problem lies. Obama, a long time hero of many on the left, opened up to Peter Hamby, the host of a show called Good Luck America. From what I can tell this show is the mash up you get when Snapchat meets American politics. During the show, Obama decried calls by progressives and activists to defund the police as being an unmarketable approach in the modern fight for civil rights and against police brutality. In his conversation with Hamby, Obama called the cries for police reform as “snappy” phrases and went on to say “You lost a big audience the minute you say it, which makes it a lot less likely that you’re actually going to get the changes you want done.” As someone with a university degree (but by no means an expert) in Conflict Resolution Studies, I spent some time studying social movements. While there is something to be said about using marketable ideas in order to broaden your impact, I have to say I disagree with President Obama vociferously.

The first caveat I would like to make is that, as a cis-gendered heterosexual white male, I know almost nothing about being a victim of discrimination or civil rights abuses. I have never been, and never will be, a victim of systemic oppression, nor will I suffer discrimination because of the color of my skin. Obama lives this experience, and he was uniquely dragged though the public sphere by our current racist in chief with the entire birther issue. So I will not be speaking to that, but where I do find disagreement is on the issue of where the onus is on civil rights and police brutality. Because as I see it, it’s way past time to address those that continue to ignore, or perpetuate, the civil rights violations. Instead of calling out activists doing the necessary ground work, with pushback from all sides of the political spectrum, why not call out those that continue to miss the point? This seems like the obvious route to take, but we continue to kick the ball into our own net when it comes to civil rights and activism in 2020. By throwing a nation of activists under the bus, moderates have taken the side of the oppressor.

Yes, calls to defund the police are multifaceted and varied in definition. There are some that literally want all funding stripped and police departments disbanded in favor of other law enforcement models. There are others that want to completely overhaul police departments and adopt a completely different paradigm when it comes to how we keep our communities safe. There are disagreements between those that use this phrase, but one thing that I think is in universal agreement is that policing cannot simply be reformed. Reform has become a euphemism for inaction in this country. Law enforcement needs to be drastically altered from the top down WHAT laws are written, HOW those laws are then publicly interpreted and applied, WHO is interpreting and applying theses laws, and what type of SERVICES are we expecting law enforcement to be involved with. Currently we have a training gap, an expertise gap, an educational gap, a political gap, a racial gap, a violence gap, and a clear funding gap. As a society we put value in arming our police departments to the teeth so that they look more akin to U.S. Special Forces instead of people that need to be focused on problems at the community level. No two communities are the same, and therefore the needs are as diverse as the people that live in them. While I firmly support punitive financial punishment to law enforcement, the need to defund them isn’t solely based on the public distrust of cops. We need to defund the police so that we can refund programs and people that have more training and expertise than cops. We need to defund the police, so we can refund our communities and actually address the systemic issues that cops are unable and unwilling to address themselves.

The final point that needs to be made is to address the gaslighting done to the activists in our communities. No, I am not calling myself an activist. I’ve participated in some protests, but that is not remotely enough to earn that badge. The problem with armchair critics of modern activism, is they do exactly what Obama just did. These heroes (that’s what they are to me) do not simply show up at protests, yell snappy phrases, and go home like the entitled generation they are made out to be. They go home from protests and continue to fight and do a lot of really difficult leg work behind the scenes. I live in a small city in the Midwest, and here in Omaha we have our own activist group that fights tooth and nail for justice. These efforts go unnoticed when people like Obama go public with their uninformed dismissal of these heroes. We have a community organization doing a lot of that necessary work here in Omaha. Locally we are all aware of Bear Alexander (a personal hero of mine) and his tireless work at protests, what goes unnoticed in the media a lot of times is the tireless legal, political, and organizing efforts he is engaged in on an almost daily basis. ProBlac – a group created and designed as a space for allies to listen and participate in the prioritizing and uplifting of Black and Indigenous voices in our community – is intensely engaged in these efforts. These aren’t disorganized children standing on street corners with signs looking for attention. There are several other individuals and groups in the city that work together for this goal. The change that will inevitably come will be a result of their work and efforts on all of these fronts. It would be nice if these efforts could be praised and even accurately understood instead of dismissed with snappy phrases from on high.

If you’d like to see for yourself the hard work being done by Bear and many more of these local activists – you can find them here.

Thanks for sticking this one out

Election, Politics, Racism, Social Justice, Uncategorized

Positively Toxic.

2020. You have been positively toxic. You brought us a pandemic, one of the most tumultuous elections of my lifetime, and you seem convinced to complicate both of those issues as we move into the final month of your existence. We seem to be well on our way to peaking during a second or third wave of COVID deaths, and Trump seems to be trying to find new ways to throw Democracy in the trash as punishment for his defeat. The short version, this year hasn’t been an easy one for anyone.

This sets the back drop of the reason for starting this blog. Because of the pandemic, we’re all trying to adjust and reacclimate to some sort of new norm. Some of us are adapting in order to find creative outlets, and others are trying to add revenue streams in order to ride all of these pandemic waves we have been assaulted with. However, one thing is universally true, this pandemic has made this year feel like one of the longest on record. This has brought about one of the more troubling trends that seems to get drowned out in the all the other noise that makes up 2020. What is that trend you ask? I am talking about toxic positivity.

The pandemic is a political and a medical issue, and it is tangentially related to this discussion, but for the moment I want to talk about the 2020 election, or more specifically, the immediate aftermath. Any reasonable person knows that Biden won the election, and that no amount of frivolous lawsuits/recounts/bloviating will be able to reverse that reality. Then there is the “silent majority” who seem to brush off all evidence of Trump’s defeat as a part of some diabolical conspiracy concocted by the Left and the Liberal Media to overturn the will of the people. Another thing reasonable people understand is that life doesn’t fit comfortably into binaries. With that being said, there is another trend starting to gain traction and it’s this inauspicious desire for us to forget the last four years (especially the last year) in an effort to come together and heal the nation. While the motives of such actors are probably pure, the very idea seems pernicious to me.

I say pernicious because to unite and heal would be to forgive and forget a lot of what has happened over the last four years. If you are a member of the left, more specifically the progressive left, the last four years have been one of the most intense and sustained episodes of gaslighting one can endure. There has been an increase in instances of violence in the name of white supremacy, there has been a massive push to delegitimize the media while at the same time legitimizing actual Nazis. The lies, the racism, the misogyny, the perpetual power grab all lead to an environment that this time, there is no forgive and forget.

Cops murdered people of color and then attacked protesters fighting against that systemic racism and protesters were universally condemned as violent. There was no effort to understand the issue, contextualize the riots, or actually come to the truth about the riots (as in not all the crimes were committed by protestors). The right has treated vigilantes murdering protestors as heroes. Brandishing a weapon, irresponsibly, in an aggressive and racist manor now gets you a spot on the RNC convention stage. Those who continued to wear their silly hats and fly their silly flags in the wake of all this destabilizing behavior were, correctly, linked with the worst tendencies of society. What was the response to all of this? They labelled the left as fascists, socialists, communists, and the real racists. I’ve been called anti-American for being a liberal, and I’ve been called a terrorist for getting gassed while doing the superhuman feat of sitting on a bus bench holding a sign in the middle of a protest.

The final transgression we’re being asked to ignore, or forget, is the infantile response the right has had toward the pandemic. More lies and disinformation has been spread only to result in more death, more sickness, and deepened economic strain. This has all been painted as just another conspiracy cooked by the Left to infringe on the rights of Americans. Rights, of course, that are not very well understood by those making these claims. These people have been more than willing to ignore the best practices designed, supported, and implemented by medical officials in favor of a poor man’s crusade to protect rights that were never in danger of being violated. And like The Crusades of medieval times, it has cost us lives. As I write this, the United States has lost around 270,000 people, and by the end of the year it’s expected we will surpass the 300,000 mark which is about 5x greater than the deaths we can typically expect during a particularly ruthless flu year.

So with all of this that has been laid out today, and so much more that would take more real estate that can feasibly covered in a single blog post, we are expected to forgive and forget the transgressions heaped upon this country and its people. We are being asked to act like it never happened, which to me is a continuation of the gaslighting we have been forced to endure for the last 5 years (I’m including the campaign leading up to the 2016 election). It is this that I find most detrimental to the path forward, because acting like it never happened is how we got to the point where we allowed it to happen all over again. If that’s what you were expecting when you read the Harmony part of this title, I want to let you know now that you will be disappointed with this author. There isn’t an idea I abhor greater than the idea that this is all just a difference of opinion. The very idea of that is positively toxic.

Thanks for sticking this one out.