Phillipian Commentary: Cancelling Cancel Culture

“What is she like? Is she like, woke?” This year, I have both received and posed this question. As far as I knew, the word “woke” simply described an individual who was socially aware of the world and recognized the underlying problems of society that others did not. While using it, I did not see any harm or negative connotations. In fact, I considered myself “woke” and I wanted to surround myself with others who were woke too.

But my definition of “woke” changed when it was associated with another commonly used term, “cancel.” To “cancel” someone means to collectively ignore the presence of someone and condemn their actions, usually through the means of the internet. It was drama surrounding YouTubers, specifically James Charles, that made me look at this culture of cancelling people differently. People were more concerned about putting James Charles in his place, rather than actually caring to see a change in his mindset and seriously acknowledging the issue with the proper sensitivity and respect. It was essentially an overwhelming wave of criticism and hate towards an individual, masked under the idea that he was “cancelled.

For a moment, I saw nothing wrong with that. The fact that I watched and was almost a little satisfied with the criticism directed towards him shows that it does not require a person to physically act on their hate to contribute to this toxic notion of being “woke,” it just requires complacency. Complacency and silence are green-lights that give the “go-ahead” signal to bring down someone for their mistakes and justify it through the self-righteous term of being “woke.”

James Charles eventually was able to clear his name through a series of screenshots and more evidence, and the “James Charles is Cancelled” Movement came to a halt. It was so surprising and even a little frightening to me that this wave of criticism and fury could be unleashed and then taken back in the span of a day. Were these acts and parodies truly calling for change? Did our actions truly acknowledge these events and approach this situation in a productive way? Everything had worked out because James Charles ultimately proved his innocence, but if he had not, this whirlpool of hate would have still existed and been justified through the notion of being “woke.” As we challenge others’ actions, we must do it in a conscious, productive manner with the main goal to help communicate why those actions may be wrong or bring others harm. While this period of self-questioning and doubt did take place, it ultimately flashed by and I was back to using the word canceled and defining myself as woke.

The second and the final suckerpunch of reality that hit me was Megan Phelps-Roper’s All-School Meeting (ASM) speech. During ASM, Phelps-Roper was addressed with a comment regarding whether or not she could use the f-slur, as she herself was not a queer-identifying person. She defended her actions by saying that other gay men told her it was okay to do so. Her use was also an intentional act to emphasize and describe the magnitude of the hate of Westboro Baptist Church. While I think that her answer wasn’t fully representative of the message she was trying to send and was a poor response to the question, there were aspects in the responses of the Andover community that could have been better. I heard some students disregarding her entire speech and experience, instead only focusing on the last portion. I remember asking an individual for her opinion, and I was met with very negative feedback. It focused more on attacking and villainizing Phelps-Roper rather than addressing and discussing why she wasn’t allowed to do so and her potential reasoning. I must admit, Andover is a pretty socially aware campus with clubs, speakers, and classes that are all dedicated toward issues like race, socio-economic status, gender, and more. But because we are in a place of privilege and in an environment to ask these questions and challenge preconceived notions, we must learn to disagree and converse productively.

Shutting someone down and “cancelling” them does not offer the individual a true opportunity to change their mindset and to learn a new perspective. “Cancelling” someone actually deprives them of that potential experience and almost forces them to reinforce their own ideas due to the hate we confront them with. Are we being “woke” to help other people realize the problems they do not realize and truly open their eyes to a perspective they themselves do not hold or are we using the description of being “woke” to justify the act of spreading hate?

We should be able to identify and speak up about the actions we disagree with morally and condemn the actions that need condemning. But the desire to communicate these ideas should never align with the justification of giving and spreading hate.