In Defense of Cancel Culture

There’s a talking point going around that America is so divided right now by cancel culture and ideological polarization and it’s clearly a Bad Thing.

Nonsense. America has always been divided.

For most of the “United” States’ history and across most of its territory, anyone who wasn’t white could be killed on sight without repercussions. That is not an exaggeration, it is a fact. Black people were enslaved and then subjected to apartheid at gunpoint and kept there by massive systematic terrorism of lynching’s that the State turned a blind eye too. Every State in the Union has had scalp bounties for native people on the books at some point. A century ago, Asians were being lynched and murdered with impunity by white mobs from LA to Seattle and it was common right here in Mendocino County where I live for wealthy white families to buy Native American children and use them as house slaves right up to (at least) the 1940’s. Women of color were particularly vulnerable in all of the obvious ways that people much better qualified than me have written about extensively.

Americans have ALWAYS been divided. The law has never protected everyone equally.

Even among White people, Americans have always been divided. Discrimination against Irish, Italians, Jews and other assimilated white populations was common and non-Anglo white people are disproportionately poor and working class to this day. My father’s father was born in a one room shack with a dirt floor and grew up as as a sharecropper in deep poverty. So while he absolutely had privilege as a white man in the south compared to black sharecroppers, he was also objectively oppressed in terms of his actual lived circumstances. And, of course, terrorism against people of color often extended to their white allies – I’ve read studies claiming as many as 1/3 of lynching victims under Jim Crow were white – anyone who spoke up against the system found themselves swinging from a tree.

Even rich white women were not permitted to vote until 1919, and black women were prevented from voting across most of the US until 1965’s by Jim Crow. Women couldn’t get legal birth control or a credit card in their own names until the 1970’s. All of these gains enraged Conservatives, and Trump-backed candidates in Michigan and North Carolina have advocated repealing women’s right to vote and just last year the wildly conservative Supreme Court revoked the constitutional right to an abortion.

Anyone who knows labor history knows about state militias machine gunning workers for striking, Pinkertons beating and murdering organizers with impunity, wobblies rounded up at gunpoint and then “released” in the Mojave with no water to die in the desert. And they know that to this day corporations routinely violate labor laws and engage in illegal union busting.

It’s only in my own lifetime that gay people went from being unable to get married and being targeted by relentless gay bashing to finally being somewhat accepted. Trans people are fighting that same fight right now. Neurodivergent people are just beginning to be heard.

So I’ll say it again, America has always been divided. The only difference between then and now is that, thanks to tremendous effort and courage, it is not longer acceptable to openly advocate racism, homophobia, misogyny, ableism, and so on; and those who do so risk being “cancelled.” And that, my friends, is a GOOD THING.

For the first time in American history, the people who have been terrorized and lynched and abused for so long have the power to exert some small amount of cultural leverage against their abusers, and enough white Americans have finally found the courage to stand with them to prevent them from being lynched for doing so. This fact enrages the far right. They rant and they rave about the “woke” mob, but they only say “woke” because saying “nigger lovers” would get them cancelled. So instead they use dog whistles. They say they want to “Make America Great Again,” but everyone knows what they really mean.

The Republicans want to make America what it was for the vast majority of it’s history – an overtly white supremacist Christian-nationalist empire based on the open subjugation of anyone who wasn’t a wealthy Anglo Saxon man. Anyone who isn’t okay with that agenda will be pilloried for being divisive. And the Democrats, in their typical gutless brainless spineless fashion, are so scared of being “divisive” that instead of standing up against the new American fascists, they denounce the left and claim that anyone who doesn’t support their appeasement is working for Russia to divide America. The thing is, appeasement doesn’t work. All it does is empower authoritarians, and if the Vichy left can’t understand that then they should be cancelled right along with the fascists they’re enabling.