Being self-righteous is the fast-food meal of those yielding the cancellation pens. And just as with its burger mania, Americans are addicted to its convenience and how it tastes on our tongue. There is nothing quite so satisfying as judging someone else from our self-identified superior platform of righteousness. It’s as though we were all enlightened ALL OF OUR LIVES, never having used a racial, sexist or other slur — either out loud or in our head — or never having made an assumption about someone who wasn’t the same color or sexual orientation as us.
Do people change over time? Can they grow in positive and significant ways from who they were in their youth, or from earlier points in their adulthood, when they did or said things now getting them shunned?
It’s hard not to think about these questions, as traditional and social media’s glaring-light interrogation of ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING is igniting our collective righteousness. One direction this takes is the current hyper-critical, knife across the jugular cancellations of well-known people, mostly men, such as star-makers, musicians, actors, politicians, CEOs and others taking advantage of their rank and power. Some cancellations are more than warranted, and overdue, such as those involving sexual assault, harassment or racism. Other times cancellation comes from a verbal assignation, recent examples being wearing “blackface,” at college parties, or use of misogynistic or homophobic jokes in comedy routines during times less enlightened. In other words, there is a sliding scale of cancellation, with Harvey Weinstein and R. Kelley type criminals on the worst end, and Megyn Kelly, on the other, landing there when she said it was okay in her childhood to wear blackface on Halloween, “as long as you were dressing like a character.” Stink bomb, Megyn. NBC thought so too when social media blew up.
So the next question is, for those on the same end of the scale as Megyn, can we or should we forgive her if she truly works to understand why some Americans found her statement offensive, and then changes her thinking and speaking about it? Can we, the American public, each with our own prior assignations, decide to cancel someone permanently even if they have truly changed their behavior, apologized, and awoke to a new world view?
Let’s be honest about our own pasts, even if it’s just secretly, in our heads and hearts. Should you be forgiven of those sins that you hate thinking about, wish had never happened? Do you deserve to be forgiven because you have changed? If others knew of your sins, would you be cancelled? We grow, learn, and are exposed to people and culture and new ideas as we move forward in the world. We begin to see people for who they are, rather than who we thought they were based on some mashup of our parents’ older-generation thinking about race and sexual orientation, for example, friends we knocked around with in our youth, the media’s portrayal of people of color, women and others over the years, and other influences, such as college, travel, work friendships and experiences, and other exposures. The point is: we grow over time. All of us do. For many that growth is in a positive direction, learning from others of different colors, cultures, perspectives and life choices; and understanding that it’s okay for people to have made choices different than ours. That doesn’t negate your choice. For others, their change process goes in the opposite direction, more like an ingrown toenail: there is growth, but a devolved type, that causes infections and irritation. And ugliness. And hate speech. And assault of people of color. And rape of women.
I have a box of letters I wrote to my boyfriend (now husband) from Africa that I rediscovered with our recent move to the Oregon coast. The letters he saved during the year we were separated by 10,000 miles begin on the first night away of my Peace Corps journey, where I stayed in New York to ensure I wouldn’t miss my flight to Botswana the next day. In reading them, I was smacked in the face with the person I was then: twenty-two, relatively unworldly recent graduate of PSU with a degree in English and teaching, whose only international experience was a family trip to British Columbia, Canada, and a quick trip to Tijuana, Mexico when I was four. Singularly unsophisticated, honed through my blue-collar upbringing, I ached for a world beyond what I had known so far. When I read who I was in the letters I had penned, I now see my growth over time. The growth that only experience and exposure bring. I had never really lived alone, moving from my parents to quickly living with my college boyfriend within a few months of leaving the nest. Thus, my experience making decisions completely on my own, without direct influence of others, was a teaspoon full at best. When I read the letters, I see a naive young woman voicing the opinions of her boyfriend more than herself. I see someone trying overly hard to please others by mimicking their likes and dislikes, their language, more than an independent woman who has grown up and found her own unique voice.
Eventually, I did find my own voice. But reading some of these letters reminded me that I didn’t always have the perspective I have now. I changed, and I hope, for the better in most cases. Living internationally, seeking out people who were different than myself in every way, joining organizations and boards of directors over the years, made up primarily of people of color; and studying the long history of racism against and contributions by people of color, especially in the U.S; and the history of abuse faced by LGBTQ communities. Still, I have more to learn, and to grow, if I am being completely honest with myself.
Excluding the abusers and the worst of offenders, when we learn of verbal offences from past years, let’s look at what that person might have done in the interim to change. When “caught” did they first apologize, or did they make excuses or apologies so “soft” as to be insulting to those they hurt with their remarks or actions? Does their change include what they say in the privacy of their own home, or just in public? In other words, is it authentic, real change, or just window-dressing for their public persona?
If change has happened, before we cancel with a death knell that ensures a ruined life, let’s go a bit deeper. Remember that we are human, and all of us are fallible. Certainly we have all said mean, insulting, racist, homophobic and sexist things in some combination that, if public, may bring our own cancellation. Yeah, it’s fun and satisfying to be righteous. That’s why it’s a pandemic all its own, thriving and multiplying as we run rampant with our cancellation fever.
How about we all chill out with our guillotine approach to the lesser of the past aspersions if offenders have changed and learned, and apologized, in the interim. Because guess what? One thing we all share: we’re only human. And most likely, none of could be exposed under the spotlight of cancellable offenses and pass that test, if we’re being honest.
And isn’t it time to be honest?
Peace out. Peace for Ukraine. Fuck Putin.
From Lady Proverbs, somewhere on the Oregon Coast.
For more from Lady Proverbs, go to PulayanaPress.com