We’ve all seen it happen before, when the ruthless whip that is cancel culture knocks down yet another teenage internet celebrity. When a video from years ago of your favorite TikTok dancer singing racial slurs surfaces, suddenly that individual must be removed from the internet. When old tweets from a famous YouTube makeup artist are dragged out of the depths of the web, the YouTuber must disappear for a few months, just to reappear with a tearfully scripted apology video. These are prevalent examples of cancel culture, and seeing them online can deeply affect teen viewers. They implicitly teach high school students that it is not okay to ask questions, and therefore, students become afraid to learn why certain things are harmful to others.
The point of cancel culture is to teach people that the thing they said or did was harmful, why it was harmful, who it harmed, and why they should not continue the behavior. Sadly, in actuality, canceling people does none of these things. Instead the people are attacked ad hominem and cast out without being educated about what they did.
Cancel culture creates a fear of being canceled and causes people not to ask questions when they don’t understand why something is hurtful. Instead of learning about the issue, its history, and who it harms, they will keep their questions to themselves for fear of a bad reaction.
While it does make sense that it’s necessary to remove someone’s platform when they’ve caused harm, cancel culture almost always fails in taking someone’s platform. A celebrity will take a hiatus from the internet, return with an apology video, and still have millions of fans. The same is true of cancel culture in real life. Attempts at removing someone’s social power often end in meaningless drama, rather than a productive interaction.
Instead of simply attacking the person who caused harm, if we treat them with the kindness they possibly do not deserve, they will be more likely to be receptive to education on the issue. Instead of making them defensive and allowing them to make themselves the victim by acting cruelly, we should be kind and teach them how to do better.
In a world where we treat people who caused harm with kindness and teach them why their actions were wrong, they will then be able to educate others. At Berkeley High School, the political environment can be so charged that students are limited in asking questions, and, consequently, limited in growth.
This is why in order to cause real change, we must create space for people to ask questions and make mistakes. When they do, it is much more helpful to treat them with kindness, so that they can learn why their actions were hurtful and move forward.