Recently, the word cancel is getting new usage. Standing alone, it simply means to get rid of something. In a Words We are Watching article on the Merriam Webster website, in the latest use of the word, you can cancel people—in particular, celebrities, politicians, or anyone who takes up space in the public consciousness. Canceling and cancel culture have to do with the removing of support for public figures in response to their objectionable behavior or opinions. This can include boycotts or refusal to promote their work. To keep pace with trends, urban usage continues to modify and expand the definition of the term cancel culture, so it is difficult to sum up the concept in one or two sentences.
The juxtaposition of the words cancel and culture, launched our curiosity in the direction of questioning whether cultures could literally be cancelled?
We previously defined cancel as getting rid of something. Again consulting Merriam Webster, the definition of culture includes the customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social group such as the “Caribbean Culture.” Wikipedia adds that “culture” is an umbrella term which encompasses the social behavior and norms found in human societies, as well as the knowledge, beliefs, arts, laws, customs, capabilities, and habits of the individuals in these groups.
Cities have culture. Religions have culture. Universities have culture. Businesses have culture. Groups of people have cultures…and subcultures. Get the point? Entities have a way of operating that gives them identity and definition. People, groups and organizations need identities. It is fundamental to image, uniformity and cohesiveness. When immigrants came to the United States, they had to leave behind parts of their culture in order to assimilate into the new society.
Cultures have history. History is more than events, it includes lessons learned from those events. Eradicating practices that did not work, for instance the mistreatment of people does not correct the problem. History should not be forgotten and neither can it simply be deleted.
Everything has a purpose…the good, the bad, and the ugly. When we think about the wrongdoings in society such as systemic racism, gender disparities, slavery, the Holocaust, displacement of Native Americans, and other injustices, they were painful yet purposeful. They gave rise to movements, leaders, innovations, legislation, and victories that changed (and are changing) such reprehensible behavior and conditions.
The reality is that you can’t erase what has been done. You can improve on it. You can transform it. You can’t delete it.
The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s brought to light racial injustices toward Black Americans and resulted in legislative changes that banned racist Jim Crow practices.
Currently our world is facing a pandemic that has claimed over a million lives and spread the coronavirus to even more. This is not the first time that America has experienced the dangers of a pandemic. Medical experts say that, to date, the coronavirus rivals The Spanish Flu of 1918 (which holds the place as the deadliest pandemic in history) and though that flu no longer exists, there are lessons to be learned on triumph and tragedy.
It can be dangerous think that we can erase culture or undo history. The value is found in identities; correcting errors of the past, and utilizing lessons from previous situations. The richness of our current culture depends on the strengths of all the subcultures and practices that exist therein. Sadly, not all people embrace and value differences; resulting in acts of prejudice, injustice and exploitation.
Those practices are what’s in need of cancellation!