Take the ‘cancel’ out of our ‘culture’

How instant exclusion can do more harm than good


Graphic by Akira Sinnott ’22

In the recent years, with 2020 being no exception, many celebrities and companies have been condemned for inappropriate behaviors such as hate speech, prejudice, or malpractice, leading to them being “cancelled” on social media. But recently, this tendency to cancel and ostracize people online has spilled over into the Jones community. “Cancel culture” should not be a part of high school life because it causes more problems than it fixes. Instead peers should help educate each other so these problems can be prevented. 

“Cancel culture” stems from group thinking and the continuous redefining of what is acceptable according to society’s norms. While it is crucial to evolve and hold people accountable, these are not celebrities and million dollar companies that asked for their lives to be put under a magnifying glass, they are students in a high school.

The effect of “cancel culture” very closely reflects bullying. People are cast out with no hope of redemption on the basis of being different. For celebrities, it is a stunt in their career, but for high school students, this is the death of their social life. According to a study done by NCBI, a teen’s self confidence relies heavily on peer approval. The lack of peer socialization is detrimental to teen development. Disagreeing with their peers’ views can lead to social isolation. When teens are cancelled it can take a huge toll on their mental health. Not allowing students to grow from their mistakes and evolve their understanding of the situation can be more harmful than good. People, especially high school students, should be able to apologize and learn from their mistakes, then move on. Without allowing them to be a part of the conversation nothing will change. “Cancelling” people does not encourage growth or produce a productive problem solving conversation.  

Talking to the presumed offensive party in the situation may prove to be more productive and less harmful overall. These conversations take a lot of strength and courage, but they prove to be more helpful. It is going to be hard to rationalize their different perspective, however, a conversation goes a lot further than peer isolation. 

It is understandable that as a progressive, liberal school we want to see immediate change for the marginalized, under-represented groups. However public shaming is not the most effective way to change someone’s behavior; people are more likely to be receptive to new information that would help them evolve their point of view on their own. For example, after the 2016 election, America as a whole became more engaged in politics. Pew Research Center did a study that shows nine percent of the people that affiliated with the Republican party have turned to the Democratic party since the 2016 election. 

But that is not to say that students should be afraid to share their less than liberal political beliefs just because it is not the popular opinion at Jones. Holding the opinions that you think are just to a higher standard than the opinions that differ from yours is simply toxic and counterproductive. 

In the adolescent years, teens should be able to make mistakes and form their own opinions. As peers, we do need to hold each other accountable for our mistakes, but completely shutting the person out the conversation is unreasonable.  Not allowing people to make mistakes is dehumanizing. Everyone makes mistakes, and we can’t hold others accountable for every wrong if we want people to accept our own growth.

 While it is not the job of the marginalized groups to correct and teach the perpetrator the proper way to respect their culture and historical backings, they also do not have to excommunicate them. The person, whose actions and/or words were seen as offensive, does not need to be isolated from the rest of the school and surrounding community. Instead, they need to be given a chance to learn from their mistakes rather than being cancelled. It may take more time to educate them on the topic, but it would make for a better, more productive generation and society. As peers, we should not shame people for having different opinions and interpretations of the world around us, we should try to engage with them to further expand their perspective. 

You do not have to support the person’s actions, but making them an outsider is not the way to resolve the issue. It is okay to let them know of your disapproval of their words or actions, but teenagers should feel safe in the learning environment. A person’s political stance, opinion on public matters, race, gender, or sexual preference should not affect them or the others around them in the learning environment. 

Before contributing to “cancel culture,” especially at your own high school, take a moment to consider: if this were you in the situation, how would you want your peers to react? It is important that as a school we take more time to educate and inform the members of our community about social injustices before they become a problem. Once we are proactive and not reactive, there will be no need for “cancel culture.”