Banning History, Pop Culture and more: Where Do We Draw the Line?
The narrative for Black Lives Matter continues to push forward through the noise from those that want to suppress it. I said a couple of weeks ago and I will say it again, I think and I hope we are on the brink of moving the needle. I don’t just mean a little bit. I mean tangible change in our society, similar to the progress made during the civil rights movement.
They moved the needle and I hope what happens today can move the needle as well further along as well.
One of the ideas that popped up in the last few years is “cancel culture.” That idea will only be made louder as we continue to march on.
The idea of cancel culture in and of itself is questionable. Does it exist? Is the term itself a hollowly constructed idea?
Some say it doesn’t exist including this person who wrote this insanely poetic piece about cancel culture. I am not even going to give the website, byline or anything more than the words written the time of day…
Mel Gibson is terrible.
That is not an opinion. That is a statement of fact.
He has been repeatedly caught on tape saying the most disgusting things you can imagine to women, to LGBTQIA people, and to Jewish people.
Yet, despite all of this, he still has a career.
And you expect me to believe that “cancel culture” is real, and that it’s ruining people’s lives?
The only thing I will tell you is I didn’t have to dig very deep to find that column which was classified by the website as Op-Ed. That column is about as dense as a doorknob. Make no mistake, I didn’t take a piece of that. That is literally the entire column published by a prominent website.
The notion Gibson’s comments haven’t impacted his career is debatable at best. They have and they should have.
Growing up in the 90s, he was one of the more well known actors for movies like Braveheart, The Passion of the Christ and the Lethal Weapon series. Compared to the 90s and early 2000s, I would say his career is mildly successful.
Either way, this person took one career that it hasn’t “ruined” and applied to all. That would be like me taking Kevin Spacey’s career and applying to all. He is someone who hasn’t received many calls since the allegations of sexual misconduct against him.
I talk about how much I hate blanket statements in my podcasts, videos and columns. That is all that column was. One giant blanket statement that can be classified as ignorant at best.
Much like most issues, I take things on a case-by-case basis. Yes, people should held accountable for their actions. If that means being cancelled, losing status, losing jobs, etc, so be it.
Cancel Culture – What is it?
The definition of cancel culture according to dictionary.com is as follows…
Cancel culture refers to the popular practice of withdrawing support for (canceling) public figures and companies after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive. Cancel culture is generally discussed as being performed on social media in the form of group shaming.
One example of a celebrity I can think of happened long before the internet age. Andrew Dice Clay is a filthy comedian who lost steam in the mainstream because of his constant making fun of the LGBTQ community, mainly gay men. I doubt most people my age know who he is. He was popular in the early 90s. He was most famous for his dirty nursery rhymes.
When I turned 21, I saw him in Vegas…old Vegas. He was performing there, despite 20 years earlier being one of the more popular up and coming comedians around. People didn’t like his vulgarity nor his jokes.
Because of social media, the court of public opinion holds a higher weight that spreads more rapidly than it did 20 years ago. People go online and jump on trending topics like I am doing now. They voice their displeasure for whatever controversy it may be. It ultimately leads to monetary loss or loss of status.
To be honest, I am conflicted by that.
The Court of Public Opinion
I am not conflicted by the idea of pushing certain people out of the mainstream. But that everything potentially offensive should be pushed out because of how subjective it can be. Some people get offended for the sake of being offended. *See political infrastructure* Some people are offended by the idea of voting republican or democrat. That is pretty fucking stupid if you ask me.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t laugh or make some fucked up jokes playing Cards Against Humanity. In college, I was playing with a group of friends. One of the people playing I didn’t know. It was a black girl who had never played before. Long story short, it was explained to her. Jokes were made at everyone’s expense. If you have played, you know how the game goes. Nothing happened. No one was hurt.
Not every situation is like that though. I am not going to ever pretend to be the moral high-ground for anything.
Some jokes 20 years ago don’t go over the same way they would today. Someone like Clay is probably better off not in the mainstream. In this case, the echo chamber got it right.
On one hand, I love transparency. In my experience, many people are anything but that.
I also like the idea that if someone needs to be held accountable, they should be. Public outcry can be a voice for that.
On the other hand, I think people are too emotional and have a tough time separating emotion and subjectivity from objectivity and facts at times. Sometimes that emotion can be warranted.
But, it goes back to the broad brush I talked about.
That becomes the danger with the court of public opinion is it can operate without rules and regulation because we ultimately have a right to free speech. That speech should be protected, including hate speech. At the very least, we can at least paint them with a scarlet letter A for asshole.
Court of public opinion is a powerful concept and we should use it accordingly.
I agree with movements such as Black Lives Matter, Me Too and LGBTQ because of their push for equality and justice for their respective communities. But, that doesn’t mean I am inclined to subscribe to every single idea or reaction that follows from such.
For example with Me Too, I don’t assume someone is guilty upon accusation. People do lie. It happens.
Yes, the system needs revamping. Yes, many women’s voices go unheard. Yes, many white men are not prosecuted when they should be for sexual assault. Any man who assaults a woman physically, emotionally or sexually is a piece of shit. Unfortunately, there are too many pieces of shit who still walk around freely.
If we operate under the premise of guilty until proven innocent, it’s unfortunately a system we see far too often with black men when they interact with police. So, it is still not a good policy.
As I am only 500 words into this, there is likely someone out there who is already using a term such as mansplaining or whitesplaining to discredit everything I have said thus far. Yes, I am a white man. Yes, from birth, I was automatically put in front of the 8-ball because of my skin tone and gender. I am aware of that. I have talked about that in previous columns. I believe in listening to others who come from different backgrounds. I practice that daily.
Another thing I will never subscribe to is the idea of opinions not holding weight for people based on socially constructed ideas like race or sex. The reason I am addressing this is because of what I stated above.
In fact, just a couple of weeks ago in a conversation with someone, I was compared to a white slave owner that rapes black women. That is not hyperbole.
Someone commented on a post where I highlighting the leadership in Atlanta from the Mayor, a police officer and a musical artist. All of which are black.
In response to a tone deaf comment someone else on said post, a person shared a tweet that I found painted with a broad brush in regards to protests. It talked about police basically shooting tear gas at protesters and it being unwarranted. It also talked about the white armed protesters regarding opening up the economy not being shot at.
All I said was, it depends. If protesters are throwing bottles and putting police in harms way, they are inclined to respond. I also made mention to a group of black men protesting who were also armed. Police showed up and nothing transpired, similar to the protests referenced in the tweet. In the same response, I made mention to black people being targeted by police because I am well aware of that issue. I pointed out that the protests are not one size fits all, again case by case.
I was called the problem. I responded and made mentioned of laws being passed that could be dangerous to relatives of mine. I responded by referencing coding in laws that are used to attack minorities time and time again. I referenced a YouTube channel I watch frequently, which highlights those things. I said I cannot empathize with anyone who is black because I am not black. I can sympathize because I don’t like seeing people racially profiled and targeted.
That is when I was compared to a slave owner for simply disagreeing with one part of a statement. Ironically, a friend of mine jumped in to defend me only to be told he had Stockholm Syndrome. He was then blocked. The person deleted me also.
That is a problem with cancel culture. That fits of the bill of how bad the court of public opinion can be sometimes. Now, I don’t think people are unreasonable as a general rule. But when people get on social media, they can become that.
This is an emotional time we are living in. We are dealing with a pandemic that is getting worse in terms of spread. We are dealing with a louder and more heavily supported (deservingly so) BLM movement. Not to mention, we are in the midst of electing our next president.
While, I was sympathetic to the person’s feelings of pain. I am also not going to compromise logic and reasoning because of it. Unfortunately, that is sometimes what happens if we were automatically bend to public outcry.
I don’t need to be black to watch an unarmed person killed and feel pain. It may not be the same pain that someone of color may feel because I don’t live in their world. I will never attempt to say I understand just like I would never say that to someone who has lost a child.
I don’t experience what black people in the US do. That doesn’t mean I don’t have a heart. That doesn’t mean I don’t understand my own emotion.
In the last couple of weeks, we have seen businesses change models and certain things come under fire as a result of what is happening in our country.
Aunt Jemima Rebrand
One of the most popular brands to re-brand is Aunt Jemima pancake mix. The logos and pictures have been described as black servitude in their nature. Aunt Jemima already has re-branded multiple times throughout it’s 130 year history. In the name alone, Aunt was a common term for older black women enslaved. Because of when it was created and the context behind it, it seems to be offensive in nature.
That being said, one of the concerns has been among family members of women who have portrayed Aunt Jemima over the years. Many have expressed the sentiment that they don’t want their relatives legacy to be forgotten. Lillian Richard was one of the actresses who portrayed the character in the 1920s. Her great niece, Vera Harris, has expressed concern with that legacy being forgotten.
“I understand the images that white America portrayed us years ago. They painted themselves Black and they portrayed that as us. I understand what Quaker Oats is doing because I’m Black and I don’t want a negative image promoted, however, I just don’t want her legacy lost, because if her legacy is swept under the rug and washed away, it’s as if she never was a person.”
Harris added that Richard was recruited to work for Quaker Oats in the 1920s, during a time when there were “no jobs for Black people, especially Black women.”
“She took the job to make an honest living to support herself, touring around at fairs, cooking demonstrations and events,” Harris said. “When she came back home, they were proud of her and we’re still proud of her.”
I am not sure of the answer on ensuring the actress’ legacy not being forgotten and I agree with her niece. It seems like an important piece of historical relevance. Even if Aunt Jemima came to fruition on bad racial stereotypes, we certain shouldn’t forget the women like Richard.
What To Do With Monuments?
That brings us into one of the most controversial topics regarding race, tearing down historical monuments and the Confederate Flag.
Honestly, this shouldn’t be a controversy.
Simply put, these were literal symbols of blatant racism in our history. Why would you want to ever highlight and glorify that as part of your heritage?
Some are still used as blatant symbols of racism. It would be like Germany highlighting Hitler or the swastika. It would be like Russia still highlighting Joseph Stalin.
There is infamy behind those symbols. They will never be erased nor forgotten. Having statues or symbols erected of blatant racism is not a way to preserve history. It is a way to glorify it. It is a way to remind the people, who’s ancestors were directly impacted by it, of a painful past.
Recently, a person I graduated high school with made a post about plantation homes. I never thought anything of them growing up. She said in the post she didn’t allow her child to go on field trips to them. It is something I have never thought about twice about. I have attended weddings at them. I have eaten at them.
What the person said made a lot of sense. I don’t fault the person for not wanting her children to attend field trips there. It’s a topic I saw pop up today after being shared from friends of mine earlier today. The Whitney Plantation put out the following post…
Over 350 people were enslaved at Whitney Plantation throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. Our tour has always focused on the brutal labor and stolen freedom of those that created vast economic wealth for enslaving families. We do not glamorize the Big House or the grounds. In addition to our mission to educate visitors and the larger community about slavery and it’s legacies, our site is a place of memory and reverence. Our on-site memorials list the names of individuals who were enslaved at Whitney, individuals who were enslaved throughout Louisiana, children who died during enslavement, and a memorial for the revolutionaries of the largest US slave revolt. For those reasons, the Big House has never been nor ever will be a wedding venue. Plantations are sites of immense cruelty and violence. We do not allow any event that would overshadow this reality and disrespect the memory of all those who suffered, labored and died here.
I applaud Whitney Plantation for this. In southern Louisiana, plantations are a huge money grab for events. For them to not see the green and simply use their site to preserve of those who fought against slavery is admirable.
While I don’t necessarily see a direct problem with educational preservation, glorifying plantations as wedding venues or event venues is clearly problematic to some.
Where Do We Draw a Line?
That brings me to another part of this conversation, where does the line get drawn on what is blatantly tied to racism?
Recently, the University of Florida banned their famous gator bait chant because of the historical tie to racism.
African American babies were used as alligator bait, according to the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia at Ferris State University, citing newspaper articles and imagery from the late 1800s and early 20th century. The term “alligator bait” was also used as a racial slur against African Americans. (Per ESPN)
The phrase “Gator Bait” became synonymous with Florida in 1995 after beating Florida State when Lawrence Wright said it in an interview. He had his own thoughts on the ban.
“I’m not going for it,” the former safety told the Sun. “I created something for us. It’s a college football thing. It’s not a racist thing, It’s about us, the Gator Nation. And I’m black. What about our history as the Gator Nation? We took a program from the top five to No. 1 in the country. I think I’ve done enough, put in the sweat and tears, to get to offer my opinion about something like this.”
We should know the historical relevance of these things. But when do we look at the context of which it is used? The reality is the university was founded in 1972. The chant didn’t come to be until 1995.
Is it still used as a racist phrase in 2020? The reason this differs from a plantation for example is we know what happened on plantations. While slaves are no longer there, we still know that history.
If there is even a tiny region of Florida who still gets called gator bait, then yes we need to bend. But let’s say someone runs into a store and yells gator bait and it’s automatically associated with the university, then maybe it is overstepping.
Of course there are other phrases deeply tied to dark and twisted racial undertones. I looked up random phrases that could be deemed as racist. That included the following…
- Tipping Point
- Long Time No See
- Eenie Meenie Miney Moe
- Rule of Thumb
- Fuzzy Wuzzy
I have used five of those in this blog on more than one occasion. There was no racial undertone behind it. I had no idea there was even racial undertone to begin with.
I am all for learning and understanding, but sometimes phrases and terms get re-defined over time. There are of course slurs that will never not be associated with hate. I don’t have to say out loud what some of those are.
There still needs to be a some vetting to adequately draw a line. If not, now we can go down a rabbit hole of redefined terms.
Let’s take a term like marriage. We know that it’s a civil union between two people. In the western world, it was originally synonymous with the Catholic Church. It is no longer synonymous with that. In fact, it is one of the arguments I have heard against gay marriage.
In a sense, we are technically stepping on a term that is tied directly to Catholicism. Should they be offended by that? No. If they are, good riddance.
That is what worries me with cancel culture and redefining terms.
Some are far less obvious. Unlike historical figures, statues, plantations or blatant racial terminology, we may not even know the history behind them. Should we learn it? Yes. Then adapt accordingly.
As for Florida’s chant, I doubt banning it will do anything. I believe we will still hear the “Gator Bait.” For LSU, banning “neck” did almost next to nothing. We still hear it loud and clear. So what happens then?
Are we to assume that Gator Bait is racial? If so, should we assume LSU fans are targeting women every time they scream “suck that Tiger dick, bitch?”
We, as white people (specifically men), need to open our ears and open our hearts to people. As I alluded to in a previous column, there is a real desire for change right now and we need to open the lines of communication to aid that change.
There will be people who disagree, but I don’t think that means subscribing to every single idea that gets brought to the table.
When people compare removing monuments to George Orwell’s 1984, it’s an obvious overreaction. But, I also never want to see our society get to a point of everything being banned. In order to bring change, there needs to be some forms of push-back, within reason of course.
I don’t have the answers to everything. I will never pretend to. So I will always ask questions and have conversations. We live in a world of slippery slopes and abstract concepts.
I try my absolute best to thoroughly voice my thoughts and opinions on here in hope they don’t get misconstrued. I hope I adequately did that here.