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What is “Cancel Culture”?

Cancel Culture (or “call-out culture”) is the shared ideology and practice of cutting people for saying and doing things that are deemed inappropriate or “problematic.” Most commonly, people a cancelled for being racist, sexist, homophobic/transphobic, etc. The rationale for canceling people is rooted in the belief that we need to fight for social justice by removing those people deemed problematic from our lives. Individually, we may cancel our friends and loved ones who don’t support the same beliefs as we do. Collectively, we may cancel celebrities for spreading hate and misinformation. But what is wrong with Cancel Culture?

Why is Cancel Culture toxic?

It may feel good and empowering to have someone held accountable for their actions; however, the question left to ponder is what benefit are people getting from Cancel Culture? Proponents of Cancel Culture argue that this is a form of activism and holding people accountable, whereas opponents of it believe that people are being sensitive and are limiting “free speech.” To be clear, hate speech and the spread of misinformation is not “free speech.” Misinformation is often rooted in ignorance of various topics and can have harmful effects on the impacted communities. Cancel Culture denies someone the opportunity to learn and grow from their ignorance, and in turn, denies them the opportunity from repairing any damage they have done. Furthermore, there is often an unequal dynamic with Cancel Culture where people who hold marginalized statuses are more likely to be canceled (or “held accountable”), whereas white people and people who are not marginalized are often given multiple chances to “learn and grow” from their mistakes.

How can I better navigate Cancel Culture?

Think about the relationships and fights you have had that may have benefited from communication rather than walking away from each other. Likewise, think about the ways you may have contributed to Cancel Culture and the spread of misinformation. People need to be held accountable for their actions, but we should reflect on what benefit canceling them will do to the larger cause. Education and compassion are the best ways to produce any type of positive societal change. Finally, it is important to highlight recognizing your own limits. It is not always your responsibility to be the one to educate people, nor is it always appropriate. Moreover, sometimes people are not ready to change and may not be ready to receive education on social issues. When having tough conversations with people, especially around social issues, it’s important to recognize whether this person is even amenable to being held accountable for their actions and the limits that this would impose on any communication and education.

This page is also part of the Roamers Therapy Glossary; a collection of mental-health related definitions that are written by our therapists.

While our offices are currently located at the South Loop neighborhood of Downtown Chicago, Illinois, we also welcome and serve clients for online therapy from anywhere in Illinois and Washington, D.C. Clients from the Chicagoland area may choose in-office or online therapy and usually commute from surrounding areas such as River North, West Loop, Gold Coast, Old Town, Lincoln Park, Lake View, Rogers Park, Logan Square, Pilsen, Bridgeport, Little Village, Bronzeville, South Shore, Hyde Park, Back of the Yards, Wicker Park, Bucktown and many more. You can visit our contact page to access detailed information on our office location.