Better look at your social media — chances are you’re next to be cancelled

A short list of the people, movies, TV shows, CEOs, businesspeople, writers and institutions canceled — or on the verge of cancellation — over the past few days:

“Gone with the Wind,” the long-running reality show “COPS,” “The Help,” two major newspaper editors, Andrew Sullivan’s column for New York magazine, the editor-in-chief of Bon Appétit, four “Vanderpump Rules” castmembers, “Live PD,” the Brearley School on New York’s Upper East Side, the actual police, cook Alison Roman (again), the top editor and co-founder of Refinery29, Anna Wintour, the founder and CEO of Crossfit, “The Flash” actor Hartley Sawyer, the CEO of Chicago’s famed “Second City” improv group, “Law & Order” writer Craig Gore, Corcoran realtor Joseph Swedroe and economics professor Harald Uhlig (never heard of those last two either, but it goes to show you no one is safe).

This all comes as America rages over the death of George Floyd and reckons with endemic, institutionalized racism. But there’s a misguided approach here in which all offenses, be they subtle or enormous, born of ignorance or malice, result in the loss of reputations and livelihoods.

Where art is concerned, we risk losing representations, no matter how flawed, of what life in America looked and felt like at any given moment. Is “Gone with the Wind” problematic? Yes. Does that mean the book and the movie should be cancelled? No.

We’ve been having a version of this debate forever, vis-à-vis Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn.” The consensus: Yes, Twain’s use of the “n”-word is troubling, yet the book remains an American classic. Some schools teach it, some don’t. But we can recognize the book as a product of its time, and that Twain’s point was to decry racism.

There is no evidence that Twain himself was a racist. He co-chaired a 1906 fundraiser for the Tuskegee Institute, a school for African-Americans run by his friend Booker T. Washington. Twain also paid the expenses for one of the first black students to attend Yale Law School, writing, in a letter to the dean, that it was one small way to atone for the systemic corporeal and socioeconomic brutality visited upon black Americans.

“We have ground the manhood out of them,” Twain wrote, “& the shame is ours, not theirs; & we should pay for it.”

We should pay for it. That holds true now more than ever. But the swiftness and surety of this moment is alarming. To me, it feels akin to the days, weeks and months after the #MeToo movement exploded, one powerful man after another exposed, fired, arrested, jailed, or otherwise expunged from polite society.

At the time, it felt like some cases could have been an overcorrection. But that an overcorrection was needed at all, that such institutionalized misogyny and violence against women had persisted for so long, seemed to legitimize the response.

#BelieveAllWomen? Three years ago, to not subscribe to that orthodoxy made you a bad person. Now we are just beginning to have a nuanced debate. Should we believe all women? What does that mean? What are the standards for a credible accusation? What are the standards for a credible denial? What role does the media play in protecting certain men and indicting others? Social media? The online pitchfork mob?

Reasonable people can agree that Brett Kavanaugh was held to one standard and Joe Biden to another, and that is a problem.

Sexism doesn’t plague only one side of the aisle. Neither does racism — and some of the most offensive, self-congratulatory stuff I’ve heard these past two weeks has been out of the mouths of white liberals.

The country is convulsing right now. It needs to. But as history teaches us, the shock, fear and terror will subside, and we can begin our much-needed conversation, one that will hopefully lead to just, fair, and — where deserved — compassionate reckonings.

In the meantime, to those who feel no punishments, no matter how mistaken or misguided, are worth sacrificing for this moment: Who might secretly be scrolling through your Twitter feeds or Facebook posts right now, looking for proof that you, too, are undeniably a racist?

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