Teen fiction writer and critic Kokoso Jackson was often hired by book publishers as a “sensitivity reader” to identify books that might be insensitive to particular communities. As part of his work, he tweeted, “Stories about the civil rights movement should be written by black people. Stories of suffrage should be written by women. Ergo, stories about boys during life-changing times, like the AIDS epidemic, should be written by gay men. Why is this so hard to get?”
Yes, why is this so hard to get? It seems to make sense.
Yet Mr. Jackson felt compelled to withdraw the release of his own book when it apparently “ran afoul of the sensibilities of the Twitter gatekeeping class, which deemed it insensitive to Muslims and unduly focused on people of privilege (Jennifer Senior, Teen Fiction and the Perils of Cancel Culture, NY Times, 03/08/19).”
Of course, I haven’t read his book. It hasn’t been released. Was he writing about Muslims? (Mr. Jackson is not a Muslim.) Were his characters people of privilege? Again, I don’t know; but apparently he violated the Twitter “cancel culture” gods. (Cancel culture is a mostly, but not exclusively, online dropping, embarrassing or shaming of a person, place or thing.)
So to return to Mr. Jackson’s question, “Why is this so hard to get?” Well…apparently it is more difficult to get than it appears.
Even if we all agreed that Mr. Jackson’s original tweet were true (and I’m not saying that we all do agree), will cancel culture allow others to make observations, comments, share dialogue, etc. regarding groups unlike themselves? When I observe cancel culture, the answer seems to be a resounding “No!” (Actually, it says “No…and you’re now officially Cancelled!!!”)
Cancel culture’s purity tests are intolerant other’s observations, comments and viewpoints. New York Times columnist Jennifer Senior writes regarding cancel cultures effect on the world of publishing:
“Purity tests are the tools of [cancel culture] fanatics, and the quest for purity ultimately becomes indistinguishable from the quest for power….The die-hards in this army of crusaders will argue they’re doing it in the name of diversity, but it’s really just the opposite: If Twitter controls publishing, we’ll soon enter a dreary monoculture that admits no book unless it has been prejudged and meets the standards of the censors. (Jennifer Senior, Teen Fiction and the Perils of Cancel Culture, NY Times, 03/08/19).
What scares me is that cancel culture isn’t simply limited to the world of publishing. It leaves no stone unturned. Nothing is off limits.
Since cancel culture’s purity tests are intolerant of other’s observations, comments, viewpoints (and imperfection), are they compatible with our theology of the interconnectedness of all things; that everything we (all) do matters; that everything we (all) do affects everything else? Are they compatible with the inherent worth and dignity of all?
Cancel culture is infecting our entire society. It first infects social media but it then seems to spread, moving on to infect the hearts and minds of social media’s consumers and then all that they touch….And it is my hope that it does not infect Unitarian Universalism (or UUMAN).
I know I don’t need to tell you that this world has its serious problems. I do need to tell you however that cancel culture, with its purity and intolerance offers no solutions. It offers just the opposite.