At the forefront of today’s movements for social justice, you will find black women. It doesn’t matter the issue because our unique experience at the intersection of oppressed identities makes us primed for frontline action. In the midst of this activity, we are creating cultural norms and behaviors that help shape and define our time.
An emerging and increasingly solidifying practice is “cancel culture” in which we jump to socially shame and discard people who make mistakes, hold opinions that oppose the majority, and who commit injuries with intent. I interpret this as an insidious response to harm where, instead of seeking to create a world in which we are healed and well enough to hold people accountable within relationship, we opt to give up on them, casting them into the margins of our justified lives.
For the sake of community and justice, we must recover the abundant space for grace, understanding and love to be the forces that drive our proclivity for accountability and reconciliation. Those who have committed harm must also put in the real work of repairing and atoning for their behavior. Because if we toss everyone who crosses our moral line out like trash, who then are we really saving, besides ourselves?
This may seem to be a harsh critique. After all, black women who are at the head of “cancel culture” have also been most impacted by the societal harms of patriarchy, misogynoir and sexism; racism and white supremacy; capitalism and classism; exploitation etc. Black women have never had our issues truly addressed by others and have been told instead to give in for the “greater good.” And we’ve done just that, curating and crafting spaces for healing, putting in the work to teach anti-racism in diversity trainings and anywhere we can, and attempting to shift narratives and expand worldviews so that others can learn about the impacts of racism on us all. We continue to bear the burden.
Saving ourselves and enforcing our boundaries are worthy and honorable endeavors. However, as a womanist, I know that I must not abandon the whole. I believe that our well-being is only complete when all are well. Therefore, we must cancel “cancel culture.” Yet, to do so, the load that black women carry must be shared! Black men must become more vigilant in creating spaces of healing and accountability for themselves. And white men and women must begin to confront each other, to understand what it means to be accomplices, not just “allies.”
If anything is getting “cancelled,” let it not be those who also need healing. Let us instead “cancel” the prevailing culture of leaving black women to fend for ourselves while still expecting us to save the world.