It is singularly incredulous that members of the culture which has worked to cancel every culture but its own since the inception of this country is now labeling anything – any action or decision – with which it disagrees as “cancel culture.”
From the moment white people set foot on what would soon be named “America,” they have canceled the culture of others, beginning with the Native Americans. White settlers engaged in heinous brutality against those who were here when the settlers arrived. ( https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-shocking-savagery-of-americas-early-history-22739301/) Later, Indian termination, by which this government worked to disband Native American tribes, take their land and sell it, and finally relocate Native Americans from their reservations to urban areas, was an official policy of the United States from the 1940s until the 1970s. While this government wanted Native Americans to pay taxes, they also desired them to disappear into the Anglo-American culture of this country. They effectively worked to cancel Native American culture.
This government, steeped in white supremacist ideology, made decisions about other cultures, about their worth or lack thereof, and on the basis of the government’s opinions and decisions, lawmakers and politicians actively worked to cancel those cultures completely out. The message was clear: if a culture was not Anglo and Protestant, it was unworthy of existing.
The belief was communicated that the only people or group that had worth in this country were Anglo-Americans; Africans were brought to this country only to build the economy and thus, the country. The displaced Africans were pressured to forget their land, their beliefs, languages, and customs, and were subtly taught that to be “beautiful” or to be successful, they had to buy into Eurocentric conceptions of beauty and capitalistic individualism, as opposed to the concept of community which was much more the cultural foundation of African peoples.
What the majority culture was establishing was its opinion of who had the right to speak and make decisions about what happened in this country. As long as members of other cultures stayed in their place, they were tolerated – but never respected. And in its quest to maintain power at all costs, the majority culture its stake in setting the standard by which all who lived here would have to abide; beliefs, mores, and laws were codified through the making of laws and policies which determined which culture was to be dominant.
Members of other groups had little to nothing that the majority culture felt compelled to consider. As an example, there was a coup in Wilmington, North Carolina in 1898 because white people in that city were incensed that Black people had gained so much political power. Angry whites conspired and planned not only to overthrow the government which they decided had given too much leeway and paths for Blacks to be elected to office, but also to run Black people out of their elected positions and out of the city altogether. Whites who were supportive of Black political and economic power were targeted as well. White people, the leaders said, would never submit to domination by the “Negroes.” Their coup was successful, and no Black person was elected to office again in Wilmington for over 70 years. (https://www.history.com/news/wilmington-massacre-1898-coup).
Anything that was Black was judged unworthy and therefore worthy of being eliminated – canceled – from Black music to Black dancing, to Black beauty. The message given through the pressure exerted by the majority culture was for those who “did not belong” to assimilate. There was a similar disrespect for people of Hispanic descent; as more and more Spanish-speaking people entered this country, the pressure to get them to cancel their culture and their language has only intensified. Americans who look different because of their national origin, their religion or their culture are pressured to abandon their culture and do whaever they need to do to “fit in.”
Conservative, Republican, white nationalist politicians, however, are now using the term “cancel culture” as a way to gaslight people who have completely succumbed to white supremacist fear and paranoia. These white Americans are afraid of being overrun by people of color. There is a deep fear that this country will soon no longer be dominated by white people; different dates have been given for when that phenomenon to become reality, and none of those dates are too far off. The anti-immigration rhetoric that is being thrown around is a reflection of this fear. The powers that be are no less paranoid today about being dominated by Black or brown people than were the people in Wilmington, North Carolina, in 1898. They want to cancel democracy – such as it is in this country – because they believe that it allows too much freedom to too many different groups of people whom they have decided are unfit for freedom, dignity, civil and human rights, and equality. As activists are challenging the reminders of the white supremacist history of this country by targeting the presence of statues of people in the public domain who were staunch white supremacists, the paranoia of those who believe that only white people have the right to full citizenship in this country is growing.
The challenge is to figure out how to neutralize the damaging and dangerous rhetoric that these fear-filled leaders are spewing. Language has power The only thing, or perhaps the primary focus of the last administration was to cancel the need to be “politically correct,” which meant encouraging white supremacy ideology to flourish. The former president and his followers felt the need to reassert the racist American principle of white supremacy, and worked to eliminate – or cancel – the “deep state” which had given too much respect and power to Black people and so many others who were not members of the majority culture. As angry whites chanted “You will not replace us” in Charlottesville in 2017, they were expressing their morbid fear of white culture being overtaken by other, nonwhite, non-Protestant cultures. Whites have long believed that this country is being overrun by blacks and Muslims and to stop what they see as an out-of-control train, they are working to cancel every culture that is not white.
They are doing this even as they call legitimate work to extend rights and liberties to all Americans a ploy to get rid of them – in effect, “cancel culture.”
The former president understood how white fear, white paranoia, and white anger based on bigotry operate. We, who are outside of their group, must strategize and decide that we will not be canceled, in spite of the efforts being made to do so.
We have come too far to do anything less.