A growth mindset is a beautiful thing. While I think ‘cancel culture’ sometimes gets to be ridiculous or a little too “quick to cancel,” sometimes, it is necessary to be able to reflect back on past work, ideas, and eras, and reckon with what we did, said, thought, or felt, that may have been inappropriate, offensive, or misguided. Even if we did not feel it was offensive or wrong at that moment, it is alright to have a different lens viewing it with the context of today, and with the gifts of hindsight and, hopefully, growth, maturity, progress, and evolution.
In fact, if we aren’t evolving, progressing, and bettering ourselves, our ideas, and our ways of thinking, then what are we doing? What is the point and purpose of clinging to things of the past that no longer represent us or who we want to be? Why fight for something that is hurting others or that we are being outright told is wrong? It’s okay to admit that mistakes were made, that you were wrong about something, or that you are trying to do better. And it’s important to remember that your experience and perspective are not a shared truth for all.
Just because you haven’t experienced or been upset by something doesn’t make it any less real. Problems still exist even if they don’t impact you.
I pulled my two health memoirs from Amazon because although I didn’t feel anything was problematic, I realized that I didn’t acknowledge my own privilege in certain scenarios. And I also didn’t consider how some of my other stories may have been triggering to others. That’s not being “too politically correct,” it’s called being a decent person and owning up, taking accountability. Another recent example is Justin Timberlake. People say his apology was “too little, too late,” and to an extent, it definitely was — but it also was something. Acknowledging something and taking ownership is the first step.
I’ve been reflecting on the Dr. Seuss mess. So many people are outraged over Dr. Seuss being “canceled” without even knowing why some of his work is troublesome, without ever having seen any the offensive images in question, or without understanding the historical context of some of his culturally-insensitive, anti-Black, and otherwise racist words and drawings. Personally, I think many of his books are wonderful for children, but that doesn’t mean we can’t acknowledge the more problematic ones that are offensive to many others including Asian, Black, and Native Americans. It’s okay to pull them and it’s also okay to still love his other work, separating the art from the artist and knowing that he was a product of his time, just like many other writers. That doesn’t excuse it by any stretch, but it’s important to note.
As a writer, I’m so not for censorship in general, but some things border on hate speech/imagery, and are unnecessary and inflammatory. Usage and context is important when certain words are used. And as far as imagery goes, some of it is never okay, and that includes some of the outright racist imagery seen in a handful of Seuss’s books. As adults it is up to us to re-examine the materials we present to our kids. Also worth noting when it comes to Seuss is that, outside of his kids’ books, he has a handful of very explicitly racist and offensive ads and cartoons that are simply not okay. Even if you personally are unsure about the books that were unpublished, if you do some research on those, I’d have to assume you’d be hard-pressed to argue that these ads and cartoons were anything but blatantly, shockingly racist. (He also performed a minstrel show in full blackface as a teen, so … yeah.) Seuss even acknowledged these things himself, and tried to do better; it’s likely that he would agree with his publisher’s decision today. (Yes, this was a decision made by his publishing house, not due to the urging of any politician or Twitter mob, by the way. This is also not something new – discussions around his racist past have been in the zeitgeist for many years.)
This idea of regrettable ways of thinking is something I pondered a lot, too, watching the Framing Britney Spears documentary, when a lawmaker said they wanted to shoot her for being a bad influence on her kids. No one seemed to think this was an issue; nor was it seen as a problem when Matt Lauer (later accused of sexual harassment) and Diane Sawyer treated her horribly, asking her personal questions, intentionally making her cry. No one seemed to think it was a problem when at 16, 17, and 18 years old she is asked about her sex life and her breasts, whether she was a virgin, if she had a bikini wax, etc. The media was intrusive, invasive, sexist, aggressive, gross, and our ultra-misogynistic society allowed for it. We ALL took part in it; sexism was a part of our culture and oftentimes it is an unconscious, subconscious bias that we still live with today. Even in healthcare and medicine, gender bias and racial bias exists – it can be inadvertent and unintentional, too. Women can discriminate against or look down upon other women; Black doctors can discriminate or look down up on Black patients. (I wrote a Healthline news article about this that was actually tweeted out by the UN – yes, that United Nations!)
The point is that ALL of us can stand to re-examine our thinking about certain things, people, ideas, norms, and ways of being. It’s okay to change your mind: about politics. About gay marriage. About vaccines. About gun control. About birth control. About athletes or celebrities or fashion styles, or religion, or eating meat, whether you approve of plastic surgery, or whether you prefer cats to dogs, or whether or not you would ever watch reality TV. It’s okay to go from thinking the Kardashian family is trash, only to find out you admire their business savvy and closeknit bonds. It’s alright to look back on the tabloid era of the early 2000s, and cringe at how we let the media treat young women. It’s okay to feel conflicted about Michael Jackson, and have to reckon with that.
It’s more than alright to think back to something you did or said when you were younger that maybe wasn’t in the best taste, or perhaps failed to acknowledge your privilege, or maybe even displayed some casual racism, tokenism, cultural appropriation, or unconscious bias. It’s okay to feel weird about it and not sure what to do when you are confronted with these things. Many people’s natural reaction when they are told or shown that they are ‘wrong’ about something is to feel cornered: reactionary, defensive. But maybe just owning it and considering it, making a concentrated effort to change moving forward is the best idea? After all, we can’t change the past or erase history. We can cancel people and stop the publication of books, but we can’t erase history or undo what’s been done. Forward change begins with each of us stepping up and being OPEN to it and OKAY with admitting that maybe we don’t know everything, that maybe the way we’ve always done something isn’t the right way; that maybe the way we’ve always thought isn’t the only way; that maybe we didn’t know that person we thought we know. And that’s alright. That’s the human experience.
The important part is acknowledgement and accountability. Accepting that minds can change, that we can change, that sometimes there IS a clear right and wrong, and that it’s alright to evolve, it’s alright to fix things, it’s alright to grow. Admit when you’re wrong. Progress is important. It’s worth being mindful of the fact that, sometimes one small change can help to make a group of people feel more welcome, safe, included, validated, seen, heard, and respected. Why is that a bad thing? Why do people get so outraged about it? Does it really impact your life in any way if Hasbro makes a marketing decision about their logo? Or are you just holding onto nostalgia because progress intimidates you? (Side note: I hate to be the bearer of bad news folks, but potatoes, especially plastic ones, have always been gender-neutral and, the last I checked, unable to enter into marriage either way.)
Sometimes cancel culture is admittedly absolutley absurd and ridiculous. For sure. I get that. But sometimes, cancel culture is absolutely necessary. There are some people and things who totally deserve to be canceled. And what annoys me more than cancel culture is people who are outraged by it without understanding the reasoning behind it, labeling things ‘cancel culture’ that aren’t, or not bothering to read the statements by the actual people or companies themselves. These major brands do a ton of market research that goes into these decisions. While many times they’re trying to do the right thing, doing the right thing oftentimes also comes with bettering an ROI and the bottom line. My point here is that, you can politicize it or make fun of it all you want, but it’s not always all about feelings or offending people when it comes down to it. Sometimes, it’s just good business, and who can argue that?
With the likes of, say, Dr. Seuss, or Bill Cosby, for example, we have to accept that sometimes beloved figures can turn out to be racist or any other kinds of monster. It doesn’t erase their art or your childhood memories of them. Two things can exist at once, but both halves of a whole aren’t always equally as pretty. You don’t have to excuse the awful because you once loved the good.
Once you know better, do better. Or at least, try to. It’s just that simple.