Cancel culture may not sit well with the former President, but it plays an important role in holding those in power accountable.
Former President Barack Obama revealed his age just a little bit at the Obama Foundation Summit which took place this earlier this week in Chicago. During an interview with Grown-ish star and social justice activist Yara Shahidi, he claimed "cancel culture" (which seems to be so popular with the kids these days) wasn't going to get us anywhere in the great fight against injustice. His statements have since sent ripples across the internet, with many divided about whether they agree with him or not. After all, when your favorite President of all-time, the cool one you thought you could trust, says something so contrasting to what you believe in, how do you respond?
Let's start off with what he said in its entirety. He told the audience, "If I tweet or hashtag about how you didn't do something right, or used the wrong word or verb, then I can sit back and feel pretty good about myself, because, 'Man, you see how woke I was. I called you out.' That's not activism. That's not bringing about change. If all you're doing is casting stones, you're probably not going to get that far. I do get a sense sometimes now among certain young people — and this is accelerated by social media — there is this sense sometimes of 'the way of me making change is to be as judgmental as possible about other people...'" He then went on to make even more paternalistic statements. "This idea of purity and you're never compromised, and you're always politically woke and all that stuff, you should get over that quickly," Obama suggested. "The world is messy, there are ambiguities. People who do really good stuff have flaws. People who you are fighting may love their kids and share certain things with you."
To get one thing straight, he is right about the world being a messy place. People are messy, too. No one is perfect and we're all learning. So when I find out that someone used the word "gay" as a synonym for "lame" when they were eleven years old, for instance, my first instinct isn't to judge them based on that ten years on. Instead, what I do is observe how people respond to criticism when they're called out. Do they get defensive? Or try to minimize the impact of their words? Then, yeah, they definitely deserve to get called out. However, if they're willing to accept their mistake, then learn and grow from it, that is what matters.
But those in power rarely ever apologize or change. They simply go on their merry ways because they can. Meanwhile, the communities they hurt continue to experience the trauma of systemic oppression and personal taunts. What Obama misses here is that calling someone out places the power back in the hands of the communities who deserve it. When the #MeToo movement helped thousands of survivors call out their abusers or cancel culture enabled us to put Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on the spot for blackface, we transferred control of the narrative from the powerful to the powerless. Call out culture empowers the many who have, for too long, remained voiceless. It also makes those who otherwise would not have had to answer to anyone, accountable for their actions. Perhaps Obama is so uncomfortable about cancel culture because, any moment now, he knows he could be called out for, you know, authorizing 193 drone strikes in Pakistan, killing innocent civilians, all while running for a second term on a superficial anti-war platform. People are messy, but that doesn't absolve them of all their mistakes.