The term “Black Twitter” has become a cultural identity of which millions of black Twitter users across the world belong to. It has become a hub of cultural references and collective action against social injustices. It is also a community for black people to come together and celebrate “blackness”, whether it’s Beyonce’s Coachella performance or the recent Royal Wedding. However, it’s not all positive. Something that has become prevalent amongst Black Twitter is “cancelling.” Every other week, it seems as is if a new brand or celebrity has been “cancelled” due to a problematic marketing campaign or tweet someone has dug out from 2012. I’m guilty of having cancelled a couple of brands and celebrities in my head over the past year, but with the way we’re so quick to criticise one another before we praise each other, I’m over it. Frankly, I believe it’s time for cancel culture to come to an end.
Back in January, people all over Twitter decided H&M was cancelled due to a viral image of a young black boy advertising their hoodie with the slogan “coolest monkey in the jungle.” Black Twitter deemed the image racist, and many people cancelled H&M. This included celebrities such as, The Weekend and G-Eazy who both cut their ties with the brand, despite having brand deals with H&M. To cancel a brand is to boycott it, and that’s exactly what happened in South Africa where protests led to stores closing for a whole trading day. However, when H&M stores in South Africa were vandalised in response to the image, it seemed that this attack was not condoned by many who had expressed their anger at H&M on Twitter. It seems as though people didn’t really mean what they said when they talked about cancelling H&M.
Still, for some reason, it’s easier for us to accept celebrities walking away from brands, and has become somewhat of an expectation, than it is supporting our peers in their own way of protesting, whether we agree with their methods or not. I think it has a lot to do with the way we revere celebrities these days and that we hold them more accountable than we do each other due to the large platforms and influence they have. Many of us see times of “cancellation” as an opportunity for black unity, both from the celebrity world and our peers, and seeing black celebrities speak out and show their allegiance to their community further fosters that united front amongst us.
But it does make me wonder, does the whole cancel culture make people react too quickly before we are able to really decipher the situation? Are we all just a bit too quick to follow the crowd? Well, that is what it seemed like with the Dove body wash advert back in October 2015. The short clip that Black Twitter interpreted as racist, was in fact just a poorly devised advert that if actually watched in full had a completely different concept than first assumed. Our attention spans these days are so short that all it takes is for us to see a clip of a video, or just read the headline of an article without fully reading content, yet we allow these snippets of information to provoke a reaction from us, which sometimes isn’t completely justified. As a collective, we’ve become lazier in how we consume information and don’t seek to find the whole truth before giving our opinions on topics that we aren’t totally clued up on.
Realistically cancelling does not have the impact we may think it does. Whilst whatever we’re cancelling may fill the trending topics on Twitter, and the hashtag may flood your timeline, after a few days the interest and anger seem to dwindle. Well, that is until the next time a brand or celebrity steps out of line. This is just a reflection of pop culture. Each day a new story or conversation gets started that ends up taking our attention away from the actual issue. Just last month, I couldn’t scroll through my Twitter timeline without seeing someone cancelling Maya Jama and detailing how there was no excuse for her numerous offensive tweets about dark skinned black women. She came out with an initial apology, albeit a little poorly worded and continued to apologise again, yet she still faced abuse. Nonetheless, she still remains a presenter on BBC Radio One and her recent brand deal with Maybelline remains intact. I’m in no way justifying and condoning her tweets and views back then, but was all the furore worth it or productive? So I guess, I just wonder if it’s truly worth giving our energy to incidences like this, especially if sometimes celebrities don’t quite seem to totally get where they went wrong in the first place?
In instances where people or brands claim ignorance shouldn’t we use this energy to educate them before cancelling? If people don’t know better it is more productive to educate them so that they cannot feign ignorance. People can only do better if they know better. When looking at celebs old tweets in particular I think it’s important to look more closely at intent and allow some room for hindsight. While ignorance may not be enough of a defence for some old tweets that we have seen churned back up, in the case of Maya Jama, and even her boyfriend Stormzy (who also came under attack when old homophobic tweets surfaced) is it fair to group them with others who continuously spew a hateful rhetoric against often marginalised communities? People have the capacity to change. If someone has seen the error of their ways their past mistakes are not enough to cancel them for.
It may seem that cancel culture is all bad but, I can’t dispute that in certain instances it has been a good thing. The #OscarsSoWhite protests in January 2015 forced the Academy to review the make-up of their membership. They ensured to recruit more members of diverse backgrounds in order to ensure better representation in the films and actors that were recognised at the Oscars. Much more recently, we’ve also seen the effect of the continuous cancellation of R Kelly over the years due to numerous allegations of sexual assault, which culminated in the hashtag #MuteRKelly. The hashtag has resulted in Spotify and other music streaming sites stopping any promotion of his music, as well as a wider boycott of his music and performances.
There is no excuse for some of the racist, sexist and homophobic tweets of celebrities or brands. While it can be (sadly) entertaining to read a thread on Twitter dragging someone for their insensitive choice of words, does this give anyone the time to grow and atone for their mistakes? We can all be guilty of saying insensitive things in haste and problematic things in ignorance. The real problem is when people are intentionally problematic and unwilling to do better. So why don’t we seek to educate those who want to learn and cancel those who don’t? Cancelling doesn’t have to ensue Black Twitter coming together as an army to bash someone that is still going to live their lives as normal, especially when come a couple of days, we suddenly seem over it.
Written by Aisha Rimi