The NYT's Nikole Hannah-Jones makes a misguided and ahistorical claim
Are we making too big a fuss about cancel culture?
Nikole Hannah-Jones is a Pulitzer-winning reporter at The New York Times. With so many cancel culture stories in the news right now, including those concerning her own newspaper, she took to Twitter to express her frustration:
I’m not on Twitter, but will someone *please* write about how Black, brown, marginalized people have self-censored for generations, lost jobs over political views, been pushed out of institutions for not sharing the ideologies of the people running them? This whining. My God.
— Ida Bae Wells (@nhannahjones) March 4, 2021
People do tend to ‘whine’ when they have their livelihood destroyed for no good reason. But, yes, Hannah-Jones is right; there is a long history of silencing the marginalised for what they say as well as for as who they are. There is nothing new about cancel culture.
But in what way can it help to have parallel injustices perpetrated against supposedly non-marginalised people in the present day? One might discern an answer to that in what Hannah-Jones says next:
I don’t think this should be read as a justification for cancel culture. However, the claim that injustices are only ever acknowledged by the powerful when they suffer the things done to the powerless is just plain wrong.
Look at the social progress made over the 19th and 20th centuries. Was the slave trade abolished because white people were enslaved? Were women enfranchised because the vote was taken away from men? Were working conditions for miners improved because the upper classes were sent down the pit?
No. In all these cases, and many more besides, injustice was defeated because its evil was exposed — not least through the courageous witness and protest of its victims.
Sometimes it can take a war — whether literal or metaphorical — to bring down the active perpetrators of injustice, but that is not the same as making an example out of innocents. Indeed, the injustice of revenge plays into the hands of those who perpetrated the original injustice. Suddenly, they can opportunistically portray themselves as victims — and as the defenders of the blameless.
Of course, in the twisted logic of wokeness there are no innocents — at least not within the ‘wrong’ identity groups. Should you fall under a ‘privileged’ category — then you share in its collective guilt.
You don’t need to be a historian to see where that line of thinking leads us.