I wrote an award-winning essay in 2019 on the dangers of large audiences online that try to control discourse via a phenomenon known as cancel culture.
Through the process of “cancelling,” a person or group who holds beliefs contrary to any widely held position gets ridiculed online and may have their reputation and brand damaged in the process. Cancel culture serves the interest of a mob-like audience, and if we pay attention, we can see that another essential component of cancel culture is that oftentimes, the person who is cancelled still maintains their platform in real life, though it may take time, an Apple Notes screenshot and YouTube apology video for them to recover. Thus, cancelling raises awareness of a problem, but in the end the efforts are almost futile.
The confusing part of cancel culture is how to decide what beliefs or actions are worth cancellation and who has the right to make these decisions. Any person who makes a mistake or holds a conflicting opinion should not be immediately bashed online and potentially lose their job. We live in a reasonable world where differing views can be reconciled, people can be forgiven and open platforms exist where we can come together to decide the right way to move forward.
But I want to be clear that racism is not an outlook that is up for debate, and racist attitudes and actions should not be tolerated no matter the intention and no matter the point of view. Racism affects people on a personal level, and those who demonstrate racist ideologies should face real consequences outside the context of being cancelled. Racism should be addressed and properly handled.
The “Cancel Cancel Culture” column that appeared in The Pitt News in early June defended white women who are labeled as “Karen” with the argument that emotional outbursts by white women should not result in targeted social media banter. But what the column missed is the specific historical context in which Karen is embedded. These “emotional overreactions” the author referenced reveal a history of white women weaponizing white privilege and displaying undeserved entitlement, and these actions are largely excused to protect the mental health of racist white women who cannot handle accountability. Karens are neither victims of cancel culture nor unprecedented times — they are products of white supremacy.
The simple mistakes and emotional performances of Karens that the author excused are also the reasons why marginalized communities are targeted by police. The term Karen didn’t appear out of thin air — it is based on repeated offenses where white women lash out when their privilege is threatened and/or claim to be threatened and call the police on Black people who are in their own neighborhoods, in the park or any other locations where normal people go. It would be misguided to believe that every white woman is recorded simply to reduce them to a Karen and laugh online. In many cases, these situations of white women lashing out are recorded to document instances of racism, to protect the bystander from false accusations and subsequent mistreatment by police and, in some instances, to demonstrate the daily threats that Black people face from having guns pointed on them at a protest to gun-pointing at their children.
I agree that Karen should not be cancelled, and I do also acknowledge the sexist undertones of the Karen memes — we need to detail the behaviors of privileged white men as well. But to this point, racist white women should be addressed and face proper consequences, because that’s what happens in the real world when you are racist. Taking the cue from writers like Damon Young of Very Smart Brothas and David Dennis Jr. of News One, we should begin the process of addressing racism by ending the epithet of Karen, labeling “Karen” actions in the correct manner — as racist — and using real names to apply real penalization. Dangerous white women should not be meme-ified and guarded — they should be held accountable like everyone else.
Taylor Robinson is a rising senior communication rhetoric major and Stamps scholar.