Barack Obama on cancel culture: ‘The world is messy. There are ambiguities’

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Former US President Barack Obama in Berlin

Honestly, I don’t think I throw around the word “cancelled” all the time. I think I’m reasonably judicious in who I cancel, and it has repercussions on the job too: I avoid writing about certain (cancelled) people unless they’re doing something particularly newsworthy. Kanye West is cancelled for his MAGA crap, misogyny and ignorance. Harvey Weinstein is cancelled for being a rapist. Lena Dunham is cancelled for being awful for years. We also made a site-wide decision to cancel a few actresses so thoroughly that I’m not even going to name them here. That’s about it. I know there are places on the internet which rejoice in cancelling people all the time, just as I know that “cancel culture” is something racist, unfunny dude-bros whine about when their words and actions have consequences. So, President Barack Obama has some thoughts about Cancel Culture and whether people should be cancelled for, I guess, simply making a mistake here and there.

Former President Barack Obama has made an appeal to Americans not to see “compromise” as a bad thing. He hit out at Twitter outrage and “cancel culture,” saying it was “not activism.” The former president was speaking at an Obama Foundation Summit in Chicago on Tuesday, HuffPost reports, and he urged Americans to stop seeking ideological purity.

“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 said. “The world is messy. There are ambiguities. People who do really good stuff have flaws.” He went on to say that young people in particular are are risk of mistaking being judgmental about people as activism. “You know, that’s not activism” he said. “That’s not bringing about change. If all you’re doing is casting stones, you’re probably not going to get that far.”

He continued to tie the issue to activism: “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, and that’s enough. If I tweet or hashtag about how you didn’t do something right or used the wrong verb, then I can sit back and feel pretty good about myself. Did you see how woke I was, I called you out. Then I’m going to get on my TV and watch my show … 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.”

[From Rolling Stone & The Daily Beast]

I understand what he means with the hashtag activism and people just being outraged all the time about everything. As I writer of pop culture/political gossip, of course I’ve made mistakes and I’ve had “bad takes.” I would hate to be “cancelled” over some stupid sh-t I wrote. But… I still feel like there are some really bad actors using the “cancel culture” argument – the worst conservatives, the worst racists and white supremacists and generally terrible people are the ones whining about cancel culture, and it’s just because their actions and words have consequences, you know? Delineate between “so-and-so is canceled” versus “so-and-so did a sh-tty thing, then didn’t apologize and I remember it.”

Watch President @BarackObama make an excellent point about call-out culture. pic.twitter.com/P6mw9aLWTQ

— ATTN: (@attn) October 30, 2019

Former President Obama Campaigns for Florida Democrats Gillum and Nelson In Miami

Photos courtesy of Backgrid, Avalon Red.

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