A lot of white friends—mostly conservative, and mostly men—are finally clearing their throats and finding their voice, now a couple months after George Floyd. With increasing frequency, they are writing social media posts decrying “cancel culture,” and comparing “woke-ism” to McCarthyism.
As a white friend myself, I don’t have a hard time seeing the world from their point of view. But as a communicator, I am struggling to figure out what they think they’re trying to achieve, or who they think they’re talking to.
A conservative friend of mine posted a quote from a Wall Street Journal column complaining that what’s happening with the protests is “about more than statues and history. Those who control the symbols of political discourse can dominate the culture and control the collective consciousness.”
Well, yes—that’s why traditional historical narratives and the statues they celebrate are being challenged, Thurston! Because you have been dominating the culture and controlling the collective consciousness for a very long time, and others are demanding a turn.
There are legitimate questions about the current moment and mood, of course—about the social sustainability of cancel culture, the wisdom of woke-ism and the viability of a society that attempts to hold everyone‘s truth to be self-evident. Can the center hold in a vastly multicultural civilization that can’t agree a central founding myth or the shape of its historical narrative? Or can that civilization somehow come together and form a new shared story to bind it together as a nation?
This phrase “a more perfect union,” that we’re always hearing—that always sounds like tinkering, at a moment when it seems we might need an engine rebuild. But if you’re American, you’re supposed to be up for big experiments. You’re supposed to be up for the American experiment.
This is part of that.
And general griping about “woke-ism” and protester vandalism and cancel culture—excessive and simplistic and reckless as these phenomena may sometimes be—reminds me a little of a story Evel Knievel used to tell, about his “great great great great great great great great great grandfather,” who was dragged out into the middle of the Roman Colosseum and buried up to his neck. When Caesar arrived and took his seat, a lion was released. The lion charged at the senior Knievel, but before he could maul him, Knievel turned up his head and bit the lion’s balls off.
As the dentally neutered cat whimpered away, over the roaring crowd Caesar was heard to yell, “Fight fair, Knievel!”
Whether you agree with them or not, you the cancel-culturists and the woke-ists—from #metoo to BLM—firmly feel they’ve been buried up to their neck all these many years. And they will not sympathize with your apparent belief that they are actually Caesar and you are the man in the dirt.
You must understand that.
So—honest question—who are you trying to reach with these sorts of posts, and what are you trying to achieve?