Americans’ Lust To ‘Cancel’ One Another Should Spark Soul Searching
After annoying some progressive activists years ago over a column I wrote about a property dispute between a predominantly Latino school district and one of its neighbors, I had to sit through a meeting where I was questioned about my ethnic sensitivity. It was a weird feeling given that my column covered land-use matters and not race or nationality. Fortunately, my critics were polite and the editors had my back. Life went on.
Nevertheless, the incident provided a “note to self” moment. Imagine what can happen to those who say or write something that’s too close to—or slightly over—the (ill-defined) line. I’ve published 200,000 words and given many talks, so there’s always the possibility—shocking as it may seem—that a handful of those words could have been better chosen. It wouldn’t shock me, either, if some readers found my funny Tweets less than amusing.
political tribes, there are plenty of enemies to go around. Social media platforms make that shaming process fast, fun, and easy.
Did you read about the 30-year-old executive who, before boarding a 2013 flight from New York to South Africa in 2013, sent out snarky tweets from the airport? She joked about a German with body odor, Brits with bad teeth, and then—to her regret—let loose an offensive tweet about AIDS and Africa. Despite having only 170 followers, the tweet went viral. Her career and reputation were ruined by the time the flight landed in Cape Town.
Last week, we learned that The New York Times ousted a top reporter, 45-year veteran Donald McNeil Jr., after 150 fellow employees demanded his firing. They learned that he had used the N-word while representing the newspaper during a 2019 trip to Peru. In his apology, McNeil explained that he was “asked at dinner by a student whether I thought a classmate of hers should have been suspended for a video she had made as a 12-year-old in which she used a racial slur.”
McNeil said he “asked if she had called someone else the slur or whether she was rapping or quoting a book title. In asking the question, I used the slur itself.” The Times took an unyielding approach. “We do not tolerate racist language regardless of intent,” the newspaper’s top editors said in explanation. No wonder so many normal, non-racist Americans are concerned about canceling.
Intent should always be a factor. Not that these incidents usually are judicial matters, but our legal system provides a guide. There are much stiffer penalties for those who plot an elaborate murder and for those who accidentally kill someone through reckless
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