Opinion | Susan Knopf: Cancel culture


Cancel culture seems to be the go-to phrase conservatives are employing these days to apply to any complex problem they really don’t care to discuss.

I was astounded when I heard it referenced in the impeachment trial. Really? Cancel culture?

Wikipedia cites several scholars and describes it as synonymous with “call-out culture.” Anybody reviled for bad behavior is in essence “canceled” through social media.

You mean like the state Republicans who are trying to “cancel” the senators and representatives who voted to hold Donald Trump responsible for his actions leading up to and including the Jan. 6 attack on our Capitol?

I talked to several local leaders, and no one could think of a local incident, but you can bet it’s happening.

California utility worker Emmanuel Cafferty was accused of being a white supremacist. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right. Cafferty is of Irish and Mexican descent. So he is the perfect candidate for the white militia — probably not!

According to KNSD-TV, he was driving home from work in a white company truck with his arm hanging out the window. He told NBC 7 San Diego that he was cracking his knuckles. He could have been making the OK gesture. Another driver snapped a picture of Cafferty’s hand.

Within hours, Cafferty was called by his employer, San Diego Gas and Electric. He was accused of being a white supremacist because the OK gesture has been co-opted by white militias and now stands for white power. Cafferty reportedly said he did not know this. I’m betting a bunch of you didn’t either.

Long story short, he was fired.

The point of cancel culture is not to cyberbully and make victims out of innocents. The point, as a writer for The Atlantic points out, is to create an accountability culture.

For the record, that’s exactly what Republicans are doing. Washington County, Pennsylvania, Republicans voted to censure their Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey because he voted to impeach Trump.

“We did not send him there to vote his conscience,” county GOP Chairman Dave Ball said Monday. ‘We did not send him there to do the right thing, or whatever he said he’s doing. We sent him there to represent us.”

So much for the law and order, traditional values party. Trumpets, Trumplicans.

What does all this mean to us? Cancel culture is intended to call out mostly public figures who talk the talk but don’t walk the walk. They say they support Black Lives Matter but engage in racist behavior. It’s also used against sexists and other impolitic behavior.

When you hear a Republican use the term cancel culture, they are generally using the term interchangeably with other hot-button terms like “radical left wing agenda.” A Virginia Law Review article debunked the myth that liberals disdain free speech and favor censorship.

We progressives need to be curious. A local told me she is concerned about the Democrats’ radical agenda. I asked her what issues particularly concerned her. She couldn’t articulate. That gave me insight into her information sources. No one uses that phrase but the information-distorting, radical, right-wing media.

What we need to know about cancel culture is we should not allow ourselves to be sucked into social media gossip dissing an individual for some alleged act, about which we have no real information. Let’s not cyberbully innocents.

Former President Barack Obama spoke against call-out culture in a 2019 video on The Guardian website.

“I do get a sense sometimes now among certain young people … that the way of me making change is to be as judgmental as possible about other people and that’s enough,“ Obama said. ”…That is not activism; that is not bringing about change. If all you’re doing is casting stones, you are probably not going to get that far.”

Let’s make sure our activism is genuine and we’re not using some social action shorthand. As Obama said, let’s not say, “See how woke I was? I called you out!” Let’s not be calling one another out. Let’s support one another to make this a better world for each of us and thus all of us.

Susan Knopf’s column “For The Record” publishes Fridays in the Summit Daily News. Knopf lives in Silverthorne. She is a certified ski instructor and an award-winning journalist. Contact her at

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