In recent years, do to cancel culture groups seem to be willing ton “throw away” or cancel someone’s career the minute a celebrity does something deemed unacceptable. The action can be as bad as saying a slur, assaulting someone, or as small as a tweet a decade ago that was definitely inappropriate then, but no one said anything at the time. One group of people seems to consistently ignore their problematic legends is the Black community. In recent years we’ve seen the career fall of Bill Cosby, the past few weeks had the transphobic comments of Dave Chappelle, Chris Brown beating Rihanna years ago, R.Kelly sexually assaulting women, Kevin Hart cheating on his wives on several occasions and then getting removed as Oscar host for homophobic tweets years prior. While these celebrities have committed various degrees of problematic behaviour, the Black community doesn’t seem to ever want to “cancel” them. In most situations, I’ve heard the Black community separate the art from the artist and continue to support these men, and I have to wonder why.
One real life incident that jarred me was a female friend of a friend who came to the defence of Bill Cosby, who I now only can refer to as a rapist, because of his legend status. This woman seemed to feel that people were attacking Cosby because he was great, because he was Black, because they couldn’t stand to see his success and wanted some money. As a sexual assault survivor who has always adopted the “believe women first” mantra, I was shocked that this Black woman was choosing to side with Bill Cosby. This first instance opened my eyes to how blind people are willing to be to support their heroes, favourite celebrities or people they deem to be Black Excellence. I know people who still consume Chris Brown and R.Kelly’s music but say what they did “was whack”. Regardless of how much you verbally condemn a persons horrible behaviour, playing their music still gives money to them or the estate they represent (cough Michael Jackson cough). In light of Dave Chappelle’s recent comments, which we won’t go over again, I had to wonder if everyone was giving him a pass for the same reasons: because he’s a legend, because he broke down barriers, because he has always been offensive and shocking. Despite being those things, shouldn’t you have compassion and some common sense to think about what you are saying before you say them?
I worry that Black people become so proud of our legends because of how beat down and degraded Black people have been in the past that we become defensive of these people when they have made mistakes. To err is human, and I think being able to acknowledge that the people we look up to are not who we thought they were, or don’t align with our values, is okay even if we thought they represented an idealistic version of Blackness, Black culture or Black identity. I can’t stand by various assaulters and criminals simply because they understand the plight I have gone through as a Black person. Understanding racism doesn’t get you a pass at being a rapist, at beating women, and saying homophobic or transphobic jokes.
Maybe it’s the socialist in me, but I’d like to think we can have people to look up to who exemplify Black excellence who are not synonymous with criminals, thugs, predators. I understand that some of these people have broken down barriers, paved the way for Black communities, and helped Black people as a whole. It’s okay to recognize the good that someone has done while also acknowledging that they hold views, values, or have done things that you do not agree with. I like T.I.’s music, but I think it’s weird he gets his doctor to check his daughter’s hymen, and so I will no longer be streaming his music. Doesn’t mean I suddenly hate his voice or sound or the work he has done, but I’d rather not have my taste in music with someone who asks those types of very conservative requests in 2021. My hope is that we can discover or even raise new talented individuals who use their voices for good, and represent the people we want to be as well as move barriers for Black individuals.