Donald Trump. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Josh Hawley. We are told that because of being blocked on Twitter, or being accused (correctly) for being linked to QAnon, or losing a Simon & Schuster book contract, these three people are victims of “cancel culture.” Like so much else in white American culture, this phrase is an appropriation from African-American culture, according to Merriam-Webster. In that sense, “cancel” means a severing of a relationship, or did. With “culture” appended to it, now it seems to refer almost exclusively to white Americans in power who lose privileges, or who aren’t being sufficiently listened to.
No Constitutionally guaranteed rights are cancelled; for example, Donald Trump was not guaranteed a second term as President. He lost the election. Marjorie Taylor Greene lost committee appointments, but those aren’t guaranteed to House of Representatives members either. And freedom of the press does not extend to the right to get a big book contract.
So, then, who are the victims of “cancel culture”? Whose relationships were severed? Whose Constitutionally guaranteed rights were violent… the ones embodied in the phrase “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”?
I can think of a name or two.
George W. Dorsey and Mae Murray Dorsey.
James Byrd, Jr.
These people, and thousands of others, have been lynched in the United States by mobs. A “lynching” is where a person is taken forcibly, often by a mob, and then killed, although frequently mutilated prior to the murder. The murder can be performed with a gun, but the mobs often prefer hangings or death by fire so that they can enjoy and savor the spectacle.
Lynchings qualify as “cancel culture”: they deprive a person of life, and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, all of them cancelled in a furious attack upon them for no legal reason. The person is cancelled out. And it’s a culture because lynchings have been a part of American life from the 1800s (at least) forward. To today.
So, we’re not talking about being banned from Twitter here. We’re talking about being beheaded after being tied to a pickup truck and dragged for miles.
We’re also not talking exclusively about African-Americans, either. Elijah Lovejoy was white — but he was also ran an abolitionist newspaper, so that was enough for a death-by-mob sentence. Leo Frank was Jewish, but that wasn’t white enough, and he got the lynching treatment for a murder he didn’t commit. The rest on my list are African-American lynching victims. And the overwhelming number of people documented as having been lynched, going back to the stellar journalistic work of Ida B. Wells, have been African-American.
Lynching was one of the key components of the Jim Crow South, our American apartheid. It wasn’t limited entirely to the South. But of the 11 names above, spanning over a century, 8 of them were murdered in either Mississippi, Alabama (my home state), or Georgia (my current state).
So, let’s be real clear: the 2021 version of “cancel culture” — boo hoo, I lost my book contract because I encouraged insurrection — is white privilege, the real thing, pure and simple. “Cancel culture” is a bunch of snowflakes complaining because, like the Wicked Witch of the West, they are melting because they didn’t come out in the wash.
This doesn’t mean that social media posts can’t be harsh and over-the-top; that’s another story. But, face it, nobody’s being cancelled out like Emmett Till was, his face bashed in until he was unrecognizable. Josh Hawley can self-publish his book like thousands of other people. Marjorie Taylor Greene still gets her turn at the microphone on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, which used to be a very hallowed place to be able to share your voice and opinion. And Donald Trump still gets Secret Service protection for life at his stately pleasure dome on the Atlantic.
But Ahmaud Arbery is still dead. James Byrd is still dead. Thousands were deprived of life, not just of a perk. And this narrow definition of lynching doesn’t even include the thousands who have died in odd circumstances in police custody. We have been remembering their names, too.
That’s enough words. Here’s the website (from which the image at the top originates) to go to in order to learn more about the names, and the extent of lynching’s cancel culture across the United States: