Can you cancel ‘cancel culture’?

Illustration by Britney Beaty

Last week, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam and actor Liam Neeson made headlines for their past behavior.

The news has sparked a debate online about the importance of a person’s past conduct and how our society should hold that person accountable in the present. 

There isn’t an easy answer for every controversial action uncovered. I don’t believe the answer is simply “cancelling” every celebrity or politician who has done something wrong. 

The rage that fuels cancel culture can cause people to overreact and forget the fact we are all human, and we all make mistakes. We’re not perfect, and we all have regrets.

However, I am uncomfortable with forgiving every celebrity or politician who has a formal, prepared apology at the ready. Also, it should be noted that all mistakes have levels of severities.

The Northam and Neeson cases are exemplary of how these incidents deserve different responses.

I’m disgusted by Neeson’s mentality that almost spurred a hate crime, but I believe the response to his actions should be different than to Notham’s because he didn’t actually act on this lapse in moral integrity. 

Neeson chose to publicly reveal this to illustrate the ways anger can take over a person’s life and cause them to make the worst mistake. No one uncovered this; He chose to admit it.

Northam responded with a written apology for his actions and admitted he wore blackface while in college. Later, he released a statement saying he wasn’t the person in the photo.

Neeson isn’t a central figure in our government. He might be a public figure but he isn’t responsible for representing a state filled with people of different ethnicities. 

If I was person of color in Virginia, I would not feel comfortable knowing the man at the top of the state government believed it was okay to dress in blackface and take a photo next to someone in a KKK outfit. 

I know it has been some time since 1984 but I am pretty sure people knew it was a bad thing to do back then too. It’s not a situation where one can argue it’s “heritage, not hate.”

If Northam had come out and firmly said it was indeed him, and he made an effort to apologize and express how he has truly changed, then maybe it would be lessen the effects of his previous actions.

The best way for someone to handle being in a situation like this is to treat it seriously and with respect. It’s not so much about what you’ve done as how you acknowledge your mistakes and learn from them.

For the most part, I believe Neeson did this correctly while Northam failed spectacularly.

I hope both of them actually have changed and understand why what they did was so serious and the impact it does have on people.

Maybe it’s in vain but I still hope people can evolve and change into better people. If I can’t believe in this, then I really have no hope for our future.