Cancel Culture Is a Good Thing
While it might seem like a negative use of the Internet, cancel culture can be beneficial. The use of the Internet to call out individuals who committed bad acts is helping change the world in a positive way.
Some people say cancel culture goes too far. It can ruin lives and careers. For some who have been "canceled," it's hard to recover.
Critics accuse cancel culture of going overboard, saying that people’s lives are being irreparably damaged and the ability to learn and be given a second chance is becoming less available. Even former President Barack Obama criticized it in a youth summit in 2019. “I do get a sense sometimes now among certain young people, and this is accelerated by social media, there is this sense sometimes of: ‘The way of me making change is to be as judgmental as possible about other people,’” he said. “That’s not activism. That’s not bringing about change. If all you’re doing is casting stones, you’re probably not going to get that far. That’s easy to do," Obama added. Cancel culture has arguably only accelerated in the past year. From TV host Ellen DeGeneres to singer Lana Del Rey, to a host of business leaders, a number of public figures have been "canceled" in 2020. Some people have lost their jobs or lucrative ad campaigns as a result. A number of writers and creative professionals spoke out against what they call a culture of shrinking public debate. In an open letter published in Harper's, they wrote: "As writers we need a culture that leaves us room for experimentation, risk taking, and even mistakes. We need to preserve the possibility of good-faith disagreement without dire professional consequences. If we won’t defend the very thing on which our work depends, we shouldn’t expect the public or the state to defend it for us."
But avoiding similar victimizations in the future should be prioritized over the rehabilitation of the perpetrator. It’s the consequences that perpetrators face and justice for the victims that should be the main focus.
For instance, people bemoan the loss of Louis C.K. without speaking of his victims. Comedians and fans alike speak often of his absence in the comedy world. But we need to put the focus back on the talented comedians that he scared away from the industry.
Louis C.K. effectively became a tastemaker in comedy in the 2000s. He has become a touchstone for many comedians, a comedian's comedian. With a successful TV show and many sold-out Madison Square Garden shows, C.K. was beloved by many. And fans, both famous and not, have bemoaned his absence from public life since public accusations of sexual misconduct around him surfaced in 2017. Much less attention has been devoted to his victims, despite the fact that C.K. has admitted the allegations are true. Five different women accused him of sexual misconduct, over a period of time that stretches back more than 15 years. Dana Min Goodman, Julia Wolov, Abby Schachner, and Rebecca Corry are just a few of the female comedians who alleged that C.K. masturbated in front of them. Most of the women were early in their careers, and some were so spooked by his behavior that they felt they did not have a place in the comedy world. “Because of this moment, as gross as it is, we feel compelled to speak," Goodman said. Many other women did not come forward for fear of professional reprisals.
Roman Polanski, too, is often defended as a great artist, ignoring his many victims who have come forward. Polanski's case shows the way that legal channels do not always dole out justice. Especially when victims are young women.
Roman Polanski's mug shot after he was arrested for rape of a minor. LAPD/Wikimedia Commons
In the 1970s, Polanski pleaded guilty to the rape of a girl who was just 13 years old. He fled the U.S. before sentencing, escaping judicial consequences. He has continued making films in France since. And he has even earned the highest prize that France gives for filmmaking, a César. Meanwhile, his victims have suffered emotional and psychological losses, and are rarely spoken of in the press. As recently as 2019, a sixth woman accused Polanski of rape. Valentine Monnier, a Parisian photographer says the filmmaker attacked her in a ski chalet when she was just 18 years old. "I weighed 50 kilos [110 pounds]," she said in an interview. "Polanski was small but muscular and at 42 was in the prime of his life. He got the upper hand in two minutes.” Monnier joins a group of women with allegations against Polanski: all of who were just teenagers when he allegedly raped them.
And people with privilege will try to hang onto their advantage through any means necessary. Even if it requires dishonesty. Many will lie, steal, or cheat to maintain their power and position.
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For instance, the NFL tried to quash kneeling protests because it didn't suit their bottom line. The league deliberately cast doubt on those peaceful demonstrations.
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Roger Goodell knew all along that taking a knee wasn't about the flag. When Goodell reacted to Colin Kaepernick taking a knee as if it were unpatriotic, he knew that it wasn't intended that way. Kaepernick made it clear it wasn’t about the flag from the beginning.
Kaepernick's protest was meant to call out inequalities in America. He made it clear that it was about enduring racial inequality.
When the quarterback started his protest in August 2016, he was explicit about its cause: ongoing racism in the U.S. "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color," he told NFL Media in 2016. "To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way," he said. "There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder." His protest was responding in particular to the racist—and often fatal—treatment of people of color by law enforcement. The month prior, Alton Sterling became the latest Black man shot and killed at the hands of the police. The Louisiana officers involved in the case claimed that Sterling was reaching for a gun when they killed him, but cell phone video shows Sterling was already pinned down. After the incident, Kaepernick spoke out, writing on his Instagram: “This is what lynchings look like in 2016!” He added: “Another murder in the streets because the color of a man’s skin, at the hands of the people who they say will protect us. When will they be held accountable?” The difference in the way law enforcement treats Black and white Americans extends even to players in the NFL themselves. A Georgia police officer choked and body-slammed former NFL player Desmond Marrow when he was already in handcuffs. Retired NFL defensive lineman Matthias Askew was stun gunned in front of his 7-year-old daughter during a routine traffic stop.
The owners talked extensively about it. There was even a league-wide summit on it.
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Teams such as the Dallas Mavericks and the New York Giants were discussing whether to allow or disallow the practice altogether. Goodell even organized a summit in 2018 in which 30 of the top owners, players, and league executives got together to discuss the kneeling protests. The three-hour, closed-door meeting was a rare opportunity for players and owners to meet and discuss the topic together. In the meeting, Eric Reid—Kaepernick's former teammate and the first NFL player to join his protest—said he felt the league had "hung [Kaepernick] out to dry." According to the New York Times, he added: “Nobody stepped up and said we support Colin’s right to do this. We all let him become Public Enemy No. 1 in this country, and he still doesn’t have a job.” The owners, for their part, were more concerned that continued ire from President Donald Trump over the protests was becoming a black mark on the NFL. The Eagles owner, Jeffrey Lurie, warned against being "baited" by Trump, saying the NFL needed to present a united front.
And there were an inordinate number of news articles about it. Coverage appeared in nearly every major newspaper.
Not only did discussion of Kaepernick's protest appear in nearly every major news outlet, from the New York Times to the Wall Street Journal to cable news networks, the NFL's own media outlet conducted an exclusive interview with Kaepernick in which he explained his position. For example, the New York Times published 27 articles in the two weeks (Aug. 30—Sept. 12) following the initial incident. Similarly, The Wall Street Journal published the article, "Sixteen Thoughts on Colin Kaepernick" Sept. 7, 2016 discussing the issue. And NFL Media interviewed him immediately after the game Aug. 26, 2016 when he took a knee. What's more, the media discussion lasted for years. The articles and stories have not stopped since Kaepernick first kneeled in 2016.
Taking a knee to show objection to something is a simple concept. It even exists in other mammals.
Kneeling is one of the most understandable and recognized positions a person can take. It is a simple position to enter into for the person kneeling and is easily identified by observers. It takes its cues from a core principle in mammalian nonverbal behavior: reducing the body's appearance shows respect, esteem, and deference. According to an article in Scientific American, kneeling "...is seen, for example, in dogs and chimps, who reduce their height to show submissiveness. Kneeling can also be a posture of mourning and sadness. It makes the one who kneels more vulnerable. In some situations, kneeling can be seen as a request for protection." The act is so obviously polite that it has stood as a sign of respect for thousands of years. For example, Christianity cites it in numerous instances in the Bible. In Psalm 95:6 it states, "Come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker;" in Chronicles 29:29, "Now at the completion of the burnt offerings, the king and all who were present with him bowed down and worshiped," and in Mark 10:17, "As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" to name a few.
The NFL is a huge organization. Goodell has a complete organization of lieutenants and advisors that could have helped explain it to him.
The NFL has close to 3,000 employees according to LinkedIn. As the head of an organization with such a large staff, Roger Goodell clearly has a litany of support available to him. Roger himself is a highly paid executive, earning over $34 million according to the NFL's 2014 Form 990, with other reports showing his earnings greater than $40 million each year from 2013 to 2018. With compensation this high as the head of a large organization, he obviously has a lot of assistants, advisors and officers reporting to him. His list of first officers includes a number of highly paid executives, with a CFO, EVP & General Counsel, EVP of Media, EVP of Business Ventures, EVP of Football Operations and EVP of Human Resources, each earning over $1 million per year. Additionally, the organization's Form 990 shows over $6 million paid to Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrisson LLP, one of New York's top law firms. Obviously, he has plenty of attorneys available to advise him, too. Any number of these colleagues likely could have explained the meaning behind the protests, had he so asked. That Goodell continued to misunderstand seems to represent willful ignorance on his part.
Kaepernick kneeled after consulting with a military vet. Boyer told Kaepernick kneeling would be more respectful than sitting during the national anthem.
Retired Army Green Beret Nate Boyer is credited with convincing Kaepernick to kneel during the national anthem. During the first games that Kaepernick protested during the national anthem, he simply sat on the bench rather than standing with the rest of the team during the anthem. Boyer was among many Americans who had been angered by Kaepernick's decision to sit. Boyer himself is even a former NFL player, having played a brief stint for the Seattle Seahawks. Instead of letting his feelings get the better of him, he wrote a letter voicing his concerns to Kapernick. Boyer explained all that the flag and the anthem meant to veterans like himself. To his suprise, Kaepernick reached out, asking to meet with him in the team's hotel lobby. They discussed their differing feelings about the flag and the protest. As Boyer later explained to NPR: "I suggested him taking a knee instead of sitting even though I wanted him to stand, and he wanted to sit. And it was, like, this compromise that we sort of came to. And that's where the kneeling began." Boyer came up with the idea of kneeling because he thought it was more respectful. As he pointed out in the same interview, someone kneels when they're being knighted, or asking someone to get married. It's a sign of paying respect.
Kaepernick Was Not Being Unpatriotic When He Kneeled During the National Anthem He expressly sought out the counsel of veterans to be respectful of their sacrifice.
Kaepernick made clear from the start that he was not trying to be unpatriotic or to disrespect the armed forces, which is why he sought out the most respectful way of voicing his dissent. In fact, the opposite could be argued: Protest is patriotic. As one journalist wrote: "It is a nationalist insinuation to suggest that a flag could be 'disrespected' through protest. Airing one’s voice is a hallmark of a democracy, not a threat to it." By using his position of power to speak out for the voiceless, he was fighting for equality and advocating for some of America's most foundational values. In exercising his right to free expression, he was fighting for "freedom, liberty, and justice for all." Longtime NBA coach Gregg Popovich argued that what Kaepernick did was the essence of patriotism. "Being a patriot is somebody that respects their country and understands that the best thing about our country is that we have the ability to fix things that have not come to fruition for a lot of people so far," he told ESPN. Popovich continued, saying: "Being a critic of those inequalities does not make you a non-patriot. It's what makes America great, that you can say those things and attack those things to make them better. That's what a lot of other countries don't have."
People with an agenda can't be objective about ideas that threaten their wealth or power. They are willfully blind to evidence that challenges their position. Even if changing their behavior or policies could save lives.
When people benefit from the existing way of doing things, they are naturally reluctant to see it change. It’s human nature to want to preserve things that are helping you, even if those things are morally questionable. People have an unwavering ability to make excuses or simply be slow to understand the reasoning for any argument that will cost them money or power. One example might be an oil executive who struggles to accept that climate change is real. He cites the outlier studies showing it isn’t necessarily human-made. Exxon, it was recently discovered, knew about climate change as early as the 1970s. The oil company employed scientists to study the phenomenon and came up with climate models that showed how damaging carbon dioxide could be. And yet, the company publicly disavowed the entire phenomenon for decades. Another example is the 1970s tobacco executives who wouldn’t accept that smoking caused lung cancer. They found, or paid for, studies that suggested cancer could have other causes. As recently as the 2010s, Philip Morris continued to argue that its top-selling product, Marlboro Gold (formerly known as Marlboro Lights), reduced the risk of cancer. In the corporate environment, business goals and profits have historically superseded doing good for society. The concept of 'doing good' was meant for non-profits whereas for-profit companies served shareholders. A threat to profits could ultimately become a threat to the entire company itself. With so many examples and the obvious way of human nature, it's clear that many people can become compromised based on their incentives.
Fighting inequalities through existing channels often fails. Institutional power frequently struggles to solve huge, systemic issues. Especially when those issues span huge geographic areas.
For the most part, protesting fails to cause change. The long-term effects of protest are often limited by chance, longevity, and existing power structures. The political climate has to be exactly right for protesting to succeed.
Racist incidents continue. And in popular culture, racist symbols are still permitted. And they show no sign of slowing down. If anything, developments in technology have only showed the insidiousness of racist violence in the U.S.
The Cleveland Indians refused to change their name. Even under increased pressure, the Indians name remained unchanged. This is just one symptom of a broader disrespect for Native American tribes.
For years, there were ongoing protests against the Indians’ team name, mascot, and common game chants. They recently removed their mascot, Chief Wahoo, but they have opposed changing the team name. Despite this, owner Paul Dolan said in 2019: “Not only are we adamant about keeping the name Indians, but the Commissioner (Rob Manfred) is similarly supportive of the name.” In July, Dolan agreed to meet with Native American groups to discuss the name, but he did not make any promises to change the name. Many indigenous people have been pressuring the stakeholders for years to change the name they say is offensive. Even with mounting pressure, the Indians have yet to announce an official name change. In August, some 80 businesses and organizations signed a petition asking for a name change. “We’ve been shouting it, and marching and chanting, 'Change the name, change the logo' for so long. And somewhere along the line, they missed the first half of that message. And now they're hearing that part of the message," said Philip Yenyo, the executive director of the American Indian Movement of Ohio. A local Cleveland graphic designer has even come up with a suggested new logo and team name: the Cleveland Spiders. It hearkens back to Cleveland's local team in the early 20th century.
Hundreds of Confederate statues remain. They are displayed in 31 states and Washington, D.C. Even states that were never in the Confederacy bear the marks of that uprising.
There are at least 700 Confederate statues spread across 31 states and Washington, D.C. Other estimates put the number of Confederate memorials as high as more than double that, or nearly 2,000. The statues exist far outside of the former Confederate states themselves. The Confederacy itself was only 11 states. Virginia and Texas continue to have the highest number of Confederate statues of any state. Virginia has well over 100 Confederate statues—with more than 41 dedicated to General Robert E. Lee alone. Many experts argue that the statues—the majority of which were erected long after the Civil War—are there to inculcate values such as white supremacy. “All of those monuments were there to teach values to people,” Mark Elliott, a history professor at University of North Carolina, Greensboro, told the History Channel. “That’s why they put them in the city squares. That’s why they put them in front of state buildings.” For every Confederate statue that has come down in the past few months, ten still remain.
The "All Lives Matter" slogan was acceptable for a long time. Even the vice president used it. Such slogans show a total disrespect toward what Black Lives Matter is trying to accomplish.
Among certain groups of Americans, saying "all lives matter," or being actively against the Black Lives Matter movement was still acceptable. Even now, after support for the Black Lives Matter movement has grown rapidly in the past few months, still only 63% of Americans support the Black Lives Matter Movement. Some 68% of Republicans are actively against it, according to the same Washington Post-ABC News poll. As recently as June of this year, Vice President Mike Pence refused to say "black lives matter." Instead, he repeated again in a TV interview: "I really believe that all lives matter." "All lives matter" might seem like an innocuous term, but its meaning is ignorant at best and racist at worst. Activists have often used the metaphor of a house on fire: if a neighbor's house is on fire, there's no sense in saying "All houses matter" and spraying water on the house that is not on fire. "No one's saying that your life doesn't matter," blogger Ayanna Lage told CBS news. "What we're saying… is all lives can't matter until black lives matter."
Confederate flags and symbols have continued to be permitted in many places. They adorn everything from private property to public land. They even fly in state houses.
Confederate iconography continued to be displayed in spite of concerted efforts by protesters. In parts of the South, both in former Confederate states and otherwise, Confederate flags, bumper stickers, and other paraphernalia are ubiquitous. They can be seen flying in front yards or hanging off the back of a truck. Craft sites like Etsy even sell Confederate flag masks and candles. Barry Isenhour is a member of Virginia flaggers, a group that wants to erect an enormous Confederate flag outside of Richmond, Virginia. He told the BBC that the Confederate flag is just misunderstood. "They fought for the family and fought for the state. We are tired of people saying they did something wrong. They were freedom-loving Americans who stood up to the tyranny of the North. They seceded from the US government not from the American idea," he said. Confederate flags even fly worldwide, as a sign of rebellion, white supremacy, or even just American kitsch. They can be seen in Ireland, Brazil, and Germany, among others. Things may be slowly changing. In 2020, however—after rioting—some of the most powerful people started to change their minds. For instance, Mississippi, where the state flag has long included a Confederate flag, even decided to completely redesign it and remove the Confederate symbol.
Protesting has been happening for decades to demand racial justice. And it's not always effective. Nor does it necessarily translate into legislative change.
Both Black and white Americans have been speaking out against racial injustice for centuries. Some of the earliest protests led by Black activists took place as early as the first decade of the 20th century, led by W.E.B. DuBois. Since then, thousands of protests have demanded an end to racial inequalities, often with limited success. The late 1950s and early 1960s are remembered as a decade of protest for Black Americans. Led by Martin Luther King and others, those protests pushed for equal access to voting rights, education, and private businesses. While that movement eventually saw results, many changes only happened after King's death, long after the protests themselves. The nature of protests has evolved since that time, ranging from legal challenges, to political pressure, culminating in the widespread protesting and rioting seen in 2020. One political scientist found that protests can garner "common sense" understanding around issues such as same-sex marriage. But that shared understanding doesn't necessarily translate to concrete action or legislative change.
Police reform efforts failed. Dozens of plans to retrain police have been costly and ultimately, ineffective. Even the notion of police reform is unwieldy in a justice system comprised of so many different departments.
Five years after Eric Garner's death, the Justice Department announced it would not levy any criminal charges in connection with the murder. Then New York Deputy Attorney General Alvin Bragg argued in The Washington Post that the decision "highlights the urgent need to reform the federal criminal law governing excessive force. Congress needs to do away with the requirement of proof that officers have acted 'willfully' when they use excessive force." Garner's case was just one of many where police who killed Black civilians did not face legal repercussions. Even with the addition of body cameras, implicit bias training, and other attempts at reform, the continued lethal force against Black people proves that those attempts for reform have failed. Even after protests reoccurred since Kaepernick's initial protest, no significant state or federal legislation was enacted. The efforts on the local level were often piecemeal or superficial. Some have argued that the idea of police reform itself is "fundamentally flawed." Law enforcement in the U.S. is. comprised of 15,000 separate agencies, meaning each reform would need to be enacted independently. Experts on police violence such as Alex Vitale have suggested that the problem of excessive force goes far deeper than reforms can touch: the scope of policing has simply become far too vast. Police today are asked to deal with issues such as mental illness, substance abuse, and homelessness—all things that they have no expertise in. If we want real change, we need to vastly revise what police officers are asked to do. “At root, they fail to appreciate that the basic nature of the law and the police, since its earliest origins, is to be a tool for managing inequality and maintaining the status quo. Police reforms that fail to directly address this reality are doomed to reproduce it," Vitale wrote.
Colin Kaepernick’s efforts failed. He couldn't garner even half the country's support. And he has never been able to play professional football again.
It's difficult to point to any concrete change catalyzed by Kaepernick's protests. His choice to kneel certainly caused a lot of conversation, but for some people it only seemed to create more animosity for the Black Lives Matter movement. That criticism only intensified after the election of President Donald Trump. The president has strongly criticized both Kaepernick and the other protesters. "You have to stand proudly for the national anthem or you shouldn't be playing, you shouldn't be there, maybe you shouldn't be in the country," Trump said in 2018. Though some NFL players and members of the public supported Kaepernick, a 2018 Yahoo News/YouGov poll found that only 35% of Americans agreed with Kaepernick's right to protest. By 2020, that percentage had climbed to little more than half of Americans. His protest also seems to have tanked his promising football career. By 2017, Kaepernick found himself unsigned, with many suggesting he was being blackballed. He went on to score a major publicity deal with Nike, but he has never again played professional football. In 2020, after the looting, Kapernick has started to garner more support from the league and Goodell.
Elections don't always right legislative wrongs. Voting alone can't end inequalities. It's only one piece of a much larger picture.
The rallying cry to "go vote," imparting the necessity of participating in elections, grows louder during every major campaign. Politicians talk about how "every vote counts," or how "one vote can make a difference." But that isn't always the case. In presidential elections, for instance, because of the electoral college, individual votes often matter very little in certain states. And the ability of a single politician or a handful of legislators to make a difference can be limited. Even well-meaning, motivated politicians often fail to make long-lasting change. For instance, the widely-supported Equal Rights Amendment was proposed in the 1920s. Since then, it languished in Congress, only being ratified by the House of Representatives and the Senate in 1972. It still has yet to be added to the Constitution as it has failed to garner a majority of the states needed to ratify it. Even this simple legislation, aimed at preventing discrimination on the basis of sex, has failed to make it into the Constitution after nearly a century. Legislators of course have some power to make more just and equal laws, but they are often faced by these internal slowdowns. They also have to deal with the checks and balances that exist within the political system and can slow down change. As one journalist wrote for the Boston Review, "without pressure from social movements, [elections] won’t produce meaningful and deeply needed reform."
Court cases don’t always end up serving justice. Many criminals walk free because of their existing privilege. Systemic inequality mars our justice system.
While court cases can sometimes bring consequences to criminals and closure to victims, that's not always the case. There's many cases where perpetrators are found not guilty or just get off with minimum sentencing. With rape especially, for instance, only a fraction of cases are prosecuted, and even fewer perpetrators serve jail time. To take an example, Stanford student Brock Turner was found guilty of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman. And yet, perhaps because of his privilege, Turner was sentenced to only six months in prison (of which he served three). The judge cited the adverse effects a prison sentence might have on the man's life when he doled out the judgment. "Obviously, a prison sentence would have a severe impact on him. And that may be true in any case. I think it’s probably more true with a youthful offender sentenced to state prison at a – at a young age," the judge wrote, adding "If you had someone who wasn’t in the fortunate circumstances that Mr. Turner had found himself in his youth, that they shouldn’t – it shouldn’t count against them." This is why whisper networks, such as #MeToo develop: because the proper channel for punishing perpetrators often fails.
Nonprofit organizations have a limited scope. Their operational capacity is limited by local laws, regulations—and their own internal issues. Their internal structure fundamentally limits them.
Non-profit organizations can do a lot of good. From delivering medicines to those in need, to working on issues such as climate change, NGOs and entities in the private sector are an integral part of making the world more fair. But they are limited both in their jurisdictional scope and their impact. Nonprofits are often treating the symptoms of an issue like poverty or racism, without necessarily being able to get at its roots. A food bank, for instance, that gives free food to the needy, is certainly providing an important service. But that work is treating the problem far downstream from its initial causes: such as systemic racism, redlining, or corrupt corporations that don't pay their workers a fair wage. Additionally, many nonprofits suffer from impractical business models or too much overhead cost. Sometimes only a fraction of the money they take in goes toward achieving their social justice goals. "Too many nonprofits are constrained by a slow-moving, institutional, and self-interested model," reads an article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review. The article goes on to note how much money non-profits spend on their staff and on lavish fundraising events rather than the communities they serve. Between their limitations in scope and the obstacles to the highest level of functioning, nonprofits are not always the sharp tool for social change that we might like them to be.
But tradeoffs are worth it if greater equality can be achieved. Making an effort to make the world more equal promotes better opportunities—and increased income—for people who are marginalized in some way.
Physical, genetic, and accidental circumstances help create inequalities. For those affected, these circumstances make life and work more challenging. They can even reduce basic, daily functioning.
Genetic diseases can reduce quality of life and work ability. That can affect someone's mental and physical capacities. It can also put strain on their mental health.
Genetic disorders, for instance, can both reduce a person's quality of life and result in limited work opportunities. Disorders with a genetic component such as autism or ADHD can make it more difficult for employees to work with colleagues or focus on a task. Physical genetic disorders, such as muscular dystrophy, may result in reduced mobility which can affect both manual labor jobs and office jobs (someone with MD, for instance, might not be able to access a building that doesn't meet ADA standards). According to results from the Human Genome project—which sequenced the DNA of thousands of people—there are over 6,000 genetic diseases. Of those, 10 are the most common. Those include cystic fibrosis, Down syndrome, fragile x syndrome, hemophilia, Huntington’s disease, Duchenne’s muscular dystrophy, sickle cell anemia, thalassemia, tay-sachs, and Angelman syndrome. Many of these disorders lead to physical and/or mental challenges. Those can in turn affect both someone’s ability to work and their quality of life.
Even ordinary accidents can have long-term effects on individual agency. Millions of daily injuries can determine people's future. Even mundane accidents can exert a lifetime of consequences.
Ordinary accidents—from falls to car accidents—can reduce a person's capabilities. Car accidents alone, for instance, are a significant factor. Each year in the U.S., there are about 6 million car accidents. Of those, 2 million drivers will experience permanent injuries as a result. Other types of injuries such as tripping, spraining an ankle, or being injured by a falling object are in fact very common. There are a slew of workplace injuries, from violence between employees to strained muscles that can reduce mobility over time. Depending on the circumstances from the injury, an employee may or may not be eligible for workers' compensation. Victims of accidents may see reduced mobility and a need for extra help for things they once did on their own. This in turn can ripple out, creating fewer opportunities professionally and socially.
Military injuries can put people at a disadvantage. Mental trauma and physical injuries are common. And pregnant women in the armed forces have limited opportunities for advancement.
Military injuries—including psychological trauma—are extremely prevalent among the armed forces. The Army describes the problem of military injuries as an "epidemic." According to a recent report, the rate of injury is 2,500 per every 1,000 soldiers. This means that the average American serving in the Army will endure at least two musculoskeletal injuries. This figure includes injuries sustained both on missions and from Army garrisons. As many as 20% of all veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Persistent flashbacks, moodiness, or anxiety caused by PTSD can prevent veterans from functioning or working normally. Specifically for women, military sexual trauma and other issues can cause permanent damage. Some 23% of female veterans report being sexually assaulted, and 55% report being sexually harassed, according to the Department of Veteran Affairs. Getting pregnant in the Army also means you can't be deployed and can be honorably discharged. When a woman becomes pregnant in the army she has two choices: either leave the military under an honorable discharge, or become non-deployable while she's pregnant. She is not allowed to handle chemicals or firearms, for instance. This renders female members of the military helpless to continue service similar to their male counterparts and sets them back in their military career. While some states like Washington are working to change their policies so pregnant members have more options, it's a pervasive problem that has yet to be addressed.
Affirmative action procedures are in place. Both in the private and public sector, these policies look to level disadvantages. Despite criticisms, these programs can be very effective.
The United States has an affirmative action policy that must be upheld by all contractors and sub-contractors working on behalf of the federal government. It says that, "affirmative action must be taken by covered employers to recruit and advance qualified minorities, women, persons with disabilities, and covered veterans. Affirmative actions include training programs, outreach efforts, and other positive steps." Other types of affirmative action—both at schools and in private workplaces—work to mitigate the marginalization of people of color, disabled people, and LGBTQ+ people. Affirmative action began under President John F. Kennedy in the 1960s. The idea was that fighting against discrimination was not enough; the government had to actively do something to create a more equal world. Those policies can play out in terms of quotas for certain marginalized groups, or it can simply mean taking into account a person's identity when making hiring choices. Affirmative action is sometimes criticized by white conservatives who claim that qualified white candidates lose out because of these policies. There is little evidence to support that, according to experts. “There is very little hard evidence to prove that a minority hire almost always took place at the expense of a better-qualified white person,” law professor Melvin Urofsky, author of “The Affirmative Action Puzzle,” told the New Yorker.
U.S. labor laws have been in place for 100 years. Women-specific labor policies have existed for just as long and, together with labor laws, have helped reduce inequality and protect the working population.
For over the past century, the U.S. has had a labor department, meant to guide policies and legislation for workers. Labor activists in the first decades of the 20th century fought for such rights as sick pay, vacation days, and benefits for injured workers. By the 1930s, the secretary of labor would establish the five-day work week, paving the way for other progressive reforms. The United States Department of Labor has had a Women's Bureau for 100 years. The first law was passed 100 years ago and gave the bureau the right to "formulate standards and policies which shall promote the welfare of wage-earning women, improve their working conditions, increase their efficiency, and advance their opportunities for profitable employment.” During and after the Great Depression, labor protections were hugely expanded, establishing unemployment benefits, social security, and a federal minimum wage. The New Deal was designed primarily by a woman, Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins. The protections established throughout the 20th century were designed to reduce inequalities and to protect workers—of all identities—from being exploited.
And that can improve the livelihoods of those affected greatly. Both in the short- and long-term, these efforts show major pay-offs. And those effects trickle down through future generations.
Better access to education and jobs are the key to higher income and a better quality of life. Increased earnings can enrich future generations. And that kind of wealth starts to level the playing field over time.
The more chances someone has at something, the higher probability they have to learn from mistakes and ultimately become successful at it. Therefore, giving people more opportunities to be hired for a job gives them more chances to get hired. Once they're hired, they can do a good job, work their way up, and continue to earn a great wage. That in turn can create generational wealth, setting up their children and grandchildren to earn more than they did. Affirmative action and labor laws allow people to get a foot in the door to these better opportunities. One study found that U.S. university students admitted thanks to affirmative action went on to earn a higher salaries thanks to this policy. A similar trend can be seen among people with disabilities. While people who are differently abled remain among the highest groups of the unemployed, studies have measured the positive effects of the passage of the Americans with Disability Act (ADA). While the economic benefits of the ADA require further research, one study found that since 1990 when the ADA was first passed, income poverty among people with disabilities has declined.
More wealth leads to better health and access to healthcare. Socioeconomic status and well-being are interwoven. Without financial stability, total health is not possible.
Having the time to focus on eating right, reducing stress, and getting exercise gives people an overall better quality of life. Studies have found that a higher income correlates to better overall well-being. Or, as the American Psychological Association puts it: "wealth secures health." That's because having a low income correlates with a lower ability to buy nutritional food, or to have the time or money to exercise. It's also psychological: struggling to make ends meet every month puts a mental strain on people that actually damages their physical health. A whole host of factors can affect someone's socioeconomic class and their resulting health, from their gender and sexual orientation, to their ethnicity. "We've often chosen to focus on either ethnicity or class rather than on the interaction between the two," said Hector F. Myers, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of California at Los Angeles. "We've become a lot more sophisticated in our thinking recently."
Cancel culture might seem unjust, but it is actually a kind of justice, stepping in where other institutions have failed. It’s tackling one of the most vexing problems of humankind, creating consequences for the privileged when they would otherwise have minimal fallout for their wrongdoing. It serves to call out bad behavior and cause real-life consequences for those who do racist, sexist, or homophobic things—and have gotten away with it for far too long.