opinion

Cancel Culture Is a Good Thing

While it might seem like a negative use of the internet, cancel culture can be beneficial. When all other channels for justice fail, cancel culture can both punish predators, deter future bad actors—and even bring some justice to victims. The use of the Internet to call out individuals who committed bad acts is helping change the world in a positive way.
September 21, 2020Updated 4 days ago
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Cancel Culture Is a Good Thing
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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. Public figures can topple from grace seemingly overnight. Some critics say that those "cancelations" are not always merited—and moreover, that cancel culture creates an atmosphere that is damaging to society at large, stifling free speech.
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Experts and average citizens—including those affected by cancel culture—debate the pros and cons of this phenomenon.
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 justice through legal channels, both in terms of criminal and civil charges, is often unreliable. Unfortunately, victims cannot always count on either criminal or civil court to bring the closure they deserve and to make them feel safe again. Especially for victims of crimes related to sexual assault or sexual harassment, the legal system frequently fails to serve justice.
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The legal system is meant to punish criminals and bring justice to victims, but that's not always the result. Certain types of crimes are very difficult to prosecute, especially those that happen behind closed doors, such as sexual harassment or workplace predation. Even with strong evidence, prosecutors often won't take such cases. Ambra Gutierrez, for instance, had a recording of Harvey Weinstein admitting to sexual assault in 2015. She went through the added trauma, effort and stress of wearing a wire and meeting him after the assault, successfully capturing him on tape admitting to it. And yet Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. decided not to charge him. In other cases, the environment makes it difficult for the victim to deal with the publicity. Kobe Bryant's alleged rape victim had enough evidence for her case to go to trial. But at the last minute, fearing retribution from his fans, she refused to testify. The case did not go forward and Bryant went on to continue a long and successful career in basketball. Even those who do decide to report to the police rarely find the justice they seek. According to statistics from the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), only five out of every 1,000 rapists sees any jail time. The result of all this is that justice is not served in many cases. Victims are, to an extent, just "rolling the dice" on whether the outcome is fair.
Redemption for people who have been canceled is therefore not the top priority. The fate—whether financial, social, or otherwise—of individuals who did immoral or illegal things should not be the focus of the discourse. Their reentry into society is simply not what matters most. Rather, ensuring justice for past victims and avoiding future victimizations is the right goal to focus on.
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The first priority is justice for the victims: whether in court or in more alternative forms such as restorative justice. The solution to violent crimes must start with focusing on the victim, not the perpetrator. Too often, crimes become about the criminal and not the victim. Society must bring the focus back to those most affected by these incidents: Ensuring this kind of justice is key to a safe and functioning democracy.
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Justice for victims needs to lead any solution to the problems of harassment, assault, and other crimes. Too often the focus of any crime is put on the part of the perpetrator. One need only look to the way serial killers such as Ted Bundy or the Night Stalker become celebrities. Sometimes they are treated more like rock stars than violent criminals. Their victims, however, are often forgotten. Many people may have heard of the assault cases involving Billy Cosby or Roman Polanski, but few could name even a single one of their victims. Making victims feel safe should be the number one priority. Additionally, doing work on the policy and legislation level—or even through media if traditional channels fail—are all part of giving survivors the justice they deserve. Sexual assault in particular can make victims unable to participate in the most basic functions of everyday life: afraid to go to work or even to walk the streets at night. Without justice for victims, a democracy cannot be fully successful because it means some of its most marginalized members are being scared away from participating in public life.
Justice, in the media or even online, can teach potential perpetrators not to act on their urges. Legal precedent is the ideal channel for deterring potential criminals, but when that option is not available, online justice can serve a similar purpose: discouraging bad behavior by shaming perpetrators. In that way, cancel culture can serve to dissuade others from future wrongdoing.
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For instance, filmmaker Roman Polanski may have escaped jail time for assaulting a child, but he has been able to suffer social and career fallout. He is barred from setting foot on American soil unless he wants to face his sentencing, in a move that could serve as a warning for other would-be pedophiles. So-called "cancel culture" can also sometimes lead to more traditional forms of justice. The allegations against Harvey Weinstein started off as a "whisper network" before they would become the legal case that landed the producer in jail. Both cases sparked conversation around the problems of sexual misconduct in Hollywood and may have deterred other predators. Another example of cancel culture causing a reckoning. within an industry and potentially deterring future perpetrators is the case of Louis C.K. Five different women accused the comedian 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. The allegations against C.K. triggered a much broader reckoning within the comedy community around harassment and assault, possibly scaring away other potential perpetrators from taking part in similar behavior.. The focus should remain on how to prevent like-minded individuals from carrying out similar wrongdoing, and cancel culture can be a part of that.
People with privilege will try to hang onto their advantage through any means necessary. Privilege—whether social, financial, or otherwise—is not something easily relinquished. Those with power will fight to hold onto it, even if maintaining their position requires dishonesty or other immoral behaviors. Many people 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. Colin Kaepernick made the goal and importance of his protests obvious. He explained his position at length both in the media and to the National Football League directly, but the league commissioner, Roger Goodell, acted like he didn't understand the message of the protest.
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Kaepernick made it clear that he was simply calling out racial inequality in America. From the very beginning, Kaepernick clarified again and again the purpose of his protests. As he told multiple sources, the protest was not intended to be disrespectful of U.S. armed forces or the American flag. He said up-front that his protest was about persistent racial injustice. He also explained his thinking behind taking a knee.
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San Francisco 49ers vs. Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on September 9, 2012.Mike Morbeck
When the quarterback started his protest in August 2016, he was clear 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. 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?”
Goodell must have known that, too. He had to have understood what Kaepernick's protest was all about. Beyond the simple logic of what Kaepernick was doing, he explained it again and again. The quarterback was clear, and Goodell is surrounded by people who could have further clarified what taking a knee was all about.
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There was a ton of conversation about this. When Kaepernick began kneeling at NFL games as a gesture in support of Black Lives Matter, both the media and the league itself discussed the protest at length for months on end. There were dozens of articles that came out in the first few days alone after he first began his protest. Whether in interviews or through other media, the nation as a whole discussed this at length.
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The owners talked extensively about it. The discussion among the NFL went on for months. There was even a league-wide summit on it. In that summit, the owners spoke with executives and players to reckon with the meaning of the protests. The summit even included insight from some of Kaepernick's closest confidants.
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Goodell 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. During the course of that meeting, Goodell would have been able to hear from all sides of the discourse in order to understand what the protest was all about.
And there were an inordinate number of news articles about it. Coverage appeared in nearly every major news outlet, ranging from conservative to liberal. Especially in the weeks following Kaepernick's first protest, the articles were nearly non-stop. One major newspaper published more than two dozen articles in the first two weeks alone.
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Discussion of Kaepernick's protest appeared in nearly every major news outlet, from the New York Times to the Wall Street Journal to cable news networks. 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. The NFL's own media outlet conducted an exclusive interview with Kaepernick in which he explained his position, 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. The gesture has existed in human body language for at least a thousand years. It is easily recognized as a gesture of respect or deference, or even a sign of mourning or sadness. Taking a knee is so common that it even exists in other mammals.
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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." The Scientific American went on to write: "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. One of his thousands of employees, including his close personal contacts, could have given Goodell insight into Kaepernick's protest. He must have either ignored their insight or not asked their advice.
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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. Kaepernick discussed the issue with veteran Nate Boyer before he took the knee—explicitly so he would be able to go about his protest in a respectful way. He told Kaepernick kneeling would be more respectful than sitting during the national anthem.
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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.
He was not being unpatriotic when he kneeled. Beyond expressly seeking out the counsel of veterans to be respectful of their sacrifice, Kaepernick made it clear in many interviews that he was not trying to be unpatriotic. He stated again and again that his protest was not meant to be against the flag or the armed forces.
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Kaepernick said 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. Those in power, or with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, will ignore even the most reasonable opposition—no matter if changing their behavior or policies could save lives.
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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.
Moreover, fighting inequalities through existing channels often fails. Institutional power frequently struggles to solve huge, systemic issues. All sorts of obstacles and shortcomings are baked into the current tools citizens have at their disposal to combat injustice. Existing privilege, the political climate, and even geography are all factors that can limit the success of methods such as political protest or elections.
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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. Even then, some of those gains can be reversed because of subsequent shifts in political power or social trends.
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Protesting has been happening for decades to demand social justice.
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Racist incidents continue. 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.
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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.
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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. In August, some 80 businesses and organizations signed a petition asking for a name change. Even with mounting pressure, the Indians have yet to announce an official name change.
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.
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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. 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. That slogan was widespread throughout the United States. Even the vice president used it.
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Among certain groups of Americans, saying "all lives matter," or being actively against the Black Lives Matter movement was still acceptable. 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.
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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. 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.
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.
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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.
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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. 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.
Similarly, elections don't always right legislative wrongs. The right to vote is a cherished freedom that can make major changes in American society at large. But voting alone can't end inequalities. Not only is it limited by the political climate at any given moment; elections are only one piece of a much larger picture when it comes to combatting broader discrimination.
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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."
And court cases don’t always end up serving justice either. There are myriad reasons why civil and criminal courts often fail to adequately punish perpetrators. A disparity in resources between defense attorneys and prosecutors can contribute to this fact, alongside other issues such as bias, privilege, or even just sheer incompetence. Many criminals walk free, and many victims are left unsatisfied with their outcomes.
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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." The proper channel for punishing perpetrators often fails.
Lastly, nonprofit organizations, while they can do a lot of good, have a limited scope. Their operational capacity is limited by local laws, regulations—and their own internal issues. Their in-house structure can sometimes limit them. Many have pointed out that non-profits must often move at a glacial pace in order to conform to both their own institutional guidelines and those of the communities in which they operate.
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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.
Tradeoffs are worth it, however, if greater equality can be achieved. Improving the lives of those who have been marginalized, whatever the cause, is important for all of society. Not only does it help those marginalized people, but increasing equality is important for the U.S. at large—creating a more free, equal, and prosperous nation.
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Physical, genetic, and accidental circumstances help create inequalities. Whether through birth, accident, or inheritance, circumstances outside of an individual's control can affect him for life. For those involved, these incidents make work, relationships, and everyday life more challenging. They can even reduce basic, daily functioning.
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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. The practical and emotional toll of these disabilities should not be underestimated—and they are far more common than one might expect.
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Genetic disorders, for instance, can both reduce a person's quality of life and result in limited work opportunities. While some babies can be at a higher risk for genetic disorders based on a mother's age and lifestyle, many of these genetic issues are simply heritable traits that parents can do nothing to prevent their child from getting. Most of what DNA does is instruct cells to make proteins. When a genetic mutation occurs, however, it affects this process. Some causes of genetic mutations and potential genetic diseases include chemical exposure, radiation exposure, smoking, and UV exposure from the sun. 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. They can also affect a person's social life and romantic life, as they are disorders that can result in substantial problems in interpersonal relationships. 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). They can also be costly, requiring long-term medical care and living situations that are adapted to a person's physical disabilities. 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. Whether it's relatively small things such as a slowness to read facial cues (as is the case with autism), or physical disabilities that make it impossible to hold down a job, these genetic disorders can affect every aspect of someone's daily functioning.
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. Even tripping or a minor injury can end up affecting someone's mobility—and in turn their career and quality of life—for years to come.
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Ordinary accidents—from falls to car accidents—can reduce a person's capabilities. These injuries happen every year to millions of Americans, affecting not only their lives and well-being but that of their families as well. Reduced mobility can cause enormous ripple effects in a person's life. 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. Whether because of lost limb or chronic pain (especially back injuries), mobility can be greatly reduced following a severe car crash. Some people might need even to go on disability benefits, a choice determined by the Social Security Administration (SSA). Other types of injuries such as tripping, spraining an ankle, or being injured by a falling object are in fact very common. As many as 8 million emergency room visits annually are owing to falls. The likelihood of falling—and of serious injury—increase greatly with age. One in three adults above age 65 will have a slip and fall accident, according to statistics from a law firm. There are a slew of workplace injuries, too, 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. The benefits from that can be piecemeal and may take months to put in place. Victims of accidents may see reduced mobility and a need for extra help for things they once did on their own. Especially for people who are isolated (such as elderly people), these effects can be even more dramatic. That can mean lost income or even reduced access to life-saving healthcare services.
Military injuries can put people at a disadvantage. Mental trauma and physical injuries are common, to the point where some have described them as an "epidemic." Women in particular are subject to sexual trauma as well. The scars from these wounds can last long after someone is eventually discharged from the armed forces.
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Military injuries—including psychological trauma—are extremely prevalent among members of the armed forces, regardless of which branch of the military Americans might serve in. These injuries can include those sustained in training or while deployed, and they might be physical and/or emotional. The Army, for instance, 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. According to Brown University's Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, the most common injuries include: "second and third degree burns, broken bones, shrapnel wounds, brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, nerve damage, paralysis, loss of sight and hearing, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and limb loss." Other injuries include "toxic exposure from dust and burn pits and resulting respiratory, cardiac, and neurological disease." As the Watson Institute points out, many of these conditions go undiagnosed meaning that the official Department of Defense figures are likely far lower than the actual numbers. One of the most common injuries suffered by combat veterans is post-traumatic stress disorder. 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. Many who suffer from this condition might go untreated, as stigma surrounding mental illness persists in many communities. 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. The actual figures are likely even higher, given the number of women who are afraid to report sexual assault for fear of career repercussions. All of these different injuries can disadvantage people who suffer from them, whether physically or psychologically. These obstacles might mean consequences both for a military career and for any civilian career that might follow. In addition, they can challenge people in their family lives, interpersonal relationships, and day-to-day functioning.
But there are ways of mitigating inequality. Laws and policies can help marginalized people rise up, especially those that target specific types of injustice, such as discrimination on the base of gender, race, or sexual orientation. This legislation can slowly help level the playing field. At the same time, corporations can enact their own internal guidelines to create more diversity in the private sector.
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Affirmative action procedures are in place. Both in the private and public sector, these policies look to level disadvantages and negate some existing institutional prejudice, whether against women, people of color, or disabled people. Data has shown the effectiveness of these programs.
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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. There are multiple state and federal laws that guarantee these policies for women, people of color, people with disabilities, and other marginalized groups that might face an additional set of obstacles in the workplace. According to the U.S. Department of Labor: "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." Furthermore, there are several offices of the federal government dedicated to ensuring compliance with these guidelines. 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. Rather than a federal obligation, some of these policies are put in place by private institutions seeking to create a diverse environment for the better of the whole community. 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. Since Kennedy's time, the term has evolved and changed significantly. In the beginning, the task force created by Kennedy was simply charged with the motto: “Don’t just stand there. Do something," according to an article in the New Yorker. In the intervening decades, affirmative action policies have often become more concrete. In 1978, the Supreme Court ruled that quotas for marginalized groups in schools or workplaces were unconstitutional. Rather, today, many companies instead have proactive policies intended to hire staff who are both diverse and qualified. Affirmative action laws tend to follow from the executive branch of government, with Democratic presidents tending to expand affirmative action policies and Republicans generally restricting them. Under President Barack Obama, for instance, the federal government put regulations in place that rewarded schools that worked to serve minority populations in the form of federal money. President Donald Trump reversed many of Obama's policies in that respect.
U.S. labor laws have been in place for 100 years. This legislation has helped reduce inequality and protect the working population, both from potentially unsafe work environments as well as negligent bosses. Labor policies specific to women and protecting their rights in the workplace have existed for nearly as long.
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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.
In turn, these changes can improve the livelihoods of those affected greatly. Both in the short- and long-term, these efforts show major pay-offs, in terms of increased access to opportunities and in turn increased earning. And those positive effects trickle down through future generations, creating a ripple effet of wealth.
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Better access to education and jobs are the key to higher income and a better quality of life. Increased earnings can enrich future generations. Many disadvantaged people are simply looking for a foot in the door: a way to showcase the skills they've long had and simply have not had the opportunity to utilise. And that kind of wealth-building can in turn help their descendants, slowly starting to level the playing field over time.
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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 eventually succeed. 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 based on affirmative action went on to earn a higher salaries thanks to that 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. Earning money is not just about earning money for its sake: Socioeconomic status and well-being are interwoven. Without financial stability, total health is not possible. Vice-versa is true as well: the better health someone is in the better they may be able to perform in a job, all while teaching their children better health habits so they too might have the tools to succeed.
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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."
CLOSURE
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.
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