Cancel Culture Is Good For The CountryEpisode 26
Journalist, guest writer for Rolling Stones Magazine and author Ernest Owens joins Writing Black to talk about his new book “The Case For Cancel Culture.” After his Twitter feud with Elon Musk, Owens decided to talk with Maiysha about the importance of cancel culture, how cancel culture has been around for centuries, how it can get abused and why so many people in power like Dave Chappelle, Joe Rogan and even Barack Obama are afraid of cancel culture.
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[00:00:00] You are now listening to theGrio’s Black Podcast Network. Black Culture Amplified.
Maiysha Kai [00:00:09] Hello, it’s Maiysha Kai, lifestyle editor here at theGrio. And welcome to another episode of Writing Black, the podcast where we talk to Black creatives, Black writers, Black authors, Black thinkers, Black journalists, etc. about the incredible craft of writing. In this week, we have someone who feels checks a few of those boxes. The award winning journalist Ernest Owens, who just released The Case for Cancel Culture: How This Democratic Tool Works to Liberate Us All. This came out on February 21st, and I can’t wait to get in this conversation because I think, you know, obviously culturally, we are all very well attuned now to the idea of something or someone being canceled. But I don’t know that we’re always so clear on what that means. And Ernest, you do a really thorough job here of really illustrating not just what cancel culture is as we know it today, but the fact that it’s always existed, correct?
Ernest Owens [00:01:09] Yeah, Since the beginning of time, I go all the way back to the biblical days of Adam and Eve and Eve got canceled and, you know, the rest is history.
Maiysha Kai [00:01:19] Eve did get canceled. Eve got canceled. They tried to cancel Jesus. It was a mess. It was a whole mess. You know, I’m always fascinated by, you know, historical studies because I think, like, you know, when you look at a book like this, you know, it seems like something that, you know, first of all, this is a great cover. I love the colors of the whole thing. So shout out to your design team at St Martin’s Press. But, you know, I’m also always really intrigued by the amount of research that goes into this. And because you are a journalist, in fact, I know you’re the president of the Philadelphia chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists. Well, we.
Ernest Owens [00:01:56] Like to just go by the Philadelphia Association.
Maiysha Kai [00:01:58] You know what I like and I like it.
Ernest Owens [00:02:02] We were the first, actually. We were that we predate the National Association of Black Journalists.
Maiysha Kai [00:02:05] Well, there you see there’s a history lesson in of itself. And as journalists, obviously, we do a lot of research. We know, you know, everything must be fact based, everything must be backed up. We have to, you know, really go into the weeds with things. But in researching what cancel culture is, what it does, how it functions. Like, where did you start with this and forming this thesis around cancel culture?
Ernest Owens [00:02:33] That’s such a great question. It really for me started it with conversations. There were several like different instances and conversations where I thought I thought everyone was on the same page about cancel culture, and I realized they weren’t. And it was a really big moment for me, which was in 2019, in October, when former President Barack Obama was having Obama’s Summit and he was in a conversation with Yara Shahidi, having a conversation about just life. And he goes into this tirade basically bashing cancel culture. Saying it’s my activism. And it was just a lot of that going on. And I just thought he had a very boomer view about what cancel culture was. And I wrote a guest op ed for The New York Times basically criticizing Obama’s take on it, because I argued that it seems to be this combination of a very group of a lot of young people that were very much so speaking out, and they were being chastised in a way that I thought missed the mark about what they were doing, that we saw older generations of people who were doing activism, and it just seemed like this group was now shaming younger voices. And so initially I looked at this as a generational divide between those who are much older, powerful, scolding the more progressive young activist voices. That was my initial understanding that has evolved through time, because what I recognize is that it’s young people, older people, everyone in between disdain cancel culture.
Ernest Owens [00:04:20] But what I found in my research and what I found just thinking about this more is that the root of what I was looking at when I thought about President Obama’s critique compared to what my thought was that this is really a power struggle. Cancel culture is a power dynamic, it’s a struggle between those who have power, influence and those who don’t. [00:04:40]And so as time began to progress and we got into the pandemic, I have had the time to think during the pandemic. And I started seeing more and more conversations about cancel culture. And I got to this point where I realized Dave Chappelle, Donald Trump. Joe Rogan. Obama. They all can agree about their disdain about cancel culture. They’re coming from different industries, different political ideals, but they all across the board hate cancel culture. And then it hit me of how come? How do they have this in common? And I said, okay, what is happening in cancel culture? Being held accountable. Who are these people? Billionaires, politicians, powerful people. Bingo. And then it hit me that people in power hate cancel culture because it’s forcing to hold themselves accountable. [61.9s]
Excerpt from The Case For Cancel Culture [00:05:43] Today, we have collectively found the tools to apply pressure to institutions and individuals who are used to getting away with being oppressive. Goodbye to the days of public figures. Simply saying and doing whatever they want without facing some level of public intervention. Cancel culture isn’t only about canceling people in places, but also reminding the powerful that for every action there is a reaction and that they can’t control the narrative or its outcome.
Ernest Owens [00:06:12] Took the word cancel culture out the conversation and then we start to see what accountability looks like. And so really what it is is that there’s a bunch of people in power who have made the use of the term cancel culture as a dog whistle to try to shame people and holding them accountable. And the book explores that. And how did we get here?
Maiysha Kai [00:06:31] Yeah. I mean. And how did we get here, indeed. I mean, I think a lot of people, when you think about cancel culture, you think very much about social media. I know you have a very strong social media presence and following, and I know that’s where a lot of these conversations start. But, you know, that’s why I think the historical exploration is so intriguing here, because, you know, we think of this as one of those like hashtag phenomenons, right? You know, like something that’s only been in our lives for the last 10 to 15 years.
Ernest Owens [00:06:58] Right.
Maiysha Kai [00:07:00] And but, you know, when we talk about what it really means to negate something and who’s really in danger of being negated or suppressed or censored, as it were, because, you know, you also make a really good case for the fact for for being very clear that canceling something is not the same as censoring something. And I want to get a little deeper into that later, because I think that’s a really important argument to make. But, you know, one of the things that like I did, I was I just was like. I was really intrigued by the idea. I was like, So is everything cancel culture? Like for like everything that we do whenever we say that we don’t like something or whenever we organize around something, is that cancel culture? So, you know, I’m lobbing that back to you because I really think you you are positing yourself as having really sat in this as an expert on this topic now.
Ernest Owens [00:07:51] Yeah, absolutely. So this is a great question. And in the in the book, we definitely made those distinctions clear. For starters. You know, we need to separate the different sweeping critique of taste and boycotts and action. Right. So let’s talk about what cancel culture isn’t, because I think that’s a little bit easier or not. Cancel culture is in food critics, movie critics, people who say they don’t like someone for their own frivolous reasons. So if I said, you know, on this podcast, you know, “I don’t like this podcast because the audio quality is not as good.” That’s a matter of taste, frivolous. It doesn’t impact your day to day livelihood. It’s a matter of personal inconvenience. You say you don’t like McDonald’s because you don’t think the food tastes good. That’s fine. That’s your opinion. Harm, it’s it’s harmless. It’s a matter of taste. Movie critics who say we gave a movie thumbs down because we think the film, the acting wasn’t good. It’s fine. Cancel culture, in my definition, is when we decide to cancel a person place, the thing that we feel is detrimental to our way of life.
Maiysha Kai [00:09:09] Mm hmm.
[00:09:11] So let’s go back to this. I say I don’t like this podcast because it promotes sexist, misogynistic ideals that, you know, offends me as a woman that could stop my rights as a feminist or what not. Cancel culture. I don’t like McDonald’s because they don’t give their workers a livable wage. Hypothetically. Cancel culture. These are the things that are presenting a larger, broader case. It can lead to boycott divestment policy change. It’s something that is bigger than yourself. It’s something that speaks to your morals, to your way of life, to your livelihood. In some cases, there are there are people who cancel for reasons that us personally may not agree with. But the mere act of canceling is a tool. It’s not a power policy position. It’s not a conservative thing. It’s not a Republican thing. It’s not a Black things and a white thing. It is a tool. And what we choose to do with that tool leads to the next steps. So I look at cancel culture as a tool when you think about a knife. For me, that knife is to help me cut my steak, because steak is one of my favorite foods. I love steak, but it can be weaponized. It can be weaponized to harm people or do something detrimental. So people can weaponize cancel culture in ways that can be harmful for us personally. But at the end of the day, my definition expressed is that this is a tool. And for some people, this is their way to express themselves in a democratic and civil way.
Maiysha Kai [00:10:56] Well, I want to get more into that and and the good and the bad of cancel culture when we come right back.
Ernest Owens [00:11:03] It objective.
Maiysha Kai [00:11:04] It is. We’re going to come back with more Writing Black and more Ernest Owens in just a second.
Maiysha Kai [00:11:10] All right. We are back with Writing Black and Ernest Owens and his new book, The Case for Cancel Culture. Now, if you hang out in Black Twitter for any, you know, length of time you have gotten familiar with cancel culture, you may be familiar with Ernest Owens. He’s got a pretty strong following. I highly suggest you follow him. It’s always interesting. It’s always thought provoking, and whether or not you agree is always thought provoking. And I think that, like, that is always what the most interesting voices on social media are, right? They’re not always just like the mouthpiece for your thoughts. They they, you know, compel you to think about things a little deeper. This book got me thinking a little bit deeper. I don’t know. You know, it’s so interesting being a member of the media and the role that we often play in, and it’s tenuous. I don’t actually like the media getting blamed for cancellations.
Ernest Owens [00:12:02] I agree.
Maiysha Kai [00:12:03] We definitely participate.
Ernest Owens [00:12:06] We’re part of the First Amendment, so.
Maiysha Kai [00:12:08] But I think it trivializes what what legitimate media does to say, “oh, you’re just out here canceling folks arbitrarily.” Legitimate media is very fact based thing. And, you know, we state the facts and we say this is what happened. Right.
Ernest Owens [00:12:22] Journalism. Journalism does.
Maiysha Kai [00:12:24] That’s what we do. You’re right. You’re right. You’re right. Journalism and media are different things now, too, aren’t they?
Ernest Owens [00:12:30] I always say to people, all journalism is media, but not all media is journalism.
Maiysha Kai [00:12:34] You are correct, sir. You are correct. But, you know, one of the things that I thought was so interesting about this, you talk about two things here. Well, first of all, I use one of my favorite words throughout this book. And I think it’s so important. It is one of my favorite words because it is one of my favorite reminders to people that everything requires nuance. Right? Everything should be looked at through a nuance lens. Every conversation has nuance. And that, as we like to say, there are levels to this.
Ernest Owens [00:13:01] Yeah, absolutely. In the book I literally said there are levels to this.
Maiysha Kai [00:13:06] There are levels to this. And so when you talk about cancel culture, you know, one of the things I love that you just you know, you made this analogy to the knife right before the break and I think. It’s a perfect one, because when we talk about, you know, it’s right up there, cancel culture is now become like the word woke or political correctness or CRT or, you know, any of these any number of things that on their face are thought provoking, thoughtful, you know, movements or thought processes or what have you, but have been flattened very much by a predominantly conservative argument against anything that compels us to think further right, to think deeper. And you lay this out in the book and a really interesting way where you talk about what it means when progressives cancel and what it means when conservatives cancel. And it’s so interesting because you make the point that we as a society, part of our issue is that we live on this binary, so everything’s so Black or white, it’s never like, you know, we’re missing, we’re lacking the nuance. And I’d love for you to like, dig into that a little bit for us. You know, for people who have not had a chance to engage with The Case for Cancel Culture yet, I would love for you to dig a little bit into the dangers of that binary and how it does kind of overlay this political lens because people think of, you know, conservatives done a very good job of branding, cancel culture, a progressive thing, but you very much, you know, kind of defeat that argument in this book. And I would love for you to talk about just the binary that kind of endangers us all, I think, at every level.
Ernest Owens [00:14:50] Yeah, absolutely. So in my book, I use both. Both sides cancel, everyone cancels. Let’s just start there. All of us cancel. Yes, we do. I mean, it’s our way of life. I mean, we don’t know how to not cancel, actually. But I think specifically what’s unique about progressives versus conservatives is that progressives cancel with this utilitarian sense of for the greater good. They’re very much invested in this idea of how do we support the masses or how do we create a more equitable, inclusive society like it’s all about expanding opportunities and rights for We.
Maiysha Kai [00:15:32] Often vote that way too. We don’t just cancel that way, we vote that way.
Ernest Owens [00:15:35] And voting in that way is almost a similar type of situation. So that’s important. Conservatives, however, you know, and let me back up a little bit before I get into what drives that. Progressives are driven by this sense of equality, human rights in that in that sense of equity equality shapes the way that they go about their pursuit. Conservatives are coming from a place of their driven by their faith. They’re driven by this idea of reclaiming society in certain ways that suits their privileges the way that they go about cancellation as they are driven by patriotism. And I’m talking about this an American concept, but this can be seen in Europe and other places around the world.
Maiysha Kai [00:16:25] Yes, there’s a certain structure that they’re afraid to have upended.
Ernest Owens [00:16:29] Right. They’re traditionalists.
Maiysha Kai [00:16:30] Yeah.
Ernest Owens [00:16:32] They are traditionalists. They are really much not invested in dismantling rigid systems. They they love the binaries, they love this, and they are fighting to maintain that. They don’t want to expand it. They want to maintain what they feel is being taken from them. And that drives their cancel culture. But both sides cancel. Absolutely. But the motives are different and the way that they go about is different. And what propels them is different. So, you know, when you hear former President George W Bush used to say, you know, my faith, family and friends, you know, he uses that, you know, three F’s that, you know, his faith is strong. He always talks about how he’s a God fearing man. He talks about family values. That’s what is the idea basis of what drives the conservative movement within cancel culture. But progressives don’t necessarily lean on that. They they there’s acknowledgment, of course, as many progressives who, of course, have faith in some type of capacity, but they’re not using that to drive it. They actually use it as a way to to acknowledge inclusion. They’ll say, look, what I believe in doesn’t you don’t have to believe what I believe in, but we can be together. There’s a different type of mindset about expansion. And some people are triggered by that expansion because they think that the expansion of certain view, such as, you know, LGBTQ rights infringes upon their views on, you know, same gender marriage under under God. And conservatives feel like this is an infringement.
Excerpt from The Case For Cancel Culture [00:18:00] Conservatives who argue that cancel culture is un-American, ignore history altogether. It is literally the basis of our governing documents. The Constitution wouldn’t exist without the defiance of colonists who resisted British tyranny.
Ernest Owens [00:18:16] They don’t see that as liberty for them. But the irony within this is that I find the hypocrisy within conservatives when it comes to cancel culture, which is basically. You want to be in this society where you talk a lot about freedom. You talk a lot about, you know, the Constitution and free speech. But a lot of what they do restricts those things for everybody. And so if that’s the question, who is the freedom for who is the liberty for? And it’s become very clear that it’s become a cartel for the most privileged, powerful, whitest, straightest people. And it’s you know, I wish I could say it wasn’t that way, but that’s what it is. That’s what the the research shows. That’s what the historical record shows.
Maiysha Kai [00:19:07] And that’s where cancel culture can, of course, become a tool for the rest of us. And I want to get into that in a second. We will be right back with more Ernest Owens and more Writing Black.
Maiysha Kai [00:19:18] And we’re back with more Writing Black. Do you have, you know, in the context of this argument about cancel culture, do you have any insights or advice or thoughts about how we combat it in a very like, you know, this real world way that we’re seeing right now where, you know, we’re seeing, again, a very strategic suppression of so many rights on so many different platforms. And it’s happening everywhere from at the ballot box to on Black Twitter where, you know, we’re kind of being told to shut up or do it this way or, no, you can’t do that. Or, you know, you know what I mean? And I think when we talk about Democratic tools, like all of those things are valid. So how do you suggest we combat that?
Ernest Owens [00:20:03] I think that, for starters, is throughout our society, we, we we go harder, we go harder. And what we believe in, we’ve we’ve done that forever. You know, I always tell people that cancel culture is ever evolving. There’s no termination in some cases. Right. You know, when we think about the 1950s. The world had a white perspective. America only allow for the censorship of the the speech of white men, white, straight, Anglo-Saxon Christian men. And they had control. Now we’re seeing the powerful months that grew try to do that again. What do we do back then? We mobilized. We pushed back. We took stances. We divested. We boycotted institutions and people that were complicit within those systems. And that made them rethink. And that’s what we got to do again. If we see institutions that are completely just taking away our rights and pushing away our ability to do what we need to do, we as a community have to come back and join forces and really mobilize collectively to say, this isn’t going to work. We either invest in something better or we divest until these other institutions get better. But we have the power to do that, and we have more resources and tools than our ancestors had. And so I think now more than ever, about a lot of us checking our privilege, because there’s some of us in our community that aren’t filling this as the same as all of us are. Some of us are. And it’s it’s about not being selfish and recognizing that it’s oppressing someone in our community collectively or a subset of our community. It will eventually get on the other side. We need to be preventative, I mean, to be proactive. And I think that’s what will help us avoid certain types of conflicts for sure.
Maiysha Kai [00:21:56] And to be clear, when you talk about boycotting, divesting. Just so that our listeners know that is cancel culture. That is what Ernest is positing here. That is part of what cancel culture is. It’s not all of it, but it’s part of it. We’re going to talk about more about that when we come back in just a second with more Ernest Owens, The Case for Cancel Culture and more Writing Black.
Maiysha Kai [00:22:15] And we’re back with more Writing Black and Ernest Owens and the case for Cancel Culture. This just came out on February 21st. And this is Fast is a fascinating read for me. I really was. I read it quickly, which is always a good sign. Oh, and the book was you know, that’s why I didn’t listen to it. I actually sat here and some pages. But yes, you can listen to it as well. You know, one of the reasons I brought up social media is because you have amassed, in addition to the your own thesis that you develop here over the course of this book, you’ve amassed some of some of the most popular names that I know of and some really great thinkers. You’ve got Preston Mitchum in here, you’ve got William Ketchum, you’ve got Leslie Mack. You know, there’s some major, major names that I definitely know a lot of our listeners will recognize. And I love that you brought those voices in to support what you were saying, not just in terms of what cancel culture is, but really some of these historical moments that you are pinpointing. So I want to ask you a twofold question. Number one, you know, with with cancel culture applying to so much of our history, how did you decide how you wanted to, you know, this is a craft question, you know, how did you pick out which moments you really wanted to highlight and that you felt were most pivotal in this argument? And then how did you go about recruiting this this amazing roster to contribute?
Ernest Owens [00:23:42] Yeah. They’re the A-team. That’s the A-Team, and they’re awesome. They’re just great people. But but the first question first, I wanted to do a mix. I want to do things that people definitely knew about so that I could be able to unpack it in a way that could break this down. Because if I win super, super niche or super, super unfamiliar, then I would have to explain and explain. So we talk about Janet Jackson when she was canceled, right? That’s a moment We talk about the Dixie Chicks because some people forgot or the now the name is the Chicks. People forget about the chicks and what happened to them. And so I had fun with that. But I also had fun pulling out examples that maybe people didn’t know in history didn’t consider. Like Paul Robeson, you know, incredible Black actor who really slid in his beliefs. And a lot of us who’ve been in the industry, people who study history in entertainment, we know about Paul Robeson, but a newer generation of Gen-Zers may not. So I really was big on taking some really great moments throughout, well, historical moments, because some of them were not great, right? But I love talk about Fannie Lou Hamer. I loved talking about all these different historical figures who were just great. And more people can read and explore them. So I did a combination of just some really great what I would consider hidden figures and bohemian moments, and then some really big popular moments to bring everyone in. I was so happy that I was able to get DaBaby. What happened to DaBaby in the book? Because at some point you got to stop. There’s so many cancellations. Like I didn’t get to talk about Will Smith. I didn’t get to do what I would consider part two of the Kanye West conversation. We kind of stopped at the Trumpism with him.
Kanye West [00:25:24] But because I didn’t take the misdiagnosis and I didn’t take the medication. I’m able to speak to you guys clear of thought and transparently.
Ernest Owens [00:25:36] But we didn’t get to give, you know, everything else that’s happened.
Maiysha Kai [00:25:39] Listen we’re sitting right here. We can do it.
Ernest Owens [00:25:44] Like there’s there. There’s that. But what I love that made this even better and what made the book better is that I was able to bring all of these great people that are writers and critical thinkers and academics who have been doing work in various arenas and industry to contextualize these moments. And it was dope. We had over a dozen people who was a part of and I was very intentional about making sure that my book was inclusive. We have nonbinary people, we have queer people, we have trans people, we have feminists, we have activists, we have journalists, we have political consultants. We have Black Republicans as well.
Maiysha Kai [00:26:21] You have conservatives in here. So I think it’s very important to let people know that. You got a well-balanced argument.
Ernest Owens [00:26:27] We don’t play over here. Like my book. One, they have different voices because there’s people it’s like, “oh, you have this progressive slant.” And there is an arguably progressive slant. But at the same time, I do the work, I do my due diligence, I do go out of my way to provide strong cases and bring people with those voices in those spaces. And I and I told them, I’m not here to judge you. I’m here to study you. I’m here to learn from you, which will make the great the book great for readers. But what was also wonderful was getting people who was a part of the action. So one of the co-founders of the #MuteRKelly movement is in my book.
Maiysha Kai [00:27:05] Yes.
Ernest Owens [00:27:06] Kenyette Tisha Barnes. And that was a godsend.
Kenyette Tisha Barnes [00:27:09] We were intentional with Mute R. Kelly, make no mistake about that. This was a direct targeted campaign against him.
Ernest Owens [00:27:17] When I first was going about recruiting people, I got connected to her on social media and already know Leslie Mack, and she’s awesome. I’m happy she’s in the book. But Kenyette was powerful in the sense that I was like, I’m talking about your movement. I want to get it right. I want to explain to people that it’s important that in these conversations that Black women in that in that space are noted in the book. You know, there’s some people that would have gone for a little bit more famous names, but like I was more intentional. It was about intentionality.
Maiysha Kai [00:27:51] Yeah. What that movement did for not just his victims, but, you know, I think women at large, I mean, I’m a Black girl who grew up on the South Side of Chicago and still lives there.
Ernest Owens [00:28:04] I was born in Chicago.
Maiysha Kai [00:28:05] So there you go. I love that you had her in the book. I want to get a little bit more into that. We’re going to do that in just a moment. When we come back with more Writing Black.
Maiysha Kai [00:28:13] We are back with more Writing Black, and our very joyful, super fun guest, Ernest Owens, who is so passionate about this topic. The Case for Cancel Culture came out. This is so interesting to me that it came out during Black History Month. Black Twitter has definitely, you know, and I think Black people, you know, we we are good at canceling somebody. We get it. You know, we’re also going to protecting people, which is interesting to me. You know, one of the things I love so you have this you have these little bites at the top of your chapters. And in one of the final chapters, it says, “Current arguments against cancel culture are driven by fear, misunderstanding, and sometimes an intentional mischaracterization of how power works.” And it’s that last part that really stuck out to me because I’m really big on people being willfully oblivious. I’m like, now you know, You know why we don’t like them? Like why? You know, we were just talking about our culture. I’m like, Come on now. You know.
Ernest Owens [00:29:12] We still doing that? In 2023.
Maiysha Kai [00:29:14] We still doing that in that 2023? You know, it’s so interesting to me, and I love that you do it. You know, you talked about the hypocrisy of many, not all, but many conservatives in terms of how they use cancel culture. One of the things that again, you know, I thought it was so interesting that your book would come out on the 21st of February, which we all know is Black History Month, because, of course, they’re trying to cancel Black history right now, right?
Ernest Owens [00:29:40] Yeah. It was intentional. All of this was intentional. Every aspect of this book was so intentional, everything about it. And it was important to me that this book came out in February during Black History Month. You know, the book was ready. I want to say. I think advance copies went out August.
Maiysha Kai [00:30:04] Okay.
Ernest Owens [00:30:05] You know, I think initially, you know, I had the idea of dropping during the midterms, shake the table, and then I said, well, that just makes it more and the political conversation. And this book is bigger than the political conversation. I mean, there are political outlets have reached out to me and I’m talking about the book. But they’re want to talk about it in the political context. But this is about our lives. This is about how to live. This is of our daily decisions. And I’m so happy to be on this podcast because we’re talking about it as a lifestyle because it’s in our life. And I think so many people want to isolate it like it’s a hot button political issue, I’m like, No, it’s it’s that too. But it’s also us as a people and as a community, especially as Black people, how we live our lives and how we make decisions.
Maiysha Kai [00:30:55] And how we wield in this particular tool as you’re presenting it to us, how we wield the tool.
Ernest Owens [00:31:00] How we do it. And also we’ve been doing it for our salvation forever.
Maiysha Kai [00:31:07] Absolutely. I think, you know, one of the things that really was striking to me is that in illustrating how we’ve been doing this forever, you know, when you have these like I always find that inane phrase, you know, I’m not my ancestor. I’m like, no, your ancestors were way more strategic about this.
Ernest Owens [00:31:23] Don’t know why we do that. Don’t know why people do that. Who told that lie?
Maiysha Kai [00:31:29] Right.
Ernest Owens [00:31:31] When people said that I say, “you don’t know your ancestors.”
Maiysha Kai [00:31:35] Right. Right.
Ernest Owens [00:31:36] You don’t know them. You’ve let somebody tell you about them and you didn’t know. Because I definitely use family history to also guide. Some of the chapter and some of the things I talk about. So the most powerful one and every chapter is powerful, but one chapter really stands out to me is when canceling is the only option.
Maiysha Kai [00:31:58] Mm hmm.
Ernest Owens [00:32:00] And that’s at the beginning, because I want to lay down that with Black people specifically. They always make Black women difficult, Black queer people difficult. They always think that when we decide to cancel specifically, that we are impulsive, that we just decide to turn up. But what they don’t know is all the microaggressions, all the cuts, all the slights, all the the doors in our face before what we decided to break that ceiling. And this book really explains that, that people forget, especially with Black women, like when they went forward and said, Mute Kelly. It didn’t just start with people ready to just boycott him. There was several conversations and soft pads and nods and references and reports.
Maiysha Kai [00:32:42] And decades. Yes.
Ernest Owens [00:32:45] And so I hate when people say “why we had to do it like this.” “Why are we putting our business on first street?” Because when we tried to put it in non-front street, when we tried to put it in the room, in the house and have the the watercooler conversation, no one listened. No one cared. And so that was really important for me writing this book to acknowledge that this is a step by step to your point earlier. There’s levels to this. It’s nuanced. And we forget that sometimes in these conversations.
Maiysha Kai [00:33:13] I hope you are enjoying this conversation as much as I am. We’ll be back in a minute with more Writing Black. All right. Let’s get back into it. Welcome back to Writing Black. Yeah, we do. I mean, you know, it’s so interesting. Even, you know, again, on the level is like one of the most recent conversations I saw. You know, we saw Chloe Bailey do a single with Chris Brown. Right.
Chloe Baily [00:33:34] I feel like things are not the same. Now I feel a way.
Ernest Owens [00:33:42] You know, after I saw her Instagram post days after this, “I said she’d gone, ya’ll.” “She’d gone.”
Maiysha Kai [00:33:51] It’s so interesting because that, you know, I have such an interesting relationship to that, that story. I think, you know, I think I you know, I thought it was really yeah, I think it was really fascinating. But one of the things the argument that inevitably comes up is like y’all still talk about this like that was that, you know, that was this this long ago and blah, blah. But then I think it comes back to your conversation about what does accountability look like. So what should it look like? I guess is my question. Like what would accountability look like in a framework where we wouldn’t be raising our eyebrows at that kind of collaboration? You know what I mean?
Ernest Owens [00:34:29] Absolutely. I think, one, we have to be honest and do more reading. Let’s start there. Let’s read. There has been several instances outside of the 2009 incident with Chris Brown. Chris Brown has been reported to have done other things. I mean, Karrueche Tran had a restraining order. There was other instances of just erratic, violent, homophobic, colorist behavior from Chris Brown over the year. And so we need to acknowledge that reality. The second reality is, is that Chris Brown hasn’t really been canceled in the way in which he’s magnified it. There are some people who have definitely decided not to play his music. I don’t really play Chris Brown music if it comes on at a club or something. Okay. But I’m not giving him any streams. I don’t know. The last time I’ve listened to a Chris Brown album since. Oh, my God. Not. Not. No time. So maybe it’s been a minute. It’s been a while. And personally, that was my choice, right? I didn’t care about all the other optics. But I think this is the difference between him and other people who have had similar issues. Chris Brown clearly is rewriting and doing revisionist history on his own. He’s divorced himself from accountability. He’s lying on his offenses and that is the problem. So he said this incident happened. He was 17. No, Chris, he was actually 19. Let’s just get the facts straight. Second of all, if it was just that incident, I think people would have forgave him. It was just that because look what happened. He went out on the BET awards, Michael Jackson’s passing, the crowd was emotional. It was his redemption tour.
Maiysha Kai [00:36:04] I mean, and Rihanna even on canceled him.
Ernest Owens [00:36:06] I mean, she did. She did. And that’s, you know, whatever. Right. But in those regards, there was there was some sense of redemption there. I think you just saw year after year after year after year, more and more and more. And then it got to a sense that he felt like he had finished it. Right, that he was on top of the world. He could be even more cocky, arrogant. And I think that that is what would turn people off even more from him is because there’s been no sense of remorse, no correction of behavior. I mean, is he going to therapy? Is he doing any of the work to do anything to address his own behavior? And so that is why people don’t trust him. [00:36:44]So when people decide to keep a person canceled, it’s because there’s a sense of you don’t trust the person, you don’t believe the person you feel like the person is antagonizing in some kind of way. That’s how I feel about Dave Chappelle. I can’t listen anything from Dave Chappelle at this point because he’s invested and continuing to double down on the insults, the cruelness and the downright bigotry of his “jokes.” And I think that when you do things like that, you continuously create that type of problem. Same thing with Kanye West. It’s consistent harm. And for people that say, don’t cancel him, maybe then if you don’t want to cancel Kanye, how about you tell Kanye take a step back? How about we say Kanye, okay you don’t want to go into exile, how about you go to rehab? How about you reflect? Take a hiatus? We see a lot of people in Hollywood when they mess up. They take a hiatus. I have a lot of respect for Will Smith. Will Smith is a perfect example of somebody who he did something wrong. He acknowledged it. He took some steps back and he gets super defensive. I love that man. [74.7s]
Maiysha Kai [00:37:59] So cancel culture, as you say. I mean, as you’re illustrating through your own words right now, cancel culture is not the end all, be all. It is simply a call to accountability. And we are all welcome to be more accountable. And listen, as journalists who I know sometimes rely on hot takes. There are things that I wish I could. I’m like, Oh, you know what? I do think I think my perspective has changed on that. I do think I would go back and do that differently. So I don’t know anybody who doesn’t have that moment.
Ernest Owens [00:38:26] First of all, Black people are forgiving people.
Maiysha Kai [00:38:28] Yes, we are.
Ernest Owens [00:38:28] Because we are so forgiving. So deeply. We are forgiving people. I want to say, when I think about it, we’ve done there has been exonerations in history. I talk about it towards the end of my book. Perceptions changing. Monica Lewinsky one of the best examples of someone who was canceled in a country that did not understand the limits of power and sex and age and manipulation and coercion and all of those elements that happens, right?
Maiysha Kai [00:38:58] You talk about Anita Hill.
Ernest Owens [00:39:00] Anita Hill.
Maiysha Kai [00:39:01] Christine Blasey Ford.
Ernest Owens [00:39:03] I love. I love. You know, fun fact, I didn’t think I had it in a book because I thought it wasn’t salacious. My mother, I was born on October 12, 1991.
Maiysha Kai [00:39:14] Okay.
Ernest Owens [00:39:15] During the Anita Hill. Hearings.
Maiysha Kai [00:39:18] I’m not going to tell you how old I was and on that date, but okay. Well, I have a fun fact back for you, because one of the reasons that the Chris Brown argument always intrigues me is that the night that that incident happened was my first Grammys. Fun fact, though, because this is somebody else you bring up in the book multiple times. The person who beat me in my category was Chrisette Michele.
Ernest Owens [00:39:38] Wow.
Maiysha Kai [00:39:42] And you talk about Chrisette’s cancellation as well after she sang for Trump. So, you know, it’s all connected, ya’ll. That’s what we’re saying.
Ernest Owens [00:39:48] That’s a moment. And I bet you, in you’re my mind. You would have never thought years later, here we are, like over 14 years later.
Maiysha Kai [00:39:56] That’s right.
Ernest Owens [00:39:56] And life is wow. Look at that.
Maiysha Kai [00:39:59] Life is strange and circular. And so cancel culture always comes back around, but it is a tool we should all be using. I think this is a book that everybody should get into. It’s it’s really it’s and it’s more fun than you think it’s going to be. So, you know listen don’t let the idea, the tool, you know, deter you guys from reading The Case for Cancel Culture is real. We can be using it more effectively. We’re really glad you’re with us today, Ernest on Writing Black. This was big fun. I knew it would be. And yeah, follow Ernest on Twitter for more provocative ideas on pop culture, politics and beyond, but also get into The Case for Cancel Culture. Thank you so much for joining us on Writing Black this week.
Ernest Owens [00:40:41] Thank you so much. I’m so excited.
Maiysha Kai [00:40:47] And we’re back with more Writing Black. Well, this is the part of the show where I like to recommend what I’ve been reading. You know, a little segment we like to call Mai Favorites. You know, Ernest obviously has a passion for not just talking about this cultural phenomenon we know as cancel culture, but also the extensive history behind it. And it got me thinking about another amazing book by one of our former guests, Peniel E. Joseph and the Third Reconstruction: American Struggle for Racial Justice in the 21st Century. I really can’t say enough amazing things about this book. I just think he’s it’s just so phenomenally written and really much like Ernest’s book really frames out how everything old is new. Again, there’s nothing new under the sun, whether it’s cancel culture or, you know, the politics that we’re going through now, we are really at another precipice of another major turn over is what Peniel posits. And it’s one that we can harness if we choose to. Just as Ernest is positing that we can harness cancel culture for good or for evil. And either way, we should be looking at it as the tool that it is and being strategic about it. So that’s my recommendation this week. Please join us next week for more Writing Black. Thanks so much for joining us for this week’s episode of Writing Black. As always, you can find us on theGrio app or wherever you find your podcasts.
Panama Jackson [00:42:17] The Real Black Podcast Network presents Dear Culture Truest Black Stories.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:42:25] When you think of sheer artistry, sheer creativity. The ability for someone to bring Black people together in the most fundamental ways, it’s, you know, I would say of my four, Randy Watson is my number one.
Michael Harriot [00:42:39] When the news about Ricky first broke, what I heard about it is the thing you hear about, you know, every time somebody Black dies that it was gang related. That means the police don’t know what happened. So they just said probably the gangs. Probaby, you know, the other Black dudes.
Damon Young [00:42:55] When I think of tequila, you know, I think about, I just think about how impressionable white people can be. I think about how, you know, if you watch that movie again, you know, he should have lost like three times.
Panama Jackson [00:43:08] Where were you when you heard the story about them suckers getting served by Wade’s dance crew?
Shamira Ibrahim [00:43:14] You know, it’s crazy that you mention this. So as a New Yorker, right, Everyone knows where they were on 9/11, right? You know, couple of years later, Right. it’s 2003. Everyone hears about this crazy moment in a boxing ring because that’s where dancers duke it out. Right. In boxing rings.
Panama Jackson [00:43:31] If you could say something to Ricky right now, what would you say to him?
Monique Judge [00:43:35] Ricky, you should’ve never got that girl pregnant. You knew I had a crush on you. You should got with me instead.
Panama Jackson [00:43:40] Moments in Black culture examined like never before. Join us as we dive into the Black moments that changed us. That changed the world. Make sure to subscribe to Dear Culture so you never miss an episode.