Alabama; Mobile — On a recent episode of OWN Network’s “Dr. Phil,” titled “Boomers vs. Zoomers: An Old-Age Debate,” representatives from the two generations discussed various cultural topics. One particular topic that Dr. Philip McGraw presented was about “cancel culture” and the issue of Gen Z being sensitive, citing comedians fearing performing at colleges because they may offend someone. The debate divulges into Gen Z supposedly defending cancel culture but in my opinion, they argue that people should be held accountable.
Cancel culture is a myth propagated by individuals, typically celebrities, who are called out for actions that are homophobic, racist, sexist, transphobic or bigoted. Depending on how said individuals respond to being called out could determine the extent of the backlash they face. Also, those supposedly canceled often make these claims while being platformed and able to make their sob story to an audience of millions.
However, right-wingers have morphed the term into an example of “wokeness” gone too far where a mob of people will come after you for saying the wrong thing. This has become a key tactic for conservatives to combat the shift in culture regarding discussions of race, gender and sexual identity. It’s become effective messaging to conservatives, liberals and folks of every generation and belief who hate being held accountable for their harmful attitudes and words.
Interestingly this shift, like the advancement of LGBTQ+ rights and proliferation of the Internet, coincided with Gen Z growing up in the middle of all of it. Compared to older generations that grew up in decidedly more racist, anti-LGBTQ and less informed conditions, Gen Z has grown up to be more aware of issues affecting marginalized communities. But instead of Boomers growing and learning from these changes their social attitudes tend to remain problematic.
Also, I hate to generalize because there are of course Boomers who are not bigoted just like there are Zoomers that are bigoted. But Gen Z understands more acutely that just because someone does not say or do something that is explicitly harmful, like saying a slur, that does not make that action any less damaging.
During the show’s debate, Zoomer representative Victoria perfectly summarized this point, “I think that just as a generation we’re becoming more aware of how bigotry, even if it’s in the form of a joke, really negatively impacts people. And so I think that while social repercussions are nothing new, what we penalize people for saying is changing. And I think that that’s a positive thing."
For people like Dave Chappelle and his recent transphobic stand-up specials, this can be a problem. He hides his transphobia behind “jokes” that directly state his position against trans-peoples’ existence. These “jokes” are added fuel to an increasingly growing flame intended to eliminate trans-people from our society or truly cancel them.
Words and jokes like Chappelle’s can often reaffirm harmful ideologies that lead to violent actions. And violence is not just physical harm but even legislative action that can result in systemic problems.
Schools are banning books to prevent generative discussions about race so white people don’t get their feelings hurt. National legislation is being introduced that would target teachers and publicly-funded institutions for being LGBTQ+ inclusive. Accounts like Libs of TikTok openly rage campaigns to get teachers fired for being LGBTQ+ and even incites violence against children’s hospitals resulting in bomb threats.
Are these not examples of cancel culture or “woke mobs?” Or is that only when people who are responsible for these racist and bigoted acts face repercussions?
Gen Z is not sensitive or becoming too woke. We are just no longer willing to let hateful and harmful rhetoric slide without holding powerful people to account.