“Cancel culture” has been the subject of many conversations in recent weeks.
Grief has been shared about the loss of Dr. Seuss’ work, the honorifics of the Potato Head family and even warnings before offerings on Disney+.
This grief seems to come as people look to the creators who shaped their own childhood and lives and ask, “What is so bad about this?”
Or perhaps even, “If the creations I love are being changed, removed, warned against, then what might happen to me?”
The fear of change is human. The cost of these changes is personal, requiring us to sift through our own formation to discern what may be harmful to others and even ourselves.
The cost is there, and the question remains, “Is the cost is worth it?”
To answer, let’s turn our attention to the benefits. What good comes of these changes, removals and warnings?
First, we accomplish the holy task of telling the truth.
To look at our entertainment and be honest with ourselves and our children of the pain it can cause is to tell the truth.
When opening up Disney+ and acknowledging the stereotypes present and how they are a part of a bigger picture of discrimination, both personal and collective, is to tell the truth.
After all, Kermit the Frog is not the sole perpetrator of these offenses. The need for these warnings is because they fit into larger pictures of power and oppression.
The representation of people using stereotypes and willful misconceptions of culture empowers the accompanying policies and actions dehumanizing these same people.
The content of the entertainment on Disney+ and the work of Dr. Seuss does not exist in a vacuum. The racist representations in these works serve as only a small part of these larger issues.
These small offenses can seem inconsequential, but they grow into more dangerous realities. The recent documentation and display of violence and hatred toward Asian Americans in 2020 serves as gut-wrenching evidence.
It is important because it impacts our children. Our Black students who choose a Dr. Seuss book should not be subject to seeing his depictions of African people as animal-like.
No child should need to cipher through harmful representations and jokes while watching a television program.
To poke fun at one another is a central tenet of comedy, but it does not have to play along with, and emphasize, the violence and mistreatment along those same differences.
Differences are not the enemy and are not a subject we must ignore. Differences are to be discussed, celebrated and, yes, even be the subject of good humor.
But when these differences are the source of discrimination, hate and humor, there is no humor to be had.
Second, we have an opportunity to expand our canon of literature and entertainment.
Dr. Seuss Enterprises has chosen to discontinue six titles. There are still dozens of titles to be enjoyed.
If one of those titles is to be removed from a bookshelf, then we should consider replacing it with a title by a Black or an Asian author.
When we acknowledge the truth, we have the opportunity to learn and grow together. We can expand our canon to include those who have been excluded.
We can search to create a better world for our children today – a world that includes silly rhymes and made-up words, but also celebrates all people as God’s good creation.
There is a temptation to see cancellation and restrictions wherever we look and to resist it. Yet, this is simply a manifestation of our fear that slows our movement to liberation for all people.
Instead, we have the chance to create again. We can tell the truth of who we are. This truth will carry pain along with its healing. But the truth must be told.
This truth will involve details of power systems and histories much more violent than children’s cartoons. It will involve acknowledging, and repenting of, centuries of harm and exploitation so that the full truth can be told.
Then, we can create a new canon where children see themselves as full people in their stories rather than as crude drawings standing in for dated stereotypes.
There is a price for this change. The price is change and true reflection of the world we have created.
To look at what has entertained us and ask whether it also did damage not only to others, but also to ourselves.
There will be loss in this change, but it will be worth it.
The loss will be far less than what we gain as we more fully express that all people are made in the image of God.