First off, cancel culture is just culture. True, many people are getting postponed, but very few are actually cancelled.
THAT BEING SAID, I too have a problem with how we do the conversation about “past racist behavior,” because it can be reactionary and unhelpful, and might I provide a solution.
Critical Race Theory.
As with many hot academic topics, CRT has likely hit that point at which developing a clear and concise definition is impossible, as it simply fits the intended mold of whoever’s talking about it. But the following idea I think sticks regardless.
For a good bit of this nation’s history, racism isn’t best viewed as an aberration from the norm; but as the norm itself; a cursory look at both laws and practices make this abundantly clear, and so now it is incumbent upon educators to oppose whitewashing and to tell this story honestly.
The problem. Often this: White person is found to have done or said racist things in the past, and as a result “cancellation,” whatever that entails. Frequently, if not always, this happens *despite* the other good deeds the person has been involved with since then. The subtext here is the implication that said white person was somehow “very willing” and “uniquely racist.” But, as Criticial Race Theory (or any black person who’s been through a sufficient number of metaphorical rodeos) will tell you — most of the time, nah, that’s just how things, and how people, were.
Not to excuse it entirely, of course — just the opposite. One most hold the “entire past” accountable in a productive way. And I’m not exactly sure what that way is — but I can tell you that what it isn’t is easily getting worked up over “sinning” individuals. It was healthy to have the conversation and good to bring up; but I think the pattern can be seen now.
Most of the time attacking that sort of person (especially when their “sins” are more incidental and cosmetic) isn’t serving justice; it’s providing momentary distraction and fodder for the right — something hot and unimportant to misdirect from much more pressing present issues — or worse, we get tricked into harming people who help us.
So yes, bring on the CRT, please.