I rolled my eyes as I heard yet another story of a celebrity apologizing. “Here we go!” I said, with deep sarcasm, as I listened to Jimmy Fallon respond to dirt unearthed from his life 20 years ago.
Fallon said on a recent episode of The Tonight Show, “I had to really examine myself in the mirror this week because a story came out about me on SNL doing an impression of Chris Rock in blackface.” A skit he performed back in the year 2000 was exposed in an attempt to “cancel” Jimmy Fallon. The campaign, #JimmyFallonisoverparty, ignited a potential firestorm on social media.
As he began his monologue, my eye rolling was put to shame. What struck me was Mr. Fallon’s humility, not just in his apology, but in the dialogue that happened after the monologue.
I am a witness and sometimes the participant of a “cancel culture”. I’m putting my eye rolling aside to confront the cancer that is eating away at the soul of our country and at my peace of mind. I don’t want to sit in the seat of scoffers, being a part of the problem.
What is the “Cancel Culture”?
According to an article on PsychologyToday.com , “‘Cancel culture’ describes how large groups of people, often on social media, target those who have committed some kind of moral violation. They are often cast out of their social and professional circles.”
Cancelling someone is not like cancelling a subscription or a service. “Cancelling” a person means you are seeking to destroy someone’s reputation, and remove them from their position, status and possibly their job for a perceived injustice. Our goal should be to tear down injustices, not tear down one another.
Why would anyone want to engage in the “cancel culture”? Psychology Today tells us one of the reasons is to elevate one’s social status by denigrating another’s. Under the guise of awareness, shining a light on racism, or fighting against an evil political view, lying underneath the surface is the truth. Pride. Elitism. Intolerance. Hate.
Another underlying cause in this culture is a sense of social bonding or community, a sense of belonging, or “uniting around a common purpose,” albeit in a sick, self-serving kind of way. It provides a “sense of solidarity,” and a “satisfaction from coming together against a perpetrator.”
The Victim of “Cancel Culture”
Jimmy Fallon’s past sin with the blackface skit back in 2000 was socially acceptable at the time and even considered humorous. In 2020 it is racist, not because the culture says so, but because it truly is. Jimmy Fallon was like me. I did not understand the history behind blackface as it is directly related to Jim Crow. Should he have known better? Maybe, but the fact remains the atmosphere in 2000 is not as politically supercharged as it is now with social media as a weapon. Also, is it fair for someone who does not know Fallon to personally call him out for the whole world to see?
The “cancel culture” goes too far. In this particular case as in most, it ultimately distracts from the larger issue of racism to naming, shaming, and blaming the individual for the purpose of destroying him. GQ Magazine notes, “Does the collective fight for a greater good turn into a mere mob mentality, one that largely echoes the same principles of bullying? Or are we still all just trying to speak our truth, regardless of who happens to be in the way?”
The Evil of The “Cancel Culture”
The root of “cancel culture” is obviously sin. When we look at it from what Jesus said, murder did not just mean the taking of another life, it also comes in the form of trashing someone’s character, “But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell,” (Matthew 5:22).
The “cancel culture” thinks it is doing good, pointing out a moral violation, but what they may not realize is that they too are committing a moral violation.
Being Forced to Apologize or Else
Celebrities are not the only victims of the “cancel culture”. I remember watching the interaction of a white woman and a black man in Central Park, NY. The end result of what started out as a simple request to leash a dog, turned into this woman temporarily losing custody of her dog, and losing her job. She was publicly labeled a racist (I’m not here to debate this), all because someone chose to video the incident and post it on social media. If the motive was to prove a point, maybe it would have been wise to make an effort to protect this lady’s identity.
Jimmy Fallon chose to rise above the “cancel culture”, and we can learn a lot from his example. He does apologize for the skit from 20 years ago. He admits that it was wrong, and he regrets the hurt he may have caused his friend, Chris Rock. He never thought of himself as racist, but he fully admits that his actions in the past exposed the racism in his heart.
Mr. Fallon could have said nothing, and in fact, he contemplated that option. He was advised to stay quiet and let the storm blow over. Instead, he followed his conviction. The result of that was declining the invitation of the #JimmyFallonisoverparty by humbling himself, and entering into a meaningful conversation with the President of the NAACP, Derrick Johnson. His actions demonstrated how we (white people in particular) can move forward to healing and racial reconciliation.
Was the motive to help Jimmy Fallon see his racist intentions from 20 years ago? Only God knows.
God Does Not Cancel Us
The bad news: We are all sinners. Since the Garden of Eden with the first bite from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, we have “all sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23).
God could “cancel” us (we deserve it), but instead He cancelled our debt (Colossians 2:14). In His word, God says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far he has removed our transgressions from us,” (Psalm 103:12). He has done this through Jesus, by His death on the cross for all our sins. Even though we are sinners, Christ died for us. That is the good news.
As God’s people we are the counter culture. Let’s “be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you,” (Ephesians 4:32). Christians can pave the road that leads to true social justice, but we get in the way of progress when we are complicit by associating with the “cancel culture” mainly through our interactions on social media.
God Redeems All That He Allows
Some of the best stories are tales of redemption. Jimmy Fallon’s tale is still in progress, and I have no doubt that he will bring us all some lessons he learned. We all make mistakes and fail, but when we own up to our transgressions, God can take our mess and turn it into a message.
The Bible is full of redemption stories. We can look at Joseph, one of Jacob’s 12 sons. His own brothers tried to “cancel” him. Joseph made his share of mistakes with his brothers, and they threw him into a pit to sell him into slavery. Joseph was then falsely accused, thrown into prison for 10 years, but by the providence of God he was brought into the house of Pharaoh of Egypt as second in command. God ultimately saved Joseph’s family from famine through Joseph himself. The same family who tried to “cancel” him!
God redeems all He allows, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose,” (Romans 8:28).
Redeeming the Culture
I would hate to have my skeletons exposed for all the world to see. I am certainly not the same person I once was 20 years ago by the grace of God. I hope I remember when I point a finger, there are four more pointing back at me.
We must be careful. Our pride blinds us to the truth about ourselves, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye,” (Matthew 7:3-5).
Only Jesus can save and redeem our culture, and he wants to redeem your life or the life of someone you come into contact with today. Tell your story. Share hope. Build bridges. Forgive. Be kind. Let’s decide to be counter cultural in love.