Why Do We Have “Cancel Culture” in Nigeria

Andy Ugo. M.D.,

There is a clear difference between holding people accountable for what they do or say and “canceling” them. Accountability allows for redemption while Canceling constitutes a hatred-fueled public shaming that aims to ruin a person’s life. It ignores moral development, especially when the offending comment was made years ago. To give equal weight to statements people make when they are young and those they make as adults is absurd. Differences in opinions over time are often a sign of growth—something laudable and not taken serious.

Cancel culture is a social phenomenon that ostracizes people who commit socially unacceptable actions. It can involve a social punishment, the loss of a job, or both. Targets face ridicule and isolation, and often threats and real material harm. The problem with cancel culture is that it expects perfection; one mistake made 10 years ago can be seized on to destroy a man’s livelihood, regardless of whether he expresses genuine remorse. People let their rage guide them, when, if they had reflected, they would realize that they are usually every bit as fallible as the person they are condemning.

Literally cancel culture is poisoning modern discourse. Nigerians have all experienced this: like example a lecture hall that stays silent even as the professor tries to provoke discussion and debate on controversial issues. How can we hope to generate a diversity of ideas if we fear retaliation for any dissent? So long as the threat of lifelong condemnation hangs over our heads, we can’t.

However, my instinct is to always support free speech, free interaction and free debate that right shouldn’t extend to hate speech or singling out marginalized communities but to extend the development. Opinions are one thing; it’s entirely different to use abusive or threatening language that expresses prejudice on the basis of race, sex, gender, language, culture or religion. Language and religion has long been an oppressive force used to disparage marginalized groups; the diction Nigerians have used to speak about minority groups often has a negative connotation. For example, using the word “Nyamiri” to describe people from Southeast relegates their existence to that of an object, like an Negelet-style rug. It reduces a group of people from diverse cultures to one stereotype of an exotic land filled with strange wonders. This continue rise of cancel culture signals that the weight of language and religion is finally being recognized as it has “come to stay”.

It is bewildering that prominent figures, from Music stars, actors and book authors to corporate executives, are upset when the public disagrees loudly with their bigoted and prejudicial sentiments. How can you voice your problematic thoughts in the public arena, then be angry when you face a public trial and social death? Isn’t that the price that comes with a platform? Or isn’t their business when your livelihood depends on the public, they have the right to determine your success, in anyways you see or understand it. To be canceled is to be held accountable for your actions and finally face the consequences. Freedom of speech doesn’t grant freedom from repercussions.

The scare quotes around on why do we have “cancel culture” in Nigeria cling to it like burrs. Cancellation, broadly has applied to everyone from known sexual predators, escort, alcoholic, and bigots to magazine brands and squabbling Social Medias. It might seem not new, but what are exile, banishment and shunning if not ancient forms of “canceling”? Cancellation exemplifies the natural functioning of social norms in weeding out bad or immoral behavior. It can be a powerful tool for good, publicly reaffirming the moral values that societies accept and reject. It can also breed resentment, block cross-political understanding, and show a willingness to punish vindictively rather than restoratively. When overused, the designation “canceled” becomes obsolete and meaningless.

Cancel culture should alert us that the technologies we use are active shapers of our behavior. YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, etc, was designed for beach pictures and typewriter-font poetry; inevitably, it encounters difficulties when it tries to house discourse on social and political issues. For better or worse, social media is optimized for virality. Algorithmic, activity-based timelines ensure that the opinions you’re more likely to see are the ones that cause the most buzz, and that appeal to strong emotions—not always the opinions that get the facts straight. When we hold every controversy, inflammatory remark and scandal in the palm of our hands, and there is immense pressure to react, remember: Moral outrage is neither a trend nor an opportunity for self-gratification.

So, cancel culture creates an atmosphere that hinders personal growth. Only a culture that allows for redemption and open discourse can encourage the moral progress We All Want. If the perfect people whom cancel culture seem to produce or demands really exists, then let him or her cast the first stone.

Dr. Andy Ugo

Obstetrics and Gynaecologist, Abuja.

Twitter: @drandyugo

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