A smart, generally thoughtful conservative Republican I know called the other day to tease me about surrendering to “cancel culture.”
This might be the first time I’ve ever written the term “cancel culture.” It’s not one of my terms. It’s a little too AM radio for my taste, a little too simplistic and sloganized, too.
But since my Republican friend brought it up in connection with something I posted on Facebook and then changed after I got a negative response, I think it’s worth discussing.
It started when I went to get my first COVID vaccination, which went really well thanks to the Monument Health folks and their COVID-vaccination clinic out in the old Herberger’s store at the Rushmore Mall. I got there a bit early for my scheduled vaccination time, got in a bit early and was out of there in about 20 minutes. That included the 15 minutes of hanging around after the shot to be sure I didn’t have a reaction.
I didn’t, other than with a sense of relief. The next day I had some mild muscle soreness around the injection point on my arm, which is typical of flu shots I’ve received. Otherwise, I would have quickly forgotten that I’d even had the shot.
Except, of course, for my Facebook update, and the picture of me flashing the “OK” sign as I got my shot.
My old Rapid City Journal colleague Dan Daly, who is now a public-information guru for Monument, took the picture. It was a happy photo of a masked me making the old “OK” sign above my head with my right hand as the nurse stuck the needle —virtually painlessly — into the muscle of my upper left arm.
Bada bing, bada boom. One shot down, one to go come March 15.
Dan took the picture for the Monument website and shared it with me by email the next morning. Soon I had it up on my personal Facebook page in celebration of the shot and of taking a step toward a more normal life after a year that has been anything but normal.
So that’s all good, right? Well, sure, except for that “OK” sign, which I soon found out is no longer OK with many people. To them, it doesn’t mean what it used to mean.
You might already know this, but the “OK” sign has been appropriated by white supremacist groups as a symbol of their racist beliefs. Somehow I missed that, or forgot it. But commenters on my Facebook page pointed it out.
And after some discussion and consideration, I decided to crop my hand and the now-offending symbol out of the picture. Which is why my Republican friend called, with some degree of surprise and a hint of amused disdain.
Apparently, he thought I should have been tougher than to give in to “cancel culture” pressure.
I tried to explain, telling him that of course I resented the fact that people whose beliefs I loathe stole a simple sign I’ve been using my whole life. But I didn’t want to have the fuss about it overshadow the good news of my COVID shot, the accelerated vaccine distribution and what it all means to our city and state and nation and world.
That was an important reason for the crop. But it wasn’t the biggest reason. The biggest reason was racism, the need to fight it and to not encourage it in any way, even a small, unintentional way. Of course, I didn’t mean “white power” with my “OK” gesture. But I couldn’t abide living with the very real possibility that it would be seen that way by some. And worse, that it would be shared and distributed and magnified and contribute to the reprehensible torrent of racism that floods our society with ignorance and hate.
That’s especially true in today’s manipulative, often-dishonest social-media world, where reality is constantly denied and distorted in hurtful, hateful ways.
I guess some, including my Republican friend, would argue that “cancel culture” won when I edited the picture of myself on Facebook. But I think decency won and racism was denied.
And if that’s “cancel culture,” count me in.
Kevin Woster writes a blog and offers radio commentary for South Dakota Public Broadcasting. He can be reached by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.