Make Them Say Exactly What is Being Canceled

Yes, this specific book is racist.
Yes, this specific book is racist. Cover of the audiobook version of If I Ran the Zoo.
Free speech on the political right is a grift, and here’s how it works.

First, you take something like the Dr. Seuss estate deciding to remove six books with racist depictions of people of color from future publication. Then, you ignore the content of what led to the decision in the first place, leaning heavily only on the name of the beloved children’s author and imply that more wholesome content (Tucker Carlson chose The Sneetches) is under general attack. Having buried the original point, you are now free to make the discussion about whether something can be said instead of what was actually said. Libs owned, repeat ad infinitum.

There are some very salient criticisms of cancel culture. Extremely online people use it as justification for large scale harassment campaigns against random nobodies because it’s frankly easier to elicit a reaction from them than getting a celebrity or politician to notice you. It’s also led to a lot of cannibalism within marginalized communities. Far too many people are looking to have an epic burn tweet end up in a Buzzfeed article.

That said, criticism from the right about canceling is almost always framed as a censorship issue. It’s not because it’s true. After all, calling someone a racist asshole is in fact protected speech as well. It’s because it puts liberals on the defensive.

Governor Greg Abbott recently has expressed support of Senate Bill 12, a nonsensical piece of garbage legislation from Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Tyler) that would somehow keep social media companies from demonetizing or banning Texans for political speech companies feel goes against their terms of service. It’s part of the long-running delusion conservatives have that their voices are being censored on social media over mere opinions that aren’t politically correct.

No one is being banned for conservative speech. Former President and current Florida Man Donald Trump didn’t lose his Twitter account because he advocated eliminating the minimum wage or returning to the gold standard. He lost it because he was pathologically unable to stop screaming outright lies about a stolen election to millions of followers, some of whom later stormed the U.S. Capitol with apparent intent to kill or capture sitting members of Congress and/or his own vice president.

Like the Dr. Seuss discussion, conservatives only want to talk about the fact that something is no longer being said in the public sphere, not what was actually the subject under discussion. It’s easy to defend Trump or any number of other grifters and conspiracy theorists when they are merely one side of the political spectrum being. It’s far harder to justify outright lies, racist comments, and possible threats.

The best way to win that conversation is to not have it in the first place and accuse the rest of the world of silencing their constitutionally protected opinions. Problem is, it’s not their opinions. They’re just wrong. The depictions in those Dr. Seuss books involve drawing Africans as monkeys and East Asians as offensive stereotypes. Any reasonable person would agree they are racist. How good a person Seuss became later or how progressive other books he wrote are is really immaterial. This is not about the soul of a man long dead and gone to his reward. It’s about what sort of images we want children to have in their heads when they peruse the school library going forward.

If you insist on arguing with free speech grifters (a damn fool thing to do, but here I am, too), never let the conversation descend into generalities. Shove Seuss’ art in their faces and ask, “are you comfortable with kids seeing this specific image?” When they lament that their favorite fearmongering alt-right personality is no longer welcome on social media, demand to know if they are okay with what they said. Make them take a stand on the subject at hand.

Whether conservatives want to admit it or not, these are conversations about content, not rights. As our general understanding of the dangers of unchecked bigoted speech and misinformation becomes better, more and more individuals will exercise their choice to not host those things within their spheres of influence. That isn’t the death of conservatism, unless you want to admit that conservatism offers little beyond lies and liberal tears these days.
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Jef Rouner is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner