Kevin Hart, Megyn Kelly, Joe Rogan, Kanye West and other celebrities have all faced cancel culture — a merciless, social media backlash targeting their comments and beliefs, which seeks to remove them from society.
But this social firing squad isn’t just for the elite. In fact, most cancel culture victims are young, voiceless, financially vulnerable or don’t have a major platform on which to defend themselves.
Last year, I became one of those victims.
In the summer of 2020, when defunding the police became a popular refrain and white supremacy was considered the greatest threat to the West, I wrote an essay sharing my experiences with racism growing up as a young Sikh boy in a majority-white area in British Columbia, Canada. However, I also argued that making broad racial generalizations and stripping minorities of human agency and self-determination does not lead to racial progress — it does the precise opposite.
Soon after my piece, called “The Fallacy of White Privilege,” appeared in this newspaper in November 2020, it went viral, leading to an interview with The Hill’s Saagar Enjeti on his show Rising and later an appearance on The Adam Carolla Show.
I was surprised and happy about reaching such a huge audience — until I realized I had violated the current culture of political correctness.
On social media, I lost friends, former classmates, colleagues, sports teammates and social connections. I noticed as my private, relatively tight-knit Instagram following declined from 500 to 350 followers. One of my best friends since seventh grade blocked me on Instagram for views he considered critical of the Black Lives Matter movement. I have not spoken to him since, despite seeing him at a recent social gathering where he ignored me.
This may sound juvenile and trivial, but when social media has increasingly replaced real social interactions during the pandemic, the ostracism took a heavy toll. At 19, I felt like I was born in the wrong generation.
Even so, I felt compelled to keep speaking out, taking a contrarian position on many social issues, leading to more widespread attention.
The handful of young moderates in my social circle who support my work messaged me in private, saying they respected my views but were unable to publicly support or share them on social media.
One friend said, “I loved your appearance on The Ben Shapiro Show, man, but don’t tell anyone I said that. I’ll be crucified.”
In August 2020, Paul Henderson, the editor of my local newspaper The Chilliwack Progress (who happens to be white), started taking to social media to accuse me of downplaying racism in our society and spreading misinformation. Worse, in January 2021, he went on to describe my views as “alt-right” (frequently used to describe white nationalism).
I have also faced backlash at my college, University of Fraser Valley. Last August, concerned with social justice activism pervading academia, I tweeted at Sharanjit Sandhra, a history professor at my college, to ask if my perspective would be welcome in her course on race relations. Expecting her to welcome my ideas, I was shocked to see her blunt reply, “not interested.”
Later in 2020, Carin Bondar, another professor at my university (who was recently elected to the local school board) criticized an essay I wrote about Joe Rogan, praising him for his heterodox views. Why? Because, as she tweeted, he is a “#whiteman.”
Incidents like these have forced me to avoid courses on racial inequality and gender relations at my school, two of my favorite subjects.
My views also affected my job, working remotely as a content creator. In July 2020, when I tweeted a study by black Harvard Economist Roland Fryer, which found no systemic racial bias in police shootings, my boss e-mailed me and told me to remove my affiliation with the company from my Twitter bio because it might make the company look “anti-black” and “pro-police.”
He found me “correlating policing with saving black lives” (his words) to be offensive, but assured me my job wouldn’t be compromised and I could continue to work. Though unsettled, I removed my work with the company from my Twitter bio.
A month later, I published my essay on white privilege. Though I expected more remote tasks from my employer, I mysteriously received nothing for weeks, something that had never happened before. Finally, my boss sent me a brief text, telling me to remove my affiliation with his company from my LinkedIn profile as I am no longer an employee.
As a result, I lost out on a $1,000 paycheck that summer, which I received every couple of months — a modest but much-needed amount that I was putting towards my college tuition.
You may wonder why I am now sharing these stories a year later.
The answer is simple: I no longer fear the backlash from my contemporaries, media figures or professors.
In many ways, the outrage over my dissent has reached its peak. Any new assault on my character by my local newspaper editor or anyone else will have little influence or impact on my mental state or work.
Perhaps most importantly, I have established my independent voice and can (modestly) financially support myself with my writings for now.
But, one thing is clear: the reputational costs for dissenting from the “correct” views are high. According to a 2020 Heterodox Academy survey, 62 percent of sampled college students believe the climate on their campus prevents them from sharing their views on social and political issues, mostly because they fear backlash from professors and other students.
Meanwhile, only 8 percent of Generation Z supports cancel culture, according to a recent Morning Consult survey.
While rich, powerful celebrities are comparatively bullet-proof from cancel culture, it’s no wonder why many ordinary people remain silent or cynically supportive of the social justice cause du jour. The odds are stacked against them — from the university system, the media, the labor market and broader culture — and compliance is the only financially and socially sustainable option.
Rav Arora is a 20-year-old writer, who specializes in topics of race, music, literature and culture. His writing has also been featured in The Globe and Mail and City Journal.