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Renée Graham

It’s not ‘cancel culture.’ It’s facing consequences.

Illustration by Lesley Becker/Globe Staff; Adobe; Globe File Photo

I don’t want to hear another word about the hostile overreach of “cancel culture” – not when Sean Spicer, who once propagated President Trump’s lies, is now failing even the most basic laws of rhythm on “Dancing with the Stars.”

I’m old enough to recall when “cancel culture” was better known as consequences. And Spicer, who was less a White House press secretary than a mendacity peddler, has faced no consequences at all. And he certainly hasn’t been cancelled. Since slithering off Pennsylvania Avenue two years ago, he’s written a book, was invited to appear on the Emmys by Stephen Colbert, and is now one of the “stars” on the popular ABC show.


So much for “cancel culture,” which generally means boycotting or ghosting someone who has said or done something racist, sexist, anti-LGBTQ, or otherwise deeply objectionable. When such people face repercussions, they’re the first to decry a world overrun by humorless unforgiving politically correct snowflakes on yet another witch hunt. (Did I get them all?)

That’s what’s been happening since Shane Gillis, hired last week to join the cast of “Saturday Night Live,” was fired this week for a documented history of anti-Asian and homophobic remarks. Fellow comedians are denouncing “SNL” and defending Gillis.

“Did they go back and also try and look back at good things the person might have done, or are they just looking for the bad stuff?” Bill Burr asked. For the record, Gillis made his most recent racist comments way back in 2018. And he said them on a podcast; they weren’t hard to find.

But, hey, who has time for facts when the pity party is in full swing? Besides, Gillis will be fine. White men usually are – just ask Billy Bush. In 2016, he was booted from his high-profile TV gigs after he was heard chortling with Trump about sexual assault on that leaked 2005 “Access Hollywood” audiotape. Now Bush is back on TV, and hosting a new show.


Gillis may not have a TV gig, but he already has a presidential candidate on his side — entrepreneur and enemy of neckties Andrew Yang. Before Gillis got dumped, Yang in a tweet said, “I do not think he should lose his job. We would benefit from being more forgiving rather than punitive. We are all human.”

Yes we are. And humanity demands that we treat each other with respect.

During a racist incident in my workplace years ago, people of color pushed back. A white male colleague lamented the passage of a time “when you could just say anything.” He didn’t recognize that those were miserable decades for women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community. You were expected to stay silent while your race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual identity was dragged to filth in front of your face. What was once OK for him was never OK for the rest of us.

Now these men, who believe simple common decency is a major affront to their manhood, can’t navigate a society where marginalized groups and their accomplices finally feel empowered enough to say “enough is enough.” As comedian Hannah Gadsby recently tweeted, “Pushing for a culture of respect is not the same thing as cancelling culture.”


Of course, pushing for a culture of respect is what got former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick cancelled in a way men like Bush, Spicer, and Gillis never will. Because he took a knee during the national anthem as a stand against racist police violence and racial injustice, he was effectively banned from the game. That’s what it really means to be cancelled — when billionaires collude to deprive a man of his livelihood.

Meanwhile, Spicer — the man who coined the term “Holocaust centers” — gets to continue his prime-time redemption tour. He may get voted off “Dancing with the Stars,” but he’ll never face cancellation for that podium two-step he once performed while gaslighting a nation.

Renée Graham can be reached at renee.graham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.