Robert Azzi: Cancel culture: In the eye of the beholder

For the Monitor
Published: 2/28/2021 6:20:06 AM

“It is certain, in any case,” James Baldwin said, “that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”

Today, more than 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, more than 100 years after Wilmington and Tulsa, more than 50 years after the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, more than six years after Ferguson, after Sandra Bland, five years after Mother Emanuel and after Philando Castile, three years after Charlottesville, one year after Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Elijah McClain, months after communities across America exploded in protest – and in some cases rage – America continues to be roiled by ignorance, by divisive conflict and conversation about privilege, power, and marginalization.

Roiled within a supremacist culture that has historically tried to cancel people unlike themselves.

A conversation driven by hateful and right-wing tropes that continue to deny the corrosive persistence of systemic racism and prejudice in America.

Conflict driven by the desire of predominately powerful white and privileged interests that continue – 401 years after white colonialist settlers brought enslaved Africans to Jamestown Colony – to try to deny the legitimate rights and aspirations of communities of color in America, that continue to deny the humanity of people who don’t look like them.

“To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious,” James Baldwin also said, “is to be in a rage almost all the time.”

Fearful not just of loss of their political and economic power but of their right to define – and whitewash – America’s birthing story, these privileged interests are today responding to conflict by trying to criminalize protest and disenfranchise BIPOC – Black, Indigenous and people of color – voters.

Sadly, the siege of sacred space, of the U.S. Capitol, by insurrectionists, by Trump-incited domestic terrorist, and its aftermath, have revealed, once again, the truth of who we are: a nation pursuing the false trope that our universal, common heritage is a white one.

Today, over one month after a white supremacist insurrection at the U.S. Capitol came close to succeeding, we’ve learned that it occurred in spite of the fact that for at least two years, and especially since last September, the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI have been – in spite of attempts of the Trump administration to suppress their data – warned that the greatest threat of domestic terrorism in America was from white supremacism.

Today, over one month later, too many Americans, perhaps fearful of loss of a perceived cultural privilege, are still willing to default to the “innocence” of whiteness and the privileges of power. One can only imagine, for example, how different the response might have been had the insurrectionists been BIPOC.

Descendants of the traders of enslaved peoples, the racists, the Know-Nothings of the 1840s, the America First-ers, the Klan, the Citizens’ Councils, the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys – unrepentant and newly assertive – today find resonance in the Public Square in part because the nascent racism in so many Americans that was exploited and empowered by two malign and evil forces – Rush Limbaugh and Donald Trump.

Last week, when Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered state flags lowered to half staff to honor the late Rush Limbaugh, it was a deliberate affront to many Americans who believe in freedom and justice.

Limbaugh was no Republican, no conservative, no libertarian. He was a racist, misogynist, xenophobic bully who took pleasure from, thrived on, and handsomely profited from taking sadistic pleasure in punching down and exploiting the sick, the poor and the powerless – and his fans reveled in his hatred. Indeed, his racism was so vile I refuse to quote him.

May God have mercy on his soul.

Limbaugh was an ignorant, narcissistic-sociopath talk show host whose popularity facilitated – paved the way for – the rise of an equally ignorant, narcissistic-sociopath, a reality TV host and grifter, and fellow bully, racist, misogynist, and xenophobe.

Today, after insurrection, impeachment, and inauguration, the malign forces of ignorance are unrequited and continue to try to marginalize minority communities and people of color through intimidation and legislation – even proposing new state legislation to suppress voting rights and to criminalize legitimate protest.

Some of those malign forces argue that the 2020 election results were fraudulent and want them canceled. Others attempt, falsely, to conflate last year’s weeks of rage over systemic racism and injustice with the deliberately incited domestic terrorism against the legitimately-elected government of the United States. Others argue that impeachment was unjustified because the president was just exercising free speech.

The Lancet, the British medical journal, recently published an assessment – by comparing the health outcomes of the Trump administration on the novel coronavirus with the weighted average of other G-7 nations – and concluded that 40% of America’s over 500,000 COVID-19 deaths were avoidable.

Sadly – though not surprisingly – Black and Hispanic deaths are disproportionately represented in those totals. They, among so many, for so long, are the truly canceled.

Surely we belong to God, and to Him do we return.

“It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”

Postscript: It’s my understanding that this is the last column I’ll be submitting under the guidance of Opinion Editor Dana Wormald, who is leaving the Concord Monitor on March 3 to lead a new venture in journalism. Good luck, Dana, and many thanks for your support over the past seven years.

(Robert Azzi, a photographer and writer who lives in Exeter, can be reached at His columns are archived at


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