AOC Says Cancel Culture Doesn’t Exist. Here’s Why She’s Wrong

New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, better known as AOC, is no stranger to controversy, so it’s not a surprise that she took a controversial stance on the recent letter condemning cancel culture published in Harper’s Magazine.

By Meghan Dillon3 min read
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This letter began with a powerful statement. It says, “Our cultural institutions are facing a moment of trial. Powerful protests for racial and social justice are leading to overdue demands for police reform, along with wider calls for greater equality and inclusion across our society, not least in higher education, journalism, philanthropy, and the arts. But this needed reckoning has also intensified a new set of moral attitudes and political commitments that tend to weaken our norms of open debate and toleration of differences in favor of ideological conformity. As we applaud the first development, we also raise our voices against the second.”

The letter was signed by some of the most famous living authors, like Margaret Atwood and J.K. Rowling. It was also signed by several college professors and famous journalists, including former New York Times opinion editor Bari Weiss.

Ocasio-Cortez didn’t agree with the letter. She responded by tweeting

Instead of Ocasio-Cortez proving her point that cancel culture doesn’t exist, her statement shows the toxicity that abounds, the entitlement of those who are for cancel culture, and why the Harper’s letter was written in the first place.

AOC Proves Having Social Clout Can Save You from the Cancel Mob

There are a few problems with Ocasio-Cortez’s tweet. The first is that she simply doesn’t understand cancel culture by claiming that those who criticize it are entitled. It’s not just public figures who get canceled. There’s a difference between pundits attempting to cancel Ocasio-Cortez for not being progressive enough (an article in Politico attempted this a few months ago) and the average person who gets fired for doing something politically incorrect. 

As a public figure, Ocasio-Cortez has the social clout to defend herself, unlike Emmanuel Cafferty, a truck driver from California who was fired from his job for making an "alleged racist hand gesture" near a Black Lives Matter rally. Cafferty, who is Mexican-American, retains his innocence and claims he was cracking his knuckles and didn’t know that the “okay” hand sign was considered a hate symbol.

There’s a difference between canceling a criminal and canceling someone who tweeted something stupid 10 years ago. 

Something similar happened in 2019 when Carson King, a security guard from Iowa, held up a sign asking for beer money on an ESPN pregame show. After he raised a million dollars and donated it to a children’s hospital, he was offered an advertising deal with Anheuser-Busch for his good deed. This changed when problematic tweets from 2012 — when King was 16 years old — resurfaced, and Anheuser-Busch let him go. His good deed didn’t matter because he tweeted something stupid when he was in high school. The contrast is as clear as day — Cafferty and King didn’t have the clout to save themselves, while Ocasio-Cortez did.

Ocasio-Cortez’s response to Harper’s letter further proves why the letter was written in the first place. There’s a difference between canceling a criminal and/or predator like Harvey Weinstein and canceling someone who tweeted something “problematic” 10 years ago. 

AOC Views Cancel Culture as Just “Having Values”

Ocasio-Cortez’s tweet ironically makes her come across as entitled. Kaylee McGhee of The Washington Examiner agrees. In her response to Ocasio-Cortez’s tweet, McGhee wrote, “No one is entitled to a platform, just as no one is entitled to a particular job. But we are entitled to basic respect and decency, both of which disappear as soon as the online mob catches a scent. There is a way to hold individuals accountable while showing them that respect, but that is often done outside of the public eye through the proper channels.”

No one is entitled to a platform. But we are entitled to basic respect and decency.

This shouldn’t be a surprise because Ocasio-Cortez has praised cancel culture before. At a Bernie Sanders rally in 2019, she said, “For anyone who accuses us for instituting purity tests — it’s called having values. It’s called giving a damn. It’s called having standards for your conduct to not be funded by billionaires but to be funded by the people.” 

This implies that those she disagrees with or those who take a different stance than she does don’t have values and shouldn’t be taken seriously. AOC’s statement doesn’t only perpetuate cancel culture but also a strong sense of entitlement.

Other Politicians and Celebrities Alike Have Rightly Criticized Cancel Culture

Luckily, Ocasio-Cortez seems to be in a minority when it comes to political figures perpetuating cancel culture. However, there are prominent figures in both the Democrat and the Republican parties who have spoken out about the negative realities of cancel culture. Former Governor of South Carolina and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley wrote an op-ed condemning cancel culture. And former President Barack Obama has taken a similar stance. He said, "That's not activism. That's not bringing about change. if all you're doing is casting stones, you're probably not going to get that far. That's easy to do."

If we judged everyone in our society by a standard of moral purity, everyone would get canceled.

Actress and activist Jameela Jamil is an outspoken advocate against cancel culture, calling it a "pointless waste of time." During an appearance on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, she makes an excellent point on how cancel culture prevents us from growing and becoming better people. Human beings are complex, and nobody is morally pure. If we judged everyone in our society by a standard of moral purity, everyone would get canceled, and no progress would be made.

Ocasio-Cortez’s comments on cancel culture are the exact reason why the Harper’s letter was written. She fails to recognize that cancel culture is more than calling out someone for making a mistake. It leads to a mob mentality to publically shame others and ruins any chance of a conversation, debate, or chance to find common ground. It erases civil discourse, which is essential to having a healthy democracy.

Cancel culture is bad for society at large. If it was about holding people accountable, it wouldn’t result in this kind of backlash or in innocent people getting fired. And it definitely wouldn’t result in the Harper’s letter.

Closing Thoughts

Cancel culture is real, toxic, and dangerous. Politicians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez denying the existence of cancel culture only furthers the problem and makes it difficult to have civil discourse. Cancel culture is something that sounds like it comes from a dystopian novel and should stay that way. It has no place in a democratic, free society.