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Opinion | Let’s Have Fewer Cancellations. Let People Take Their Lumps, Then Move On.

Opinion | Let’s Have Fewer Cancellations. Let People Take Their Lumps, Then Move On.
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I recommend Walker’s “The Temple of My Familiar,” a book that left me ashamed of being a man and yet wanting to read it again. Reid’s career as a broadcaster outweighs any parochial views about gay people she now disavows. I’d happily see Rashad in acting roles forever, despite my disappointment in her take on Cosby. I, frankly, wouldn’t vote for Omar but accept that voters in her district see things differently.

We know, certainly, there are situations where people other than Black women have avoided cancellation. Dave Chappelle comes to mind. My point, again, is that some degree of grace is called for in most cases — for the college professor who says something impolitic in class and the historical figure whose words are appalling now but were consistent with his times.

We need to rethink the entire practice of treating unpretty sentiments as if they summed up anyone’s life or work, whether you’re talking about a political titan or a contemporary celebrity. That Thomas Jefferson was an enslaver and thought of Black people as inferior is a sad aspect of his totality, and his hypocrisy on race should be noted. But it doesn’t negate all else he accomplished, including drafting the Declaration of Independence, a document that guides and governs our very way of life.

Back to O’Connor and the racism that has caused some to reconsider her work. Yes, she used the N-word freely in letters and wrote, “About the Negroes, the kind I don’t like is the philosophizing prophesying pontificating kind, the James Baldwin kind. Very ignorant but never silent.” It reflects a bigotry and a parochialism not unlike Dunbar’s. (And she’s just wrong about Baldwin.) But that doesn’t dilute the brilliance or literary value of a story such as her “Parker’s Back.” And it won’t work to claim that the difference between O’Connor and Dunbar is that his objectionable remarks were intra-Black. By today’s woke standards, wouldn’t classism tinged with racism be an intersectional double whammy? If there’s room to look beyond his flaws, O’Connor should get the same treatment.

One more: The biologist E.O. Wilson, who died last year, faced accusations of racism, a charge that continues to be explored. One article describes an epistolary cordiality with the Canadian psychologist J. Philippe Rushton, who had openly racist views about Black people. In one such letter, Wilson reportedly praised Rushton’s paper arguing that “Black and non-Black people pursue different reproductive strategies.” That’s far from ideal, but even less ideal is any sense that this aspect of Wilson must be ongoingly considered amid our assessment of his pioneering genius. I was knocked out by his book “Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge,” about the progress of our understanding of the world, and considering how he may have felt about Black people would have been quite irrelevant to the experience.



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