Toxic ideologies need attacking more than changed individuals
Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Op-ed (Published on November 25, 2021)
Author: Dr. RL Booker
Editor: Veronica Mobley
In a 2010 NPR interview with David Davies, former skinhead Frank Meeink talked about his experience in the Aryan Nation. "We would all meet down on South St. and we would drink and get ourselves revved up to go out and do missions. Missions could be anything from spray painting a synagogue, going gay-bashing, homeless bashing, or fighting leftists and that was our comradery. We went out and we did violence...we wanted people to know that we were young, violent, and crazy. I ended up serving three years in prison because my roommate and I kidnapped a guy and beat him for hours."
After he was released from prison, Frank returned to his life as a skinhead but soon realized that his exposure and experiences with diverse inmates helped him understand that all humans were created equal.
As Frank worked to rebuild his life after prison, he volunteered with the Philadelphia Flyers and created a program called Harmony Through Hockey, which gives youth a way to be engaged and stay away from violence. Frank now gives lectures across the country about his life, where he shares strategies to help youth stay away from violence and crime, and how we as a nation can dismantle White Supremacy.
Had we sought to "cancel" Frank after his crime-ridden days, he wouldn't be able to have the influence that he is having when it comes to impacting large numbers of young people. While many people believe that cancel culture has its place, I believe that instead of canceling Frank, we as a society should be focusing on the larger issue of canceling White Supremacy, which is what was fueling Frank's actions.
From the halls of the United States Congress to the podiums of local school board meetings, to the cell phones of the average citizen, we continuously see the call for people to be “canceled” due to a single questionable action. Many folks who scream cancel culture, do not understand how it has been historically intertwined with Black pain, struggle, and the fight for equality.
According to Ann Charity Hudley, Chair of linguistics of African America for the University of California Santa Barbara, canceling is “a survival skill as old as the Southern black use of the boycott.” This could be seen through the Southern Christian Leadership Conference's 1962 program, Operation Breadbasket. This program used the influential power of Black preachers and the church folks who were skilled at organizing to push corporations and businesses to create economic opportunities in Black communities. Dr. King stated that "The fundamental premise of Breadbasket is a simple one. Negroes need not patronize a business which denies them jobs, or advancement [or] plain courtesy". While trying to cancel businesses was unique to the mid-1900s, it was not unique to our country as a whole.
We could assume that the original American cancel culture event was in 1773 when frustrated and angry American colonists dumped three hundred and forty-two chests of tea in the Boston harbor because Great Britain imposed taxation without representation. While both of these forms of cancel culture have been viewed favorably over the years, only time will reveal if our current form of cancel culture is simply working to banish anyone who does not agree with another's stance on a particular issue and if it will be praised in the same way.
In the mid-90s, Frank Meeink did not have to face the cancel culture mob, rather he experienced redemption culture, which held him accountable for his actions and allowed him to grow and evolve into the person that he is today. Nonetheless, White Supremacy, which was the foundation for his actions, still exists in 2021. According to Bryan Stevenson, American Lawyer and founder/executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, "the great evil of American slavery wasn't involuntary servitude, it wasn't forced labor, it was this ideology of White Supremacy this idea that Black people aren't like White people, and we never really addressed that...and because of that, I don't think slavery ended in 1865 it actually evolved."
Many of us will never make mistakes that are similar to others' mistakes, and we don’t have to. We can see someone else's mistakes and learn from them. When people make mistakes there should be some level of mercy and grace afforded in a way where individuals can be held accountable and redeemed. I believe that instead of canceling individuals, we as Americans need to get serious about canceling deeply rooted toxic ideologies within our society. We can start with White Supremacy.
Learn More about Frank's Life Here
Clarion Project. (2020, April 21). The day that change my - Frank Meeink's story - I was radicalized prt 3. [Video]. Youtube. https://youtu.be/ITmPNWL3uWo
Desmond-Harris, J. (2016, February 4). Why is section 4 of the voting rights act such a big part of the fight over voting rights? Vox. https://www.vox.com/culture/2019/12/30/20879720/what-is-cancel-culture-explained-history-debate
Equal Justice Institue. (2017, August 24). EJI featured on the daily show with trevor noah. https://eji.org/news/eji-featured-daily-show-trevor-noah/
History.com. (2020, June 23). Boston Tea Party. https://www.history.com/topics/american-revolution/boston-tea-party
King Institute. (1962, October 23). Operation Breadbasket. Standford University. https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/operation-breadbasket
Martin Luther King, Jr. Papers, 1950–1968, Martin Luther King, Jr., Center for Nonviolent Social Change, Inc., Atlanta, Ga.
NPR. (2010, April 7). A 'recovering skinhead' on leaving hatred behind. https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=125514655
VOA News. (2011, August 24). Alabama City remembered as climactic battle of civil rights movement. [Video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ggUt0gJh9U8