Cancel ‘Cancel Culture’

If you had to be honest with yourself, as a brand-owner or entrepreneur with a public platform, do your actions towards inclusivity feel performative or authentic? 

The Cancel Culture Climate

We are living in a reactive and overtly public digital age where brands cannot afford to miss the mark on cultural and political sensitivities because they will be at risk of being publicly reprimanded by a global audience. At this moment in time, an individual’s personal political opinions can also affect the success rate of any brand they are affiliated with. Depending on the weight of a brand’s oversights, such lack of awareness can lead to a company or founder being completely canceled, with retailers ending long-term partnerships and formerly loyal customers boycotting products within seconds. Who can forget the 2018 debacle, in which former fashion icon Mira Duma was dropped as co-founder from clothing brand The Tot after she posted a racially inappropriate rap lyric to her social media platform. Or when beauty company Glossier lost 60,000 followers after 50 employees shared allegations of racism and mistreatment. While this ‘cancel culture’ climate has fueled companies to take necessary action towards inclusion and diversity, it is worth analyzing whether business owners are executing these actions out of fear or genuine care of a cause.

Inconsideration of Inclusivity and its Impact

Let me start by sharing that the disparity lies within how surface-level one’s efforts remain. Let’s take inclusivity in the beauty industry as our primary example. In today’s age, if you launch a range of foundations that only cater to fairer complexions and fail to accurately represent deeper skin tones, you will likely be called out on a public social platform. A brand-owner driven by fear of ‘cancel culture’ will usually fixate on the number of shades offered in the product range. How can that be a superficial point of focus, you may be wondering? The question that begs to be asked is how the brand landed on the final shade range offered in the collection. Did the brand engage a diverse set of beauty consumers who were able to share their experiences and feedback on the intended concept, or was the collection merely a result of researching the number of shades required to claim the largest collection in the beauty industry?

Communicating with beauty enthusiasts of certain ethnic groups is most definitely an authenticity metric if a brand is claiming to provide solutions for those demographics. For example, it is unfortunately commonplace for a brand to simply add darker foundation shades without consulting Black beauty consumers. Honest product reviews reveal that some formulas intended for Black complexions appear ashy once applied on the skin. This analysis begs one to question how involved Black beauty consumers actually were in the process of a brand’s product development and whether the formulas were tested on a range of individuals in this complexion group.

Your Approach Towards Navigating Cancel Culture 

The pressure of getting canceled may be the driver for brands to amend their approach towards diversity, however, authentic impact can only be reached by diving deeper into the core. Beyond shade ranges and campaigns, I encourage brands to reflect on the leadership teams within a company structure. When we are surrounded by individuals of our same gender, age or racial profile, we are far more susceptible to making unintentional oversights that may offend different community groups. This would result in viewing our decisions from a homogenous lens, weakening our ability to flag ideologies that may come off as offensive or insensitive to others. The solution lies in orchestrating diverse teams that create safe spaces for contrastingly unique perspectives. Implementing a multi-dimensional approach to decision-making prevents ‘cancelable’ concepts from ever being approved in the first place.

The digital age we are currently operating in can truly feel unforgiving at times. As the founder of a beauty brand myself, I can empathize with all business leaders trying their best to navigate the weight of decision-making in this current climate. My brand recently got called out on social media, by one user, for not posting about the detrimental effects of the floods in Pakistan. This social media user tagged multiple South Asian owned brands that had not utilized their platform to speak up about what was happening. I understood where the disappointment was coming from and instantly messaged the individual from my brand account. We thanked her for calling us out because it showed us her passion for a cause that truly deserved more attention and we notified her that we had been researching the legitimacy of various charity organizations before sharing where to donate on our platforms. Instead of being defensive to her response, we ended up forming an alliance and encouraged her to share resources with us since she was ahead in her research. I personally resonate with ‘call-out culture’ far more than ‘cancel culture’, as you can effectively get a point across without the aggression that cancelation embodies. An accountability approach that allows for a second chance would remove fear as the main motivator for our actions. I truly believe that the more we can encourage critical thinking and welcoming multiple viewpoints on a high level, the more equipped we will feel in an increasingly opinionated modern world. 

January 10, 2023 — Aleena Khan
Tags: Articles