Hamas, What Killed Michael Brown & Cancel Culture
It has been three years to date since “What Killed Michael Brown?” was first canceled and then subsequently released. I had planned to write on what it felt like to have the film canceled by Amazon when I was accused of hypocrisy for supporting the “cancelling” of the 34 Harvard organizations and its students that pledged solidarity with Hamas. We live a time where everything changes with lightning speed, especially our culture wars, and I had to stop for a moment and wonder if I was indeed being hypocritical.
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For those of you who don’t know, on October 7, mere hours after over a thousand Israelis were slain with gratuitous barbarism — babies beheaded, women raped then shot, families burned to death — 34 Harvard organizations signed a letter that held the "Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence" and that "the apartheid regime is the only one to blame." In this perverted, upside down world, Hamas were the freedom fighters and the dead deserved their brutal deaths because of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians.
The backlash to these signatories was swift. Bill Ackman, Harvard alum and founder of Pershing Square Capital Management, demanded that his university release the names of the members of the organizations that signed the letter. His aim to was to “insure that none of us (CEOs) inadvertently hire any of their members.” Over a dozen CEOs signed on with Ackman’s efforts, including the CEO of Sweetgreen who wrote, “I would like to know (who these students are) so I know to never hire these people.”
Debates waged on social media over whether this “cancellation” campaign was the right way forward. The Right was divided over this issue. Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy said on X (Twitter) that the students were “dead wrong” but that it was not “productive to hunt down individual members of college student groups for the purpose of blacklisting them.” Megyn Kelly, host of The Megyn Kelly Show, countered: “We don’t hire those who do the killing and we don’t hire those who applaud the killers while the savagery is underway.” Candace Owens of Dailywire then joined the fray, calling Kelly’s argument “incredibly disingenuous” before saying: “You know that many of those students are not out there because they want babies to be murdered.”
I came down on the side of Ackman and Kelly in several private conversations and to my surprise one of my friends said to me, “your film was cancelled and now you want to turn around and cancel these students?” I had not explicitly said that these students should be cancelled but that there should be consequences for supporting terror while the bodies of hundreds of Jews remained undiscovered. These Harvard students had showed no empathy and would I want to employ students of this nature? No.
However, the charge of cancellation against me gave me pause. As a believer in free speech I do not believe in cancel culture. There seems to be a bad case of myopia within our culture wars where every new catchphrase defines everything as if there was nothing before. Before cancel culture there was moral judgment, and I believe there are profound and fundamental differences between these two forms of judgment.
Cancel culture is a phrase that came into being in our culture wars to refer to the act of cancelling a person if their views did not conform to the prevailing ideology of the moment. When “What Killed Michael Brown?” was canceled by Amazon it was because our views did not conform to the Black Lives Matter ideology that had taken America by the neck when our film was released. The woke wanted no objections to their long, ideological march through our institutions and our film represented an inconvenient truth that had to be erased from public view. Thankfully, my father had a high enough of a profile to warrant the media (WSJ) backlash that saved the film. If it had been just me, a nobody with no star power, that had made the film, Amazon might have succeeded in marginalizing the film.
However, when a person or organization endorses a terror group that yelled, “Die Israel!” during the attack, we are no longer within the ideological realm of cancel culture. We’re within the universal realm of actual morality, the timeless ethics of right versus wrong, good versus evil. This morality requires that one draw a line somewhere and say, “I am not like them.” When one objects to the Harvard organizations and students endorsing Hamas and its charter of annihilating the Jews of Israel, one is making a moral judgment. One is compelled to since morality must have a bottom, a line we cannot cross, or we descend into a free fall where everything is justified, even the beheading of a baby.
Despite all of this, there is some good news. Several Harvard organizations that originally signed the letter have since retracted their signatures and our grace should be extended to them:
Would these organizations done so if there was no moral outrage to pull them back from the ideological world into reality? Likely not. That is why holding onto our morality is our only hope, our only strength during these uncertain times. I know this because during my grandparents’ time it was the white segregationists that were the ideologues. It was the morality of my grandparents and countless of other Americans that eventually broke down their ideology of racial superiority. This same battle has played out throughout humanity in various forms and the battle we face today is no different.
All my best,