Bart Luirink

Talking #cancelculture

Amid the furore about #cancelculture it may be appropriate to commemorate the outrage that targeted Achille Mbembe, Cameroonian historian and social scientist, and a profound thinker and visionary, earlier this year.

People who equate Mbembe's stance against the occupation of Palestine territories and his support for a boycot of Israel with anti-semitism then campaigned to withdraw his invitation to speak at a cultural festival in Germany. Fortunately, scholars worldwide, among whom, many in Israel, stood with Mbembe. The invitation was not withdrawn, although the festival was ultimately cancelled due to the corona crisis. In this issue Mbembe politely responds to the hate campaign in an interview with René Aguigah for New Frame.

Another story we to tell about ‘cancel culture’ concerns Dr Farid Esack, a South African Muslim, head of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Johannesburg and a former anti-apartheid activist. In 2017, Esack experienced a similar campaign against his integrity after being invited to teach at the University of Hamburg. 

There are many more such stories, told by hundreds of African artists, writers, academics and opinion makers who, refused visas by European consulates, never made it to festivals, fairs, seminars and lectures to which they had been invited. Events that were, ironically, often sponsored by European governments or the EU itself.

‘Cancel culture’ is not new. It has been perpetrated against Africans—and black people generally—for generations. Looking in from the side lines, they are now probably slightly puzzled at the enormous outrage from many who have always been, and often still are, on the cancelling side.