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(Saphia emerges from a subway station reading Where We Stand: Class Matters.)

SAPHIA: I have very good reason to believe that bell hooks was anti cancel culture.

(Shots of New York City. Saphia walks down the street.)

SAPHIA: There’s one quote in Where We Stand: Class Matters that I keep coming back to, where bell hooks says, “Conversion empowers; judgmental assaults alienate.” Conversion empowers, judgmental assaults alienate. Now, she published this book back in 2000, before we had a concept of cancel culture. But still, when I read this line, I immediately thought of the most obvious way I see judgment playing out in American culture—which is within the phenomenon of cancel culture. 

The word judgment makes me think of the word shame because judgment often elicits shame, and shame is another word bell hooks talks about [in relation to class] when she talks about class shame. She talks about how damaging shame is; how damaging it is to our humanity, to our psyche, and she quotes the book Coming Out of Shame by Gershen Kaufman and Lev Raphael, which says, “Unexamined shame on either the individual or societal level becomes an almost insurmountable obstacle to the realization of inner wholeness and true connection with others, because shame reveals us all as lesser, worthless, deficient—in a word, profoundly and unspeakably inferior.” 

This is so fascinating. bell hooks is talking about shame as an immobilizing force. So, why in the world would we employ it when trying, so we say, to enact change in others? On the other hand, conversion—the process of changing from one state to another, ideally an elevated one—empowers. It’s the opposite of shame; it’s where change happens. But conversion begs the question: Who on earth has the moral high ground to decide what conversions others should undergo? Who among us can really make that call? And what has inspired us all to believe that it is our collective call to make—that cancel culture is the answer? Is it even possible to act with complete moral cleanliness while existing in this world? Are we not all implicated by virtue of existing in this flawed society?

(Saphia stops in front of a sign that reads: Unoppressive Non-Imperialist Bargain Books.)

SAPHIA: We’re here. This is my favorite bookshop in New York. The Unoppressive Non-Imperialist bookshop.

(Saphia walks up to the front. The storefront is vacant and locked up.)

SAPHIA: Oh my god. It’s closed.

(Cut to outro.)