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How Long Ago is Long Enough? Or, Is the Answer “Never”?

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How Long Ago is Long Enough? Or, Is the Answer "Never"?

The American social sphere has undeniably become more inclusive and tolerant over the past several decades, with respect to women, racial and ethnic minorities, religious minorities, gays and lesbians and—most recently and still evolving—transgender individuals.

It’s probably not surprising that we at InclusionINC find this trend to be extremely positive, and not just for the individuals who fall into the categories we mentioned who are increasingly able to have their voices and perspectives heard and respected. We have long argued that being inclusive of diversity is a business imperative and that inclusion is for everyone.

The “Cancel Culture”

But, at the same time, we’ve seen greater and greater support for historically marginalized groups, we’ve also seen the growth of what many are calling “cancel culture.” Cancel culture, also sometimes called “call-out culture” refers to boycotting or calling for the removal of a person—typically a celebrity—for unpopular or questionable opinions, actions or statements, often from the relatively distant past. High-profile examples include Kevin Hart being pushed to step down as the host of the 2018 Oscars for past homophobic tweets and Roseanne Barr’s removal from the much-hyped Roseanne reboot in response to racist tweets about former Obama aide Valerie Jarrett.

And it isn’t always famous people who find themselves “canceled.” Recently Iowa State University football fan Carson King made headlines after he was shown on TV displaying a sign asking for donations for his “Busch Light Supply” and providing his Venmo account. The image, and King’s subsequent announcement that he would be donating all the funds received to a local children’s hospital went viral, with Iowa’s governor, Venmo and Busch Light all offering financial and publicity support to King.

King was seen as a compassionate hero, beloved by all, until Des Moines Register reporter Aaron Calvin wrote a September 24 feature on King revealing two eight-year-old racist tweets he sent when he was in high school. The story caused a furor, with many coming to the defense of King. Ultimately, Twitter users were able to dig up previous offensive tweets from Calvin himself, who was subsequently fired by the Register.

How Far is Far Enough?

These examples beg some obvious questions: has cancel culture gone too far?

Does true diversity and inclusion require aggressively suppressing offensive opinions that disparage traditionally marginalized groups? Or does it require giving space to content many or most find offensive and hurtful? How far in the past is far enough to let bygones be bygones? Is anything ever far enough in the past? These are important questions that companies are increasingly wrestling with. If they’re not, they should be.

How would you respond if a high-profile employee, or any employee for that matter, was found to have something in their past that was abhorrent to your company and your culture?

Related: Addressing Barriers in the War for Talent

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