Early this morning, Canadian R&B singer Daniel Caesar very likely woke up to a big bowl of “Yikes” for breakfast. Overnight, a video recording from an Instagram Live stream he made spread across the internet like wildfire, engulfing social media in the flames of outrage, with Daniel himself as the target. In the video, he tries to defend his problematic friend YesJulz, who once again found herself at the center of racial controversy, but he quickly veered into some pretty accusatory dialogue of his own.
After wondering why “Black people are being mean to Julz,” he expanded the line of questioning to include white people in general, saying that Black people can’t take a joke and basically accusing us of being reactionary and sensitive. It follows a line of thought that often crops up when a celebrity or public figure is being grilled on social media, a worry that “cancel culture” has gone too far, that the rhetoric of vilification is more harmful than whatever toxic comments or behaviors the original speaker made or engaged in.
Of course, people took that condemnation about as well as you’d expect, lining up Daniel for cancelation himself. Within hours, Twitter was deluged in missives decrying everything from his comments to his music to the gap in his teeth. To be fair, he expected the backlash, brashly challenging viewers on his live stream to “cancel me.” It seems they’ve taken him up on his offer in spades. However, as with any situation involving controversy online, some have come to his defense, wondering whether there is at least a nugget of truth to his words and just why Twitter is constantly canceling folks, to begin with.
First off, let’s ask: Why did Daniel Caesar, a 23-year-old, Oshawa, Ontario, Canada-born, Seventh Day Adventist-raised singer feel the need to weigh in on American racial politics in the first place? Let’s be fair, here — social media has made “experts” and pundits out of all of us, even in areas we have no business spending our two cents. It should be pretty clear from the jump that Daniel doesn’t have the proper context to address the complexity of race issues in America, but that social media gave him a platform to voice his underinformed opinion — he doesn’t really deserve to be punished for that.
He does, however, need to be held accountable — as does anyone with a similar platform who says or does things that advance or propagate harmful narratives that have real-world consequences. Let’s look at another example of a celebrity sticking his proverbial foot in his mouth and how his words and deeds spiraled into a direction he never intended them to go because he lacked the education and intent to keep them from doing so: Kanye West. Remember last year’s Kanye cancel-fest that began with his appearances in a Make America Great Again hat and ended with a bizarre, embarrassing trip to the White House?