Author and 2014 College graduate Ernest Owens visited Penn to discuss his newly-released book “The Case for Cancel Culture: How This Democratic Tool Works to Liberate Us All” on Feb. 23.
Owens spoke about his experience as a Black and gay Philadelphian and how it inspired him to write his first book during the COVID-19 pandemic to a crowd of about 25 community members at the Penn Bookstore. Owens sat down with The Daily Pennsylvanian to discuss his new book more in depth.
Owens spoke about his journey as a Penn student, award-winning journalist, president of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists, and now, published author.
In discussion of the highlights of his book, Owens said his book supports the notion of cancel culture as a means of allowing equitable discourse. With cancel culture, he said, “those who are the most privileged feel like they are being censored, but, [instead], they have to share space.”
Owens added that cancel culture has become a “dog whistle” term that a range of media personalities and officials — from Barack Obama to Elon Musk to Dave Chappelle — use to keep their voices platformed.
The new book — published on Feb. 21 — has already made headlines. Owens published an op-ed in Rolling Stone entitled “Why Cancel Culture Is Good For Democracy,” and Wall Street Silver posted a screenshot of the title to Twitter. 1997 College and Wharton graduate Elon Musk responded to the tweet, calling cancel culture “blatantly obnoxious,” and writing that the piece partook in “holier-than-thou nagging.”
Owens told the DP that Musk’s response to the headline “has really gotten lots of conversations [going].”
“Those who fear cancel culture may claim they fear suppression of speech. This is freedom of speech. It’s funny because he’s promoting freedom of speech all day long," Owens said. "But somehow when a Black gay millennial is talking, all of a sudden, [he’s] got to stop it. [He’s] got to shame it."
Students expressed enthusiasm about reading Owens' books.
College junior Deirdre Luo told the DP that the publishing of the book was a testament to the capabilities of Penn alumni, and that she was interested in seeing Owens speak further about his work.
2020 College graduate Sharon Messina told the DP that she has been following Ernest’s publications for a while and that she was “really excited” about coming out to support him. Messina added that it is a “very interesting moment for this book,” considering the current social climate surrounding cancel culture.
Owens said that he wanted to emphasize the idea of accountability in discussion of cancel culture.
“I was very intentional that my first book was going to be a book that was intentionally about holding people accountable," Owens said to the audience. "It was intentional about redefining history. That’s my hope."