Illustration by Emmalia Godshall for an article on Rihanna
Incorporating multicultural education into our lives can help prevent future mishaps of cultural ignorance. (Illustration by Emmalia Godshall, Columbia University)

Rihanna, Cancel Culture and Multicultural Education

Should the singer and business woman be de-platformed for her most recent offense against the Muslim community, or is ‘canceling’ no longer the right path to take?

Thoughts x
Illustration by Emmalia Godshall for an article on Rihanna

Should the singer and business woman be de-platformed for her most recent offense against the Muslim community, or is ‘canceling’ no longer the right path to take?

After using a song deemed offensive by the Muslim community in a Savage x Fenty lingerie fashion show, Rihanna has ignited mass controversy and has been heavily criticized by not only critics, but also her supporters. The song “Doom,” by French producer Coucou Chloe, included a remix of a vocalized Islamic hadith, read by Mishary Rashid. Hadiths, defined as collected traditions of the Prophet Muhammad and based on his sayings and actions, are highly revered as a source of guidance by Muslims.

In light of public scandals of this magnitude, the question that always arises is whether or not the public should withdraw all social and material support of the offender, or in other words, “cancel” them.

While some social media users were firm on wanting to hold Rihanna accountable and remove her from the massive platform she has created, other users opted to show mercy, arguing that her frequent vocal stances on diversity were sufficient to allow for some “minor” mistakes to be forgiven.

Twitter user @Sarah_x786 expressed her disdain toward Rihanna while also insisting that the public must cancel her.

However, users like @ruqaiya_h were more lenient: “Rihanna’s apology to Muslims regarding the Savage x Fenty show using a song that sampled hadith. Considering that Fenty is a brand that prides itself on diversity, it seems like an honest mistake, as I said yesterday lol.”

Following the immense public backlash, Rihanna posted an apology on Instagram and Twitter in which she called the use of the offensive song “a careless mistake.” She further went on to affirm her solidarity with the Muslim community and took accountability for her and her team’s mistake.

In her apology, she wrote, “We understand that we have hurt many of our Muslim sisters and brothers, and I’m incredibly disheartened by this. I do not play with any kind of disrespect toward God or any religion and therefore the use of this song in our project was completely irresponsible!”

It is important to note that Rihanna has disrespected Islam before. In 2013, Rihanna was asked to leave Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque after uploading images from a photo shoot to her Instagram. Despite the fact that she was wearing appropriate modest Islamic dress, her poses were considered lewd and did “not match the sacred status” of the mosque.

Why Cancel Culture Doesn’t Really End Careers

To understand whether or not one should de-platform Rihanna, one first must understand the origins of cancel culture and the way it is currently practiced by the public.

Recent social justice movements such as #MeToo have given rise to conversations that demand and even force accountability from famous public figures.

There have been major cancellations of sexual predators, such as Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and Louis C.K., as well as smaller cancellations of people such as Kendall Jenner for participating in a tone-deaf Pepsi commercial. Cancel culture has affected countless celebrities with varying results.

The cancel culture movement was bolstered with positive intentions that included obtaining justice for wronged victims, but it is now regarded negatively due to the public’s mob mentality that often attacks first and understands the complexities of situations later.

It has been especially criticized in the case of famous influencers who, after posting morally questionable things as minors, face the repercussions years after they become notable. Thus, cancel culture typically disregards room for growth and removes the possibility of redemption.

However, when one actually examines cancel culture, one can see that its social consequences are lackluster. Many celebrities who are “canceled” face few actual repercussions for their actions or comments.

Public figures such as Kevin Hart, Kim Kardashian and Justin Trudeau have all confronted public outrage concerning their previous actions. Despite the public outcry against them, their careers, their wallets and even their public image are thriving. For every R. Kelly, whose career in music is now virtually nonexistent, there is a Kevin Hart, who, after refusing to apologize for previous homophobic comments, earned $59 million in 2019.

So, Should We Cancel Rihanna?

To ensure that I am not speaking over the Muslim community, which has been deeply offended by her actions, I will leave that answer to you. However, I do believe that there is an alternative to the woes of cancel culture that will prevent future disrespect from occurring — multicultural education.

This is with the assumption that in Rihanna’s case, she and her team would have not chosen that song or taken sultry photos at the Mosque if they were properly exposed to the workings of Islamic culture and understood the relevance of the hadiths and modesty in Islam.

Multicultural education, which refers to “any form of education or teaching that incorporates the histories, texts, values, beliefs, and perspectives of people from different cultural backgrounds,” is best suited for the prevention of this situation in the future.

Perhaps it is wishful thinking to believe that as the public is exposed to more diversity, there would be fewer people making ignorant mistakes that deeply hurt other communities. However, as I examine public scandals, I cannot deny that ignorance, rather than blatant disrespect, plays a part in many of the offenses, and the only way to rid someone of ignorance is to educate them.

There will likely be many that doubt the efficacy of multicultural education to prevent future grievances such as these. Many people believe that the duty to educate should not be placed upon the offended, but rather on the offender. I do somewhat agree, but the issue itself should not be divided between “offender” and “offended.”

The public should try to foster a community in which multicultural education becomes commonplace and allows for conversation on complex cultural topics. Cancel culture has proven time and time again that it is only effective for a very brief amount of time before the scandal is dropped for a newer one. The celebrity rarely sees substantial consequences, and likely apologizes in fear without understanding the significance of their actions, leading to further cultural infractions in the future. A discourse that promotes multicultural education may very well be the only way to prevent future cultural mishaps.

There is also the counterargument that people can be educated on other cultures but still choose to be insensitive and demeaning. In these situations, I would say that de-platforming is the best solution, as a lack of remorse and an unwillingness to change are worrying characteristics of a person with influence. Regarding a person who is stuck in their own racist, homophobic ways as an equal to the person who makes mistakes but has a mindset of future growth is a complete disservice to the latter.

It is important to note that justice centered around rehabilitation is much easier in a situation such as Rihanna’s. The use of the remixed song in a fashion show is not a serious crime and should not be treated in the same likeness as sexual assault, harassment or murder. Justice for the victims of serious crimes should always be prioritized with the de-platforming of all celebrities who participated in and enabled the crime. Education is not the priority when the law is involved.

If you choose to cancel Rihanna for this mistake, then it is well within your right to do so. However, realize that canceling does not mean de-platforming, but a temporary public outcry that rarely results in any substantial consequences.

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