President Obama advocates for canceling cancel culture: "People who do really good stuff have flaws"

"This idea of purity . . . and you're politically woke and all that stuff — you should get over that quickly"

Published October 31, 2019 12:27PM (EDT)

 (Getty/Sean Gallup)
(Getty/Sean Gallup)

Former President Barack Obama criticized “call out culture” as bad activism as he addressed the Obama Foundation summit Tuesday in Chicago.

Acknowleding that the world is a "messy” place, Obama said he senses many young people who use social media believe “the way of making change is to be as judgemental as possible about other people.”

"If I tweet or hashtag about how you didn't do something right or used the wrong verb, then I can sit back and feel pretty good about myself," the former president said. "Because 'Man, did you see how woke I was? I called you out.'"

He added, "This idea of purity, and you're never compromised, and you're politically woke and all that stuff — you should get over that quickly. The world is messy. There are ambiguities. People who do really good stuff have flaws."

The term “woke” is used to refer to being aware of racial, economic, gender-based and the myriad of other forms of social discrimination which exist. The term has been used by some critics to characterize what they perceive as an uncompromising and unforgiving attitude among so-called “social justice warriors.”

This is not the first time Obama has criticized what he has laid out as the excesses of youthful leftists. In 2015, the former president shared a similar observation when discussing campus activism with ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos.

“Being a good citizen, being an activist, involves hearing the other side and making sure that you are engaging in a dialogue because that’s also how change happens,” Obama told Stephanopoulos. “The civil rights movement happened because there was civil disobedience, because people were willing to go to jail, because there were events like Bloody Sunday, but it was also because the leadership of the movement consistently stayed open to the possibility of reconciliation and sought to understand the views, even views that were appalling to them, of the other side.”

Obama also told Stephanopoulos that he encouraged his college-age daughters to listen to various points of view.

“I tell them, 'I want you also to be able to listen,'” Obama said at the time. “I don’t want you to think that a display of your strength is simply shutting other people up and that part of your ability to bring about change is going to be by engagement and understanding the viewpoints and the arguments of the other side.”

You can watch Obama's remarks below via ATTN


By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a professional writer whose work has appeared in multiple national media outlets since 2012 and exclusively at Salon since 2016. He specializes in covering science and history, and is particularly passionate about climate change, animal science, disability rights, plastic pollution and a wide range of political issues. He has interviewed many prominent figures (reflecting his diverse interests) including President Jimmy Carter (1977-1981), Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak (1999-2001), animal scientist and autism activist Temple Grandin, inventor Ernő Rubik, epidemiologist Monica Gandhi, theoretical cosmologist Janna Levin, mRNA vaccine pioneer Katalin Karikó, philosopher of science Vinciane Despret, actor George Takei ("Star Trek"), Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Lieberman (2000), Ambassador Michael McFaul (2012-2014), economist Richard Wolff, director Kevin Greutert ("Saw VI"), model Liskula Cohen, actor Rodger Bumpass ("SpongeBob Squarepants"), Senator John Hickenlooper (2021-present), American Public Health Association Executive Director Georges Benjamin (2002-present), comedian Bill Burr ("F Is for Family"), comedian David Cross ("Scary Movie 2") and right-wing insurrectionist Roger Stone.

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Activism All Salon Barack Obama Cancel Culture George Stephanopoulos News & Politics Politics Woke Culture