Some Public Figures Now Regret Signing Harper’s Open Letter Against ‘Cancel Culture’

Others explained on Twitter why they did not sign the letter when initially approached

Jenny Boylan Harper's
Author Jenny Boylan (left) / Getty Images/Harper's

Some signatories of Tuesday’s 150-strong public letter decrying the rising “intolerance of opposing views” are distancing themselves from it while others say that they were asked to sign before the letter was published in Harper’s, but declined.

“I did not know who else had signed that letter. I thought I was endorsing a well meaning, if vague, message against internet shaming.  I did know Chomsky, Steinem, and Atwood were in, and I thought, good company,” tweeted author Jenny Boylan late Tuesday. “The consequences are mine to bear. I am so sorry.”

Boylan, who is trans, did not name the signatory she had issues with, but likely was referring “Harry Potter” scribe J.K. Rowling, who has criticized for making transphobic comments last month.

Historian Kerri Greenidge tweeted, “I do not endorse this @Harpers letter,” and asked her name to be removed (it has been). Her tweets are protected, so a further explanation of her objection was not publicly available.

However, her sister Kaitlyn Greenidge said that Kerri did not consent to her name being added, writing, “a colleague in a professional org my sis belongs to added my sister’s name without her consent.” A Harper’s representative told the New York Times that the publication had checked all the signatures and that Dr. Greenidge had signed off.

Author, professor and former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich disagreed with its message and declined to sign, explaining, “I declined to sign the Harper’s letter because Trumpism, racism, xenophobia, and sexism have had such free rein and baleful influence in recent years that we should honor and respect the expressions of anger and heartache finally being heard.”

Others predicted the online backlash before the letter was even published and declined to sign.

“Okay, I did not sign THE LETTER when I was asked 9 days ago because I could see in 90 seconds that it was fatuous, self-important drivel that would only troll the people it allegedly was trying to reach — and I said as much,” tweeted HuffPost enterprise director Richard Kim.

“I could honestly see how someone spent the same amount of time considering it and signed it because some of those words look good (free speech!) and hey a friend is asking. People make mistakes & that’s how social circles work,” Kim explained. “But what I don’t get are the smaller group of people who obviously painstakingly labored over those words and released them with great seriousness and pride and high fives. That hubris is truly what makes this a deliciously funny moment.”

A Harper’s spokesperson asked to comment on the process by which the letter came about directed TheWrap to a contributing editor who did not immediately respond to requests for clarification.

Tuesday’s signees wrote that the “needed reckoning” regarding racial and social justice “has also intensified a new set of moral attitudes and political commitments that tend to weaken our norms of open debate and toleration of differences in favor of ideological conformity.”

The letter quickly drew pushback from other commentators online, with some questioning why these intellectuals chose to write a lofty letter that offered no solutions or pointing out the irony of prominent writers speaking out about “cancel culture” from a prominent platform.