Call Out Culture and Calling Out

I’m going to call you out. I’m going to say what’s bugging me and I’m going to give some serious fucks when you tell me I’m being too sensitive or missing the point. I’m not calling you out like Flavia Dzoden so rightfully critiqued over on Tiger Beatdown. No, I’m calling you out because you’re a fool. Beause you need to get on the bus acknowledging whatever privilege you suffer from that makes you think it’s okay to dress up as something racist or tell me some joke about assault.

But it’s going to be difficult for me to do it to your face. Within the sphere of socially conscience bloggers, writers have come to expect a call out or two. Sometimes these call outs are problematic, sometimes they are helpful, but they are part of blogosphere culture so I have a plan when some bro posts a picture of himself in blackface on tumblr or when I think someone has forgotten their privilege. I don’t have the same plan when I’m going through my day. I don’t have the same backup I’d have when a troll whines, “But I’m a nice guy(â„¢)!”

Because here’s the thing: I don’t want to come across as an asshole. I don’t want to rock the boat at work. I don’t want to have my friendships or career put on the line because I know certain things to be wrong.

Let’s learn a lesson from two places where call outs are expected and accepted: academia and the blogosphere. This cartoon describes the academic call outs, otherwise known as the peer-review process.

cartoon by Nearing Zero; via Sociological Images

Notice how fraught with danger it is. Notice how you expect to have people say you are wrong. Academia is a culture that understands having to justify your existence because that is how research progresses. You find a gap, a hole, a wrong assumption, and move a discipline forward. This is something academia does well. This image could also apply to the social justice blogosphere – people are ready to take you down and they will.

But here’s the thing: it’s preaching to the choir. It is an acceptable part of both these cultures. How do we take the leap from preaching to the blogosphere/academic choir to the real world, where not everyone has read bell hooks and Judith Butler. What are the strategies for calling out so that doing so has a degree of impact and pushes us into a better form of politics.

1. Have a sense of humor: I graduated from the school of Jon Stewart and if there’s one thing he tells us, it’s that delivering critique with a wink has an impact.

2. Just say it: Don’t beat around the bush. Don’t passive-aggressively send progressive articles to the person who is being racist or sexist or straight up dude-bro rude. “I’m sorry, but you’re being (insert “ist” thing here),” is the best way to put it.

3. Keep the conversation going in the blogosphere: Even though it is preaching to the choir, these conversations have an impact. Keep them going, but do it kindly.

4. Walk away: Once you say it, once you crack the joke, be willing to walk away. There is no getting through to some people, but you’ve said your piece and sometimes that has to be good enough.

5. Whatever you do, don’t be pretentious: Related to #2, don’t bother quoting your favorite philosopher of the day. Doing so is not going to endear you to the idiot who told a rape joke and second, it is not clear. More power to you for undersanding the theory, but leave it at the door when calling out.

How do you let people know they are doing something problematic?

By [E] Sally Lawton

My food groups are cheese, bacon, and hot tea. I like studying cities and playing with my cat, Buffy.

12 replies on “Call Out Culture and Calling Out”

I think another important thing to remember is you need to be aware when to drop the issue for the moment.  I bring it up every time I hear it with friends and family (especially) but I also have to know when to drop the issue because no matter how joking I am, or how sensitive I am to their poor, privileged feelings they’ll eventually begin to tune me out.  I don’t give up on the fight, I just count it as a battle in the middle of a war (to use the best metaphor I can come up with right now).

I was thinking about this more last night, and it’s related to #4 – I know that sometimes (even often) I’m not going to have any kind of productive conversation that feels satisfying to me with the person, but I remind myself that it may not be the only conversation they ever have about the matter and eventually it may start to dawn on them. A few weeks ago I called two people out for using “he-she” and some other really problematic transphobic language; one of them eventually said she didn’t realize it was offensive, while the other argued the whole time and then shook his head and said he wasn’t going to stop using those words. So that was that, but I’m hopeful that this won’t be the last time someone calls him out on it and if he hears about it over and over eventually it might start to sink in. And at least I know I’ve done what I could about it, even if it doesn’t look like much.

oooo…I love #’s 5 and 2!  I often hear people try to correct others by making analogies, quoting some moral authority or some book they had to read for class.  Agree, that is not effective and moves the discussion to one of “I’m smarter than you” instead of racist/sexist/anti-gay is unacceptable.  Hooray for SSP for giving us a few easy tips of engagement.  We can all complain about ugliness we encounter, few give us clear ideas about how/what/whether to do anything about it.  Gracias!

I’m pretty open about calling people out on the Internet (Tumblr, especially), but I do it in real life, too. I have no problem saying, “Hey, did you know that what you just said is pretty racist?’ or, “I’d appreciate it if you didn’t use that word anymore.” I figure we all have a responsibility to keep each other in check.

YES! Last week I felt like I was calling people out left and right. I’m pretty tight with some progressive people and we are all pretty big movie fans. It’s surprising how upset people get if your criticize a movie they enjoyed. Call out Woody Allen? GET READY FOR A S*** SHOW. I mean, there’s a lot to call out with Woody. But because he does “comedy” (mostly and a friend of mine was criticizing Midnight in Paris) people will pull out all the derailing lines: YOU’RE BEING TOO SENSITIVE, IT WAS A LIGHTHEARTED/SARCASTIC/COMEDY! FEMINIST CRITICISM ISN’T RELEVANT ANYMORE. ETC.

The “it isn’t relevant” person got it, for sure. It is relevant as long as movies are primarily made by men/from the male perspective. Which we all know… And “Comedy” probably needs to be criticized even more than any other genre, because of the tendency to overlook it.

But I agree: Call them out early, call them out often. Be ready for unfollow and walk away. It’s the internet, you don’t have to subject yourself to anyone’s hate rhetoric.

I avoid bigger concepts like feminism and privilege.  One, because just saying “feminism” tends to suck the air out of a room full of mixed company and it ends up distracting everyone from the original point.  Two, because you often don’t have an hour to sit down and explain all of sociology to someone.  I just explain why THAT PERSON hurt ME, which is the best way I can think of to make someone feel guilty about what he or she has said or done.  This means that I don’t often confront people who do things that would offend someone who isn’t my race or sexuality, but I also don’t really feel like it’s my right as a straight white girl to speak for people who aren’t me.  You really can’t win with stuff like that.

I think its equally important to call out when someone’s exercising white privilege as a white person, but I understand the not wanting to “speak for others” side of it… I guess I just see it as, “Would that offend me if I were a POC?” (the answer is usually yes) For instance, I regret not standing up to my roommate when she complained about having to talk to Indians in a customer service call center and said that she doesn’t like to talk to them in real life either. She doesn’t even know any Indian people! How does she know what they’re all like??? Her comment was really racist…

That’s another thing, it helps to separate the action from the person. If you go around telling everyone how racist/misogynistic they’re being they’re just going to ignore you. If you say, “That was a really sexist comment because…” They might just hear you. Maybe.

Caitlin Moran puts it quite well, to paraphrase: ask yourself “is this polite?” and “Would this be happening to a man?” or <insert privileged group here>. But generally, I find, ___ist comments aren’t polite, and often that’s the best way to frame it to get someone to reconsider it.

If it’s something really awful, I just say, “Hey, that’s not okay at all,” which often prompts the person to ask “Why?” or “What?” If it’s something slightly more subtle and not explicitly derogatory, and/or if it’s someone I work with or have lots of mutual friends with and that I know is going to be in my life, I really like to play dumb and very pleasantly ask simple questions that make them back themselves into a corner. “No I don’t know how ‘those girls’ can be, how are they?”

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