We fuck up. All of us.
July 1, 2015 2:33 PM   Subscribe

Last March, activist Asam Ahmad posted a critique of call-out culture, arguing that public call-outs for bad behavior on social media are an ineffective as well as toxic method of furthering social justice. Instead, he advocates Ngọc Loan Trần's concept of calling-in, which emphasizes compassion and kindness while holding people accountable for their actions. While call-out culture is often criticized based on its effects on more privileged people, it can also have negative consequences for marginalized groups. For example, language policing can stifle discussion about social injustice.

Of course, call-out culture does not exist in a vacuum. While it's usually discussed in the context of social media as a leftist or progressive space, not everyone in social media is on the side of the angels. People who speak openly about the experience of marginalized identities are often targeted for serious harassment, which takes a serious toll on their time and energy. This is especially important because social media is an important tool for offline activism. After all, the internet is a part of real life: what we say to each other online matters.

Previously, previously.
posted by sciatrix (71 comments total) 70 users marked this as a favorite
 
Truly, the best use of the nogoodanswers tag.
posted by Going To Maine at 2:35 PM on July 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


This seems appropriate for Metafilter given the past few months of controversial posts and the subsequent metatalks.
posted by Karaage at 2:44 PM on July 1, 2015 [7 favorites]


From the calling in link:
But, holy shit! We fuck up. All of us. I’ve called out and been called out plenty of times. I have gotten on people ruthlessly for supporting and sustaining oppression and refusing to listen to me. People have gotten on me about speaking to oppressions that aren’t mine, being superficial about inclusion, and throwing in communities I’m not a part of as buzzwords. But when we shut each other out we make clubs of people who are right and clubs of people who are wrong as if we are not more complex than that, as if we are all-knowing, as if we are perfect. But in reality, we are just really scared. Scared that we will be next to make a mistake. So we resort to pushing people out to distract ourselves from the inevitability that we will cause someone hurt.
Cool.
(Disclaimer: WHITE FOLKS: Please don’t take any of this as your okay to act a fool and expect POC to not get angry. We have EVERY RIGHT to get angry when you fuck up. And we have no obligation whatsoever to put your hurt feelings above the impact your behavior causes. This post is specifically about us calling in people who we want to be in community with, people who we have reason to trust or with whom we have common ground. It’s not a fuckery free-for-all. Thank you. Also: we are LOATHE to have to add this disclaimer, because we don’t believe in focusing our energy on what white people think, on centralizing white people always, even in this QTPOC space. Ugh. This is why we can’t have nice things!—Mia)
Got it.
posted by notyou at 2:46 PM on July 1, 2015 [7 favorites]


From Ngọc Loan Trần:
I don’t propose practicing “calling in” in opposition to calling out. I don’t think that our work has room for binary thinking and action. However, I do think that it’s possible to have multiple tools, strategies, and methods existing simultaneously. It’s about being strategic, weighing the stakes and figuring out what we’re trying to build and how we are going do it together.
My immediate reaction was "Well no calling someone out publicly instead of approaching them privately can be MUCH more beneficial" - but for sure there's a tendency to react for the sake of public performance than to make actual progress with someone.

Interesting reads.
posted by erratic meatsack at 2:52 PM on July 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


"Well no calling someone out publicly instead of approaching them privately can be MUCH more beneficial"

That's completely consistent with the original statement. It's not saying "be strategic, thus the best choice is call-in" it's "be strategic, make sure your choice of call-in vs. call-out is a considered one".
posted by idiopath at 2:56 PM on July 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


That's why I said that I recognize the tendency to misuse call-outs. I'm on the same page.
posted by erratic meatsack at 2:59 PM on July 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


I should also add that the segment I quoted is one that I really loved and made me realize that yes, we have lots of tools in our arsenal and the hammer isn't the best choice if we actually want to reach people.

My "well no..." reaction was one that I had before diving into the contents of the fpp.
posted by erratic meatsack at 3:02 PM on July 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


Ahh, the out of order narrative tripped me up, now I get it.
posted by idiopath at 3:06 PM on July 1, 2015


This calling-in concept came up in the recent MeTa thread about the Dolezal situation, and I just wanted to call attention to Ivan Fyodorovich's fantastic comment about the importance of not framing our call-outs around assumptions of malice. I particularly wanted to quote this insightful paragraph:
But, again, my larger concern is that the focus on malice and character is that not only does it make it difficult to deal with other people's problematic behavior without putting them on the defensive, it's that it's absolutely not the case that we're not subject to the same framing and defensiveness about our own problematic behavior. And unlike the case of other people, we do have access to our own inner-states, our intentions. We do know when we mean well. We do know when we're genuinely anti-racist or whatever. So the framing that emphasizes malice or anything that implies a defect of character is something that we're naturally going to be resistant to diagnosing as a problem in our own thoughts and behaviors.
posted by dialetheia at 3:06 PM on July 1, 2015 [12 favorites]


I think the problem I have with public humiliation/chastisement is that the instigator has no control over the proportionality of the fallout. What might be intended as a gentle wake-up call has the potential to destroy a reputation, a career, or even a life. An act of disagreement over a single subject can become an unintentional act of violence.

None of us like to be scolded publicly. Often we react by becoming defensive, and we go into a mode where we double down on the stupid opinion we expressed in the first place, perhaps trying to articulate that opinion in a more nuanced or palatable form, but making things worse nonetheless. It's a case of human nature not acting in our best interests. Combine that with intense public scrutiny and it must be a very hard thing to be at the centre of.

Even people who put of their hands and say "yeah, that was badly said, and on reflection not an opinion I want to stand behind" may still find their voiced drowned out by the deluge of social media condemnation.

I think that in a sense, being the caller-outer is a position of privilege. You have very little skin in the game, and everything to gain in terms of kudos among your peers. Meanwhile, the person at the sharp end has everything to lose.

As a society I think we need to be more forgiving. Everyone has an objectionable view about something. What you thought were liberal, progressive views when you were young are quite likely to be problematic to the next generation of liberal, progressive thinkers. Maybe we need to understand that it's a lot more enriching to engage with other people as human beings and not as one-dimensional avatars for the one regrettable thing they said that one time.
posted by pipeski at 3:24 PM on July 1, 2015 [52 favorites]


Got it.
posted by notyou at 4:46 PM


Eponysterical?
posted by jquinby at 3:33 PM on July 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


"be strategic, make sure your choice of call-in vs. call-out is a considered one".

Yeah, this is a big thing for me. There is nothing wrong with being righteously angry, but if anger is the only way you can express disagreement it eventually stops being righteous even when you believe the right things. Take some time to think if there aren't some better, more empathetic tools in the toolbox.

As a society I think we need to be more forgiving. Everyone has an objectionable view about something.

I think one issue is that we are also a society of proud, often privileged people who see apologizing as a loss of face. An admission that you are a bad person. It's not! It's just admitting that you, like everybody else sometimes does, made a mistake. It's hard to forgive people if they dig in and refuse to stop offering excuses. Or, if they are using the anger at their mistake itself as an excuse. Even if people are taking their anger too far, if you fucked up in the first place you hold at least some responsibility for provoking that reaction.
posted by Drinky Die at 3:34 PM on July 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


This whole 'calling-in' idea just doesn't feel as good and righteous.

Call-out culture is as prominent in some left-ish circles as old fashioned condemnation is in religious/right circles. Because it feels like revenge.

Damn the diplomats, I have anger to cultivate.
posted by chimaera at 4:00 PM on July 1, 2015 [5 favorites]


I just read a thing about shaming culture having a new foothold in our new technology-enabled "small world" where a Twitter imbroglio can ruin your career. I think call outs vs. call ins is useful and important in this sense... theres a difference between making a blunder and being a bigot. (With the disclaimer that we all have unconscious biases.)
posted by easter queen at 4:13 PM on July 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Call-out culture is so last week. This week is all about laughing at unintentional humor until the target feels deeply uncomfortable.
posted by b1tr0t at 4:22 PM on July 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think that in a sense, being the caller-outer is a position of privilege. You have very little skin in the game, and everything to gain in terms of kudos among your peers. Meanwhile, the person at the sharp end has everything to lose.

I strongly disagree with this, especially because people doing the calling-out usually have little to no privilege to begin with. I don't feel entirely comfortable drawing examples out of thin air. But: if a privileged person is publicly taken to task for spouting off harmful ideas or behaving oppressively by someone without those privileges - who might otherwise be harmed by those words or actions - the world does not end. It is precisely having "skin in the game" that compels some people to do the calling out in the first place.
posted by Ashen at 4:30 PM on July 1, 2015 [5 favorites]


Wonderful set of links. We need to find a way to replace call-out culture with something more compassionate and productive. The performative aspects seem to present the biggest hurdles. Even the most meaningful online activism is taking place in what amounts to enormous skinner boxes. We've been programmed to receive hits of serotonin for performing in certain ways within social media. Calling out someone in full view of your audience is attention-gathering - the inherent conflict/drama is engaging - and it gives you massive amounts of those hits (favorites, likes, retweets, reblogs) and floods your brain with the feel-good stuff. Taking someone aside (through private messages or something else) gives you none of that. When I read my feeds with an eye towards how much of what people are doing is a sort of public performance and how our brains are changing with social media incentives, I get very unsettled. It's such a powerful tool for change, but when you feel the spark of hundreds of little push notifications patting you on the back for your courageous act, it becomes less about change and more about yourself. Social justice fits in perfectly with this, because we can all convince ourselves that it's the most selfless thing we can be doing online.

I don't know how to fix this, exactly. I think social justice is incredibly important, and at the same time I'm worried that if it's taking place inside of this bizarre system of incentives, it'll get really out of hand. And then again, the Jon Ronsons and Jonathan Chaits of the world are turning criticism of callout culture into a performance too, and I worry there's an anti-progressive agenda creeping in along with that conversation. There's a certain disingenuous there that unnerves me. It's hard to figure out where the lines are drawn. The tools and agendas really get in the way of discussion even about the discussion.
posted by naju at 4:30 PM on July 1, 2015 [11 favorites]


Also meant to say, the article made a note about think pieces pre-Internet which made a case for the end of shaming culture, which then naturally surged back once the Internet recreated the small insular community of yore. Interesting concept.
posted by easter queen at 4:37 PM on July 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


FTA There are ways of calling people out that are compassionate and creative, and that recognize the whole individual instead of viewing them simply as representations of the systems from which they benefit. Paying attention to these other contexts will mean refusing to unleash all of our very real trauma onto the psyches of those we imagine to only represent the systems that oppress us.

This is not really to seriously criticize the article, because I don't really know the context from which it is being written, and the nonspecificness of the article doesn't inform the reader as such. But if the author wants a traumatized subject to try being more compassionate toward and more creative in dealing with their oppressor, then that point needs to be made explicit in the article instead of couching it in multiple paragraphs of abstract reasoning. Because making this thesis explicit immediately reveals the cognitive limit of this standard (i.e. ask, firstly, if is it realistic to expect a marginalized person to do this) and also reveals the real dilemma (the parallax of the individual and the system and how to model the relation between the two beyond the simplistic thesis the article relies on, that "the individual is not the role"--well it isn't, but maybe it isn't isn't either!). When it is left implicit, it a) gaslights the "we" who merely "imagine" an overgeneralization rather than supposing it's the system that's also responsible for creating these illusionary contexts and the concomitant anger and frustration towards a conflated person-role; and b) centralizes this discourse on the oppressor and "this is why we need to think of their personhood and their simultaneously fragile but privileged psyches", as if real people don't already know this on other levels.

That, or I got off the wrong side after naptime.
posted by polymodus at 4:37 PM on July 1, 2015 [5 favorites]


None of us like to be scolded publicly.
Some of us get used to it. Some of us who were heavily bullied as children but did not grow up to be bullies ourselves develop an ability to differentiate between Scolding and Bullying. And then we still sometimes get it wrong.

I'm actually a little proud to have been scolded and called-out more times than most long-time MetaFilter members. And have learned enough from my mistakes to avoid repeating them, instead coming up with new and unique mistakes.

I worry there's an anti-progressive agenda creeping in along with that conversation
Creeping in? It's always been there. And it probably always will. It might just be a sign that Privileged Assholes are running out of ways to practice their Privileged Assholery. Which would indicate that we need MORE calling out, not less.
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:48 PM on July 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


I just read a thing about shaming culture having a new foothold in our new technology-enabled "small world" where a Twitter imbroglio can ruin your career.

What I don't understand is why people even respond to being called out online. Do they not realize that internet outrage has a very short life? Take the guy who wore the tacky shirt at that press conference, why did he engage in that in cringe worthy act of self-abasement in front of the whole world with that tearful apology? He wasn't forgiven, all he got was being made fun of for crying. IMO the best thing you can do is lock down your social media accounts and try to limit your web use for a week or so till a new outrage appears and you're forgotten. If for some reason you do respond, well, be prepared, there will be no quarter - none asked, none given.
posted by MikeMc at 4:56 PM on July 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure it really matters if you respond or not. As for tacky shirt guy, I didn't laugh at him.
posted by easter queen at 5:02 PM on July 1, 2015


The thing about public shaming is that there is parental-style power dynamic to it. Sometimes the person doing the shaming is just on a personal power-trip. But despite their neurotic motivations, they sometimes have valid points and insights to make. So we then have to mentally unpack the delivery from the content of the message in order to try to learn from it.

That said, in my personal experience, I've learned less from people who try to put me down for whatever reason than from people who just share meaningful information.
posted by ovvl at 5:06 PM on July 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


But if the author wants a traumatized subject to try being more compassionate toward and more creative in dealing with their oppressor, then that point needs to be made explicit in the article instead of couching it in multiple paragraphs of abstract reasoning.

What if the caller-out is neither a traumatized subject nor a person of less privilege but someone calling out on their behalf?
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 5:07 PM on July 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'm not sure it really matters if you respond or not.

I guess what I'm saying is that by responding you're just dragging it out, best to hunker down and let it blow over. Someone will fuck up worse than you in a day or two you just have to be patient.
posted by MikeMc at 5:07 PM on July 1, 2015


But why is the first method of dealing with a call-out "just lay low until someone else fucks up?" Why isn't the first strategy introspection?

I think that call-ins have their place in the toolbox that marginalized people have access to in social situations, but it cannot be used as a catch-all replacement. Otherwise it can become asking them to just take more nonsense in private.

Like sure #NotAllCall-Outs are for the purpose of challenging oppressive ideas and behaviors, and some of them ARE performative in nature, but I don't think it's such a significant portion of them as to label call-out culture just Mad Angry Rage-Tastic Takedown Theatre for Marginalized Folks.
posted by Ashen at 5:16 PM on July 1, 2015 [6 favorites]


But why is the first method of dealing with a call-out "just lay low until someone else fucks up?" Why isn't the first strategy introspection?

Why can't you be introspective while you lay low? Just don't feed the beast that is internet rage culture.
posted by MikeMc at 5:18 PM on July 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


One personal example: It is hard for me to post anything on a certain Facebook group called Intersectional Feminism as a white cisgender heteronormative male. I feel sympatico with their aims, but, even when trying to phrase things sensitively, I was almost always called out, so I just gave up. I wish them luck. They may not need my ideas; that's fine. But exclusivity is probably not one of their core values, but the calling-out impulse makes it seem as if it is.
posted by kozad at 5:20 PM on July 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Except it's not just a random branch of internet rage culture.
posted by Ashen at 5:25 PM on July 1, 2015


I'm coming at that from the belief that discussion is actually possible after a call-out, however. If you believe that a person who does call someone else out is not worth engaging, then we're definitely viewing call-out culture from two very different premises.
posted by Ashen at 5:28 PM on July 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


One of the biggest problems I see is that the amount of bad faith trolling the social justice movement endures almost inevitably leads to a hair trigger call out culture. It didn't arise in a vacuum, it's exactly what you'd expect to see from groups that have been burned by extending the benefit of the doubt to the wrong people one too many times.

That's why I despair at finding a solution to the toxic parts of call out culture. I don't see how they can be extracted without leaving the already vulnerable feeling even more defenseless.
posted by Proofs and Refutations at 5:30 PM on July 1, 2015 [18 favorites]


One personal example: It is hard for me to post anything on a certain Facebook group called Intersectional Feminism as a white cisgender heteronormative male. I feel sympatico with their aims, but, even when trying to phrase things sensitively, I was almost always called out, so I just gave up. I wish them luck. They may not need my ideas; that's fine. But exclusivity is probably not one of their core values, but the calling-out impulse makes it seem as if it is.

This is an interesting example, though. Aren't you entering a safe space for marginalized people to have a discussion, and speaking as an outsider to that discussion? Especially since intersectionality involves a number of marginalized groups participating, If you say something inadvertently offensive to one of those groups then yeah, you can't expect to comment freely without expecting some pushback of your ideas. I'm not entirely sure what your end goal is in this situation.
posted by naju at 5:35 PM on July 1, 2015 [10 favorites]


centralizes this discourse on the oppressor and "this is why we need to think of their personhood and their simultaneously fragile but privileged psyches"

I mean if you read the writings of Gandhi and MLK you will find that, from their perspectives, this is precisely the transformative type of love, humility, and sacrifice that is necessary for oppressed peoples to affect long-lasting radical social change.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 5:36 PM on July 1, 2015


What I don't understand is why people even respond to being called out online. Do they not realize that internet outrage has a very short life?

Except when it doesn't. As with the extended campaigns of threats, insults and real-world damage that comprise ongoing events like GamerGate. Internet outrage can actually be quite effectively sustained by relatively small numbers of people.

Even within social justice groups which don't engage in that sort of level of extended, maniacal savagery, call-outs that happened years ago can be referenced again and again whenever a given topic or a given person enters the discussion, online or off, years later. "Oh, I remember that asshole, fuck him/her for X they said about Y back in Y-Fail Thread XVIII" is something you do sometimes see. So there is a certain pressure, for people who want to remain within a given online community, to respond, either defensively or apologetically. Especially if, as a member of an underpriviledged minority, there are a limited number of places where you can feel even remotely safe or comfortable or accepted, online or off.
posted by AdamCSnider at 5:39 PM on July 1, 2015 [8 favorites]


What I don't understand is why people even respond to being called out online. Do they not realize that internet outrage has a very short life? Take the guy who wore the tacky shirt at that press conference, why did he engage in that in cringe worthy act of self-abasement in front of the whole world with that tearful apology?

I think he offered a tearful apology because he was genuinely upset and humiliated because he made a thoughtless mistake that hurt people with the world watching. I think that's the right thing to do even if some people don't accept the apology. He was kind of in a weird spot though. His situation went instantly well beyond some people griping on Twitter because the project he was involved in was already worldwide news and he was one of the faces of it. I don't think just ignoring it would have helped much, just prolonged the attention.
posted by Drinky Die at 5:41 PM on July 1, 2015 [7 favorites]


I am unsure that the solution to ending oppressive systems is to have marginalized people perform more emotional labor than is already demanded of them when speaking to someone privileged. Emphasis on demand.

Gandhi and MLK also did not occur in a vacuum. The less oppressor-compassionate leaders and movements that came before and after helped create a climate in which they could speak, and be lionized by privileged parties as the only true revolutionary faces and ideas to consider.
posted by Ashen at 5:47 PM on July 1, 2015 [12 favorites]


Take the guy who wore the tacky shirt at that press conference, why did he engage in that in cringe worthy act of self-abasement in front of the whole world with that tearful apology? He wasn't forgiven, all he got was being made fun of for crying.

I forgave him. A bunch of the websites I read that covered the issue gave him kudos for the apology. There were people who made fun of him for crying, but a lot of them were Men's Rights Advocates who didn't like that he listened to critique. I know very, very few feminists who would critique anyone for crying, regardless of gender.

Many, many, many times I have seen a "call out" get smoothed over quickly with an honest apology or even just an acknowledgement of the greater issues at hand.

What's weird is how the sustained abuse of people gets completely ignored in this context - yeah, not everyone forgave tacky shirt guy, but he has his job and has mostly fallen off the radar post-apology. Meanwhile, we're coming up on four or five years for Anita Sarkeesian and Rebecca Watson getting hundreds of death/rape/etc... threats a day, and Sarkeesian gets bomb threats and school shooting threats whenever she tries to appear in public. Hel, even with the dongle mess - the white guy who was fired has a job and has moved on; the black woman who "engaged in call out culture" has never socially or financially recovered, and a recent analysis of the event focused on the white man as the victim and the black woman as the perpetrator of "call out culture" and completely ignored the sustained and extensive abuse she received on the internet.

I think the idea of "calling in" when one has a social relationship with another is a useful one, forgiveness and kindness is useful and important, but I am deeply disturbed by how quickly "stop engaging in call out culture" turns into "stop pointing out when something is sexist/racist/homophobic/transphobic/ableist/etc...".
posted by Deoridhe at 5:53 PM on July 1, 2015 [32 favorites]


A fourth point that must be brought out concerning nonviolent resistance is that it avoids not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. At the center of nonviolence stands the principle of love. In struggling for human dignity the oppressed people of the world must not allow themselves to become bitter or indulge in hate campaigns. To retaliate with hate and bitterness would do nothing but intensify the hate in the world. Along the way of life, someone must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate. This can be done only by projecting the ethics of love to the center of our lives. MLK (source, pg. 121)

The less oppressor-compassionate leaders and movements that came before and after helped create a climate in which they could speak, and be lionized by privileged parties as the only true revolutionary faces and ideas to consider.

Yes of course I agree entirely with this. Neither the civil rights movement nor the movement for Indian independence were bloodless. My point is not to paint a black and white picture, but rather note that this idea of loving our enemy is not necessarily as simplistic as the comment I quoted painted it as. It is an idea that has been used as a central pillar of two successful movements for radical social change.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 5:59 PM on July 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Two, out of many. Why are those two specific movements repeatedly held as the golden standard for oppressed peoples?

Resistance is not binary. It is not merely "selfless compassion" and "bloodshed." There is a vast spectrum of actions that exist which are both effective and protect the well-being of oppressed peoples.

A fourth point that must be brought out concerning nonviolent resistance is that it avoids not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit

MLK was wrong on that point then; he is unquestionably wrong right now.
posted by Ashen at 6:04 PM on July 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


If you say something inadvertently offensive to one of those groups then yeah, you can't expect to comment freely without expecting some pushback of your ideas. I'm not entirely sure what your end goal is in this situation.

(From Naju, regarding this white guy's intention on posting on Intersectional Feminism.)

I understand their desire to have a "safe space" for discussion. And I was never accused of being offensive. However, just as black activists often call upon white people to help them out by talking to their people, I just wanted to tell them that I am (or am trying to be) such an ally. A lot of the people on the site took my comments at face value, and even appreciated my insight--I wasn't mansplaining, obviously…I'm not stupid--but those who consistently engaged in calling-out culture called me out.

I've been around the block. Fifty years ago, the term "politically correct" was a word we leftists used to gently mock each other for going overboard in linguistic self-policing. Then it became a right-wing canard. It still is, but calling-out culture seems to traffic in other-policing in the arenas of identity and language, arenas born out of the crucible of the 60's/70's.
posted by kozad at 6:05 PM on July 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


If you believe that a person who does call someone else out is not worth engaging, then we're definitely viewing call-out culture from two very different premises.

I think what people react to is the apparent tendency for someone, who is called out on something, to then be seen as not worth engaging with. It's one thing when someone says something and you know them personally, but it's another altogether on the internet; when one of the only things you've ever heard something say is uninformed and potentially hurtful, it's very easy to assume that's the character of everything this person might say.

That said, it seems like it would place a lot of burden on the shoulders of marginalized people to assume that everyone "just means well" all the time. Yet assuming the worst can make everyone around you seem more hostile, as well. I try to give people the benefit of the doubt online, but then again I'm rarely the target of the things people say. It's a lot easier to give people the benefit of the doubt if it doesn't affect you the same way it would affect other people.
posted by teponaztli at 6:08 PM on July 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


I've found in some circles it's become something of a way to enforce cliquish in-group/out-group dynamics and sometimes is done to deepen intra-community conflict.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 6:15 PM on July 1, 2015 [7 favorites]


However, just as black activists often call upon white people to help them out by talking to their people, I just wanted to tell them that I am (or am trying to be) such an ally

One way you can be an ally is by not taking up space telling them you want to be an ally. Just help when you can. Signal boost. Educate other white people about racism. Educate other men about sexism. Speak up when you feel like you have something important or cogent to say, but it should never be "I am an ally." If you have to tell people you are one, you aren't one.

Ally is not a claimed identity. It is a given identity.
posted by Deoridhe at 6:19 PM on July 1, 2015 [26 favorites]


Resistance is not binary. It is not merely "selfless compassion" and "bloodshed." There is a vast spectrum of actions that exist which are both effective and protect the well-being of oppressed peoples.

I agree. Which I thought I made clear when I said:

My point is not to paint a black and white picture

Of course resistance is a spectrum, but that doesn't mean that all areas of the spectrum are morally correct or even helpful in the long term. "Violence of the spirit" and or "humiliation" tend to be a very effective methods of affecting radical social change, at least in the short term. The question we have to answer is: does that corporate "violence" lead to the type of society and/or community that we want to create?

MLK was wrong on that point then; he is unquestionably wrong right now.

How so?
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 6:23 PM on July 1, 2015


Nonviolent resistance does not shield you from physical fallout from the aggressive actions of power-invested parties. Less abstractly, nonviolent resistance has not shielded Black protesters from the ire of the police at rallies.

Nonviolent resistance does not shield you from the emotional fallout from the aggressive actions of power-invested parties. Less abstractly, nonviolent resistance has not shielded Black people talking about their experiences on Twitter (as a means of resisting the pressure to remain silent) from constant barrages of hate-mail and death threats. Deciding not to react violently or aggressively, in anecdotal experience, has not shielded those people from the sense of shame, horror, disgust, or other forms of "spiritual damage" that MLK alludes to. In the Twitter instance, how is nonviolent non-aggressive action helpful? Who does it benefit the most? Long-term, will silence and forgiveness and love of the enemy really help those oppressively-acting individuals see the error of their ways?

Marginalized people are expected to be wells for other people's bad faith, for their anxieties, for their anger, for their hatred. What MLK and Gandhi called for was more of this precise expectation. Which is not emotionally or mentally healthy for people who are navigating and reconciling the burdens to which they are subjected to.

I will not debate the morality point, however. Especially because the "morally correct" thing to do has been, repeatedly, something that favors oppressive parties at the expense of the marginalized. And I cannot in good conscience ask other people who have seen or experienced what I have and leagues worse to subject themselves to further "humiliation" in order to liberate themselves.

As said previously, it is expected that marginalized people serve as bottomless wells for other people's hatred, ignorance, etc. But if there's a "keep pouring" sign next to a well, people will queue up to pour their share. At what point does it end? When the well breaks?
posted by Ashen at 6:40 PM on July 1, 2015 [8 favorites]


I strongly disagree with this, especially because people doing the calling-out usually have little to no privilege to begin with

I don't know whether this is true or not. What makes you think that it is true?
posted by layceepee at 6:40 PM on July 1, 2015 [7 favorites]


MLK was wrong on that point then; he is unquestionably wrong right now.

How so?


Well... for one thing, it's so hard to deal with institutionalized oppression when you don't even have the luxury of being angry about it. Marginalized people are not and should not be expected to be saints at all times. And there's an actual cost to bottling up negative emotions and keeping emotional control of yourself at all times. That shit results in increased likelihood of mental illnesses like depression and anxiety at worst and at best it is permanently exhausting. It is not a kind thing to expect out of anyone, and it is manifestly unfair to the people who have the least social power in this situation.
posted by sciatrix at 6:48 PM on July 1, 2015 [7 favorites]


I think this discussion needs to distinguish between call-outs from people who are in positions of power vs. call-outs from those who are not. Many of these statements are about call-outs from people in marginalized positions, and I think some of the objections are to people making call-outs from privileged positions.

There's no clear definition of what a "call out" is, and it seems like it's loose enough to fit whatever point needs to be made.

Anyway, with regards to MLK - I seriously doubt he was saying that no one felt any pain if they followed the path of nonviolence. No one, least of all MLK, was saying African Americans in 1957 had no pain to cope with. The path of nonviolence easing the violence of the spirit could be read as a call for strength and unity; violence of the spirit could very well be the lack of those elements in the face of oppression.

I would never think of calling someone out as a form of violence, and it certainly isn't if you think there's the capacity to educate people and change minds. In that case, I wouldn't see how calling someone out is incompatible with what MLK was saying. Confrontation doesn't have to be violent.
posted by teponaztli at 7:14 PM on July 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


And to clarify: going back to the full quote from above, if you count hatred as a kind of violence, I still don't see the necessary parallel between frustration and hatred. Even anger isn't the same thing as hatred. I don't know anyone who hates white people, but I know plenty who are frustrated and angry with people who are complicit in white supremacy without even knowing. A call-out on something that perpetuates this anger and frustration doesn't need to be hatred (which is a better way of phrasing what I wrote above).
posted by teponaztli at 7:23 PM on July 1, 2015


I don't know whether this is true or not. What makes you think that it is true?

Several years of being on Tumblr, which can definitely be a toxic environment depending on who you follow. Whenever I saw a reblog of -ist content for the purpose of calling that poster out, it came from directly a person who was marginalized. This was true for a number of people in my social circles. But if anecdotal experience isn't sufficient, there are a few articles I recall reading and can otherwise link to with a bit of digging.

I agree with you, teponaztli, in that a distinction needs to be made.

W/r/t MLK, no one said that he advocated for people to deny their pain, or that he encouraged them to believe that they wouldn't experience it if they chose his particular prescription for resistance, either. In fact, MLK did warn that such a road would be painful. What's being challenged is the idea that his brand of resistance is beneficial for the well-being of any/every oppressed person who takes joins a path of resistance, or that it'll solve the problem of how to topple oppressive systems.

The path of nonviolence easing the violence of the spirit could be read as a call for strength and unity; violence of the spirit could very well be the lack of those elements in the face of oppression.

Can you please explain this bit? I'm having some trouble parsing this.
posted by Ashen at 7:44 PM on July 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


Er, I was seeing it as something similar to turmoil of the spirit, but truthfully, I think I just need to eat dinner...
posted by teponaztli at 8:01 PM on July 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is an interesting example, though. Aren't you entering a safe space for marginalized people to have a discussion, and speaking as an outsider to that discussion?

Since when is an open group discussing a broad based issue a space only for some people? Feminism is just as important to
men as to women; men are hurt by patriarchy too, especially gender non-conforming men (more so than gender non-conforming women).

Unless I'm wrong and feminism is just for women - in which case, I guess I'm not a feminist. I'll have to turn in my card.

And if you want to have a private discussion: do what my community group does, and have a closed group.
posted by jb at 9:11 PM on July 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


Since when is an open group discussing a broad based issue a space only for some people? Feminism is just as important to men as to women; men are hurt by patriarchy too, especially gender non-conforming men (more so than gender non-conforming women).

I didn't say it's a space only for some people; clearly he was welcome there, at least to the extent that he wasn't kicked out for participating. My point was that if a non-marginalized person joins the discussion in a group filled with marginalized people who have first-hand knowledge of and experience with the issues involved, then he really shouldn't expect zero pushback when he enters that space and participates in discussion some take issue with. Of course he will be called out if needed, in that space of all places. And yes - public, inclusive spaces can and should be safe spaces. What a depressing internet it would be if the only safe spaces for marginalized people were closed, private ones.
posted by naju at 9:25 PM on July 1, 2015


Clarification about my experience as a white guy on an intersectional feminist website: I never identified myself as an ally. I participated in the conversation only occasionally. I was there to educate myself. This stuff was new to me. I didn't want to remain entirely silent; that makes me feel like a lurker. t don't remember being "policed" myself. I just noticed that a good part of the conversation was dominated by a few people who took it upon themselves to police the linguistic conduct. For example, when some racist behavior was called "lame" by a poster, one of the more active community members called the term "ableist." The person who used the term then obeyed the mandatory apology policy of the website.

OK, it's none of my business. I don't care if I'm welcome or not. But I can't help but have an opinion about the tone policing, and that is that it is a misdirection of emotional energy.
posted by kozad at 9:42 PM on July 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


I mean if you read the writings of Gandhi and MLK you will find that, from their perspectives, this is precisely the transformative type of love, humility, and sacrifice that is necessary for oppressed peoples to affect long-lasting radical social change.

That just the feel good Afterschool Special idea of Gandhi and MLK, soothinng and non-threatening when in reality both were dangerous.

Gandhi wasn't out to "transform" the British in India, he was aiming to destroy their power through cutting off the economic base of the occupation of India: frex targeting the salt monopoly by leading people to make their own sea salt.

To talk of MLK and sacrifice this way too is slightly offensive, because it seems to suggest that he lived, worked and got killed to better white souls, rather than black people.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:36 PM on July 1, 2015 [11 favorites]


I think there's a lot going on, and the nogoodanswers tag is definitely right on.

For one, the matter of "we" is a slippery one. People actually do have competing agendas and priorities, and when they align on one matter, they may diverge on another. It behooves us all to remember that there really is no "we" that agrees on everything.

For another, I agree with those above who talk about differentiating call-outs of people who are genuine antagonists--people who are actually opposed to whatever social justice issue is being discussed--from call-outs of people who are sympathetic and supportive but inadvertently or ingenuously slip up in their terminology or interpretations. For the former group, I think call-outs are great, if not always effective (um duh). This is one of the things that bugs me about the rapid rise of the concept of "sea-lioning." It's fucking bullshit when people do that disingenuously, but it's started to be used to bash people with genuine, innocent questions. And while members of interest groups are not remotely beholden to explain anything to anyone, people who are genuinely open-minded and interested in learning more so they can then form better opinions are at risk of being tarred with the sea lion brush

And a third, while I whole-heartedly agree about the danger of bottling up one's emotions, calling people out isn't the only alternative--that's what venting to confidants is for. I'm very frequently frustrated (or outright enraged) at people in my work (I'm an educator haha), and my colleagues and I talk shit about students with the clear awareness that we're just venting and genuinely want what's best for them. Makes a difference, I think.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 10:40 PM on July 1, 2015 [7 favorites]


OK, it's none of my business. I don't care if I'm welcome or not. But I can't help but have an opinion about the tone policing, and that is that it is a misdirection of emotional energy.

I don't know. If your example is the worst you can remember, it was pretty mild. It's a perfectly valid point to argue that the use of "lame" and similar words ("mad", "crazy" undsoweiter) are problematic in the same way the word "gay" is when used that way. Even though most of us don't consciously think about it, it's still disparaging a group of people by using them as a synonym for "bad".

And on the internet, you still have mostly your words to represent you and if you as a group allow that sort of thing but call yourself intersectional, you do send out the message that you either didn't think about it or some people just aren't welcome there.

(Note: tone policing is something else entirely.)
posted by MartinWisse at 10:53 PM on July 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


The perfect is the enemy of the good. Chasing away allies who screw up or aren't as informed, aware, or absolutist is, IMO, a fine way to — not to be able-ist here, but — shoot oneself in the foot.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:16 PM on July 1, 2015 [5 favorites]


Honestly this isn't that difficult. People should put themselves in the supposed oppressed person's shoes for a moment, and imagine how advice (a "note", come on really.) like this article would come across.
posted by polymodus at 2:00 AM on July 2, 2015


polymodus: Right, because only someone who experiences oppression has the right to write a note about call-out culture. Like, perhaps if they were queer, black & fat and ran a body positivity group for people like them - would that be enough do you think?
posted by pharm at 2:06 AM on July 2, 2015


. I was almost always called out...

those who consistently engaged in calling-out culture called me out....

t don't remember being "policed" myself. I just noticed that a good part of the conversation was dominated by a few people who took it upon themselves to police the linguistic conduct.


I'm having trouble understanding exactly what your experience with this group was like.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 2:18 AM on July 2, 2015


Polymodus: we're all oppressed.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 2:30 AM on July 2, 2015


I'm sorry--that was more flip than I intended. More to the point, I agree with you in some ways, but I don't think it is that easy, as power flows and erupts, and kyriarchy damages so indiscriminately.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 2:52 AM on July 2, 2015


But if anecdotal experience isn't sufficient, there are a few articles I recall reading and can otherwise link to with a bit of digging.

I would appreciate those links. I've heard precisely the opposite claim; that most call-outs are done by people of privilege. For example, from one of the linked posts: I have witnessed, more times than I care to remember, a person who seems to be of general goodwill and good intentions enter into a conversation about disability on social media or a blog, only to get ‘called out’ – often quite harshly – for using ableist language. Sometimes it’s disabled people doing the calling out, but more often than not (for the conversations I’ve witnessed, I should emphasize) it’s non-disabled people.

If someone has actually tried to determine what kinds of people are participating in call-out culture and how that is manifest, I would be really interested.
posted by layceepee at 4:30 AM on July 2, 2015


In my experience, and it might just be a slice of fighty online discourse, honest differences of opinion get framed as "call-outs" and not just honest slips or disagreements. For example, I see flamewars over the use of the word "queer" or whether "gay" and "lesbian" can be used in a broader social sense or narrower psychological sense. Multiple participants in the debate frame their arguments as the obviously correct answer in social justice terms and disagreement as ignorance at best or active prejudice at worst. The concept of "privilege" gets horribly abused in those discussions.

So sometimes it's a good idea, and sometimes it's a rationalization to engage in intra-group infighting. Especially when I see a community dedicated to callouts.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 4:35 AM on July 2, 2015 [5 favorites]


I am an activist on a multitude of fronts and have been all my life. I would be lying if I said that I didn't feel a lot of social and peer pressure to do per formative call outs for an abstract ideal of public good as well as a sort of loyalty test (these I actively loathe).

But also it often seems that call ins are not effective. But also call outs are not effective and it's often a 50/50 unguessable chance which is the best approach for any specific person. Or whether it's best to just let it drop entirely.

Someone remarked in this discussion that we need to distinguish between call outs made by majority speakers from those made by minority speakers. I strongly, definitely agree with this not doing so does, I think, lead to majority-washing with a strong EST vibe (wherein everyone is required to see to their own emotional reaction - a situation that leads to easy, trivial trolling and victim blaming).

That said, and in this regard I can only speak for myself, I have lately been running into a lot of call outs as well as feeling a lot of pressure to do call outs I am not feeling a lot or any sympathy with. And also call outs seem to often have only one frequency - anger and being fed up. And things have lately drifted into spaces where though morality is binary and obvious for some, it isn't for others. I get that call outs (I keep wanting to pluralize this as "calls out") are meant in some cases to solidify or enforce a tight moral/ethical binary but many of us callers out are drifting into complex intersectional spaces seemingly without realizing it where the "right" answer is no longer obvious to anyone but ourselves.

Also I, for one, am experiencing fatigue of expressing my public feelings only in call outs and am beginning to feel like I want to have and express deeper and more complex feelings about many of these issues. Without feeling like I am painting a target on myself merely for being nonconformist.

P.S. I want to make clear that I feel I am very consistent with my own feelings and motivations and decision-making even while experiencing social or peer pressure. So yes I have felt pressure but no, in general, I do not do a thing just because I experience that pressure.
posted by kalessin at 6:30 AM on July 2, 2015 [11 favorites]


Also I, for one, am experiencing fatigue of expressing my public feelings only in call outs and am beginning to feel like I want to have and express deeper and more complex feelings about many of these issues.

This reminds me of what people like Ta-Nehisi Coates and Teju Cole are up to. Certainly not a bad way to go.

Speaking of Teju Cole. This is a facebook post he wrote when that Dolezal thing was going on, but it broadly applies to the subject of callouts.

We see the ways black experience is erased, we see the way the experiences of women are erased, we see many other kinds of offense and silencing. Occasionally, there'll be someone, unknown to the public, or maybe a little known, but in any case still an individual, who exemplifies that kind of disregard. When these things happen, I always want to link it back to the systems that sustain that individual's form of disregard. I don't like the things that mobs do, even "good" mobs, even mobs on "our side," for they always apply unlimited solutions to limited problems.

I want to ask what kind of labor is accomplished in pillorying, what kinds of distance it sets up. When, as a man, you engage in the mockery of a man who has said something misogynistic, what kind of secret credit are you accruing for yourself, you who benefit from misogyny but are too clever to say anything misogynistic out loud? If you are white and you join in the endless festival of deriding someone who said something racist, what temporary escape does that buy you, you who would never say anything racist but who always benefits from racist systems?

I'm not interested in setting rules for anyone else. And there are undoubtedly people who merit sharp public rebuke. But I think our social networks facilitate mob-like behavior. I think they too easily absolve us of our own foolishness and oppressiveness, and they can cause a too extreme rebuke of the kind that is all out of proportion to the foolishness they are correcting. It's easy to forget there's a human being, even if it's a very foolish one, at the receiving end of the ire of millions of people. Personally I prefer to critique systems, or at least to try to do so, rather than to mock individuals. If I'm engaging with the story, I try not to make the individual the story, but to see this individual and that individual and you and me all caught up in the jaws of the same big complicated story.

posted by naju at 9:27 AM on July 2, 2015 [24 favorites]


there are undoubtedly people who merit sharp public rebuke. But I think our social networks facilitate mob-like behavior

Yes. I think this has been one of the real (and deleterious) effects of the internet and social media on general public discourse. Human beings generally have a pretty hard-wired little pleasure-center that lights up when we get to call on "our side" to castigate the outsider or the "other side." It's that deep-seated affirmation that we "belong" and that we get to decide that others don't. We all know that two people of, say, opposite political beliefs can get along fine with each other as individual human beings, but will become enraged with each other as representatives of the out-group.

I think one of the really insidious effects of social media (and of these weird hybrid public/personal discussion spaces like Metafilter that the web has fostered) is that there's a constant seductive appeal to activate that "who's with me!?" logic. Thus the "call-out"--which might be entirely justified as an act of genuine moral revulsion--is always being tainted as a kind of opportunity to brand oneself as a part of the in-group and the called-out person as one of those evil "others" we need to band together against. I often feel, when looking at the process at work, a bit the way I do when looking at those photos of "collaborators" being denounced and punished in France at the end of WWII. It's not that the women being thus publicly shamed are necessarily "good" people or necessarily "wrongly accused" or what have you--it's just that the self-righteous fury of the mob is such an ugly and self-exculpatory thing.

I think one of the worst effects this has is that there is a constant active seeking for opportunities to parade one's in-group "righteousness" that pushes people to read every statement as uncharitably as possible, to look for the crucial slip that reveals the "outsider" who we can all join together in damning.
posted by yoink at 3:13 PM on July 2, 2015 [10 favorites]


In general, and speaking only for (if not necessarily only from) my thoughts and feelings on this topic, I find it beneficial to consider what my goals are, in framing an issue. Much of the time, in speaking to a community of ostensibly like minded individuals, what I want most is to make my community better. I consider engaging with individuals without an assumption of malice helpful in a lot of situations. People fuck up, that doesn't make them fuck-ups though.

I would rather have my mistake noticed and have someone point out a better way to behave, or have a better way pointed out for me, then to be called out, which serves to eject me from the community in question, or to call someone out, which ejects them.

I think It's important to consider why people police other people's languages, but mostly I want to be interacted with in a genuine fashion, as a person, and I want to treat others that way. So this article presents a useful tool for me to do that. I think we all run the risk of treating status within a community as a zero sum game, where calling out bad behavior serves to increase our respect as members, or even, for those who are insecure in their status as allies, serve to enhance their perception, rather then considering the possibility that we all have the potential to be enriched, and enrich others, by interacting in meaningful and considered ways.
posted by gryftir at 6:56 PM on July 2, 2015


I've been reading this thread with interest, and I love the idea of showing as much compassion as possible with people who have earned that trust. What made me pretty much despair that it'd help, however, is seeing time and time and time again that no matter how nicely anyone phrases their objections, the pushback seems pretty much equally defensive. In multiple communities I've been in, online and in-person, someone saying, "Hey, that hurt me" in any manner of phrasing or private-vs-public context tends to trigger an avalanche of defensiveness. I still try to be as respectful as possible, but I no longer believe that there's any calling-out or calling-in that's going to end in mutual understanding unless the person who fucked up is already committed to prioritizing a social justice goal over their own ego, which is rare.
posted by jaguar at 7:42 PM on July 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


I resisted replying to this for a while, because i always question if i'm even like "allowed" to have an opinion on this.

What if the caller-out is neither a traumatized subject nor a person of less privilege but someone calling out on their behalf?

This is, 100%, the absolute worst it can get usually. This is where it's basically pure internet hate machine/pitchfork mob/reddit boston bomber type stuff. The same thing can play out offline as on. Which leads me to...

Many, many, many times I have seen a "call out" get smoothed over quickly with an honest apology or even just an acknowledgement of the greater issues at hand.

And many many times i have not. Sometimes i understand it, sometimes i don't.

I have been involved in several situations where someone did something shitty, they got publicly called out, made amends with the people effected/involved in a way that people either from that group or the person directly effected agreed was a good response/made it cool... but then a third party, uninvolved group of people were DETERMINED to "spread the truth" and kept slinging shit for years.

The rest of your post is poignant, and i've seen some situations where this was completely deserved... But i've also seen more than a couple where someone was just endlessly followed around by something.(Like a former alcoholic who doesn't drink anymore still getting harassed for something they did while drunk when everyone involved has forgiven them and they're even friends now, would be a good example).

"The person who called them out had a shittier time than them" works great as a meh whatever when the aggressor is a straight white dude and the caller-outer isn't. But it gets murky real quick when a horizontal, or fairly horizontal plane is involved.

You don't have to search mefi for very long to find cases of "well known woman does shitty thing, apologizes, people involved seem ok with apology, harassed forever".

We can cherry pick all day i guess, but this is absolutely a real thing.


Full disclosure: I've been on both sides of this. The example above is not me. I think callouts have a place, but that like a lot of social justice terminology it's been co-opted by buttheads for their own purposes many times. I have absolutely seen some callouts that basically seem like an attempt by someone to use their audience to gotcha someone they don't like and well, sick the hate machine on them. I also think it can be a VERY "so when did you stop hitting your wife?" sort of situation in which there's fucking nothing you can say a lot of the time even if there isn't necessarily a ton of meat on the bone. I've seen, and written about on here some super righteous awesome callouts. I've also seen some that were very murky, or even sinister and abusive.
posted by emptythought at 1:17 AM on July 3, 2015 [6 favorites]


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