Call them in, with love
November 19, 2020 10:43 AM   Subscribe

Radical Black feminist scholar Loretta J. Ross, "an unlikely figure in the culture wars," is profiled in the NY Times: "What if Instead of Calling People Out, We Called Them In?"
posted by PhineasGage (22 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
My initial impulse of course is to joke "We should have just hugged Hitler more"...

But to seriously critique instead of mockingly dismiss, what I think is really needed for something like this to work is understanding the specific target at hand.

If the actor is merely ignorant, but acting in good faith (e.g. implies they are amenable to change), then its possible.

If they are malicious and intentional, or acting in bad faith (e.g. "just joking") and not actually up for understanding they should be mercilessly mocked and destroyed.

Sadly part of the problem is calling people "out" who are legit bad actors leads naive individuals to see the cult of attack and then side with the supposed "victims" (muh free speech).

I don't know what the answer is, but the latter isn't necessarily an argument to apply Kumbaya to all and sundry just in the hopes of appeasing the good faith actors.

Still though, man... after so many years of trying to deal with "good faith" actors, it's hard to find where good faith ends and an honest to god racist begins.
posted by symbioid at 10:48 AM on November 19 [17 favorites]


(Sorry to follow-up but...) The other issue in this, where we require heuristics to determine good/bad faith is to prevent the bad faith actors from sea-lioning and depleting our mental/physical and emotional resources to "explain" (hence the often other sad result of the people who tell them they're acting poorly - "It's not my job to educate you" - which is precisely what they want, as well... To wear you down). Bad Faith actors have that pesky habit and abuse it.

Sorry I will have to actually RTFA maybe she addresses these concerns, but just my quick thoughts on the general idea.
posted by symbioid at 10:51 AM on November 19 [3 favorites]


Ngọc Loan Trần's essay "Calling IN: A Less Disposable Way of Holding Each Other Accountable" (Black Girl Dangerous blog, December, 2013) should be required background reading for any discussion of this topic.
posted by eviemath at 11:21 AM on November 19 [9 favorites]


It is much easier to find "bad faith" in the points of view of people who disagree with you. It's easier to call people who disagree with you "bad actors," too.

It's part of the same shame dynamic: you see people who differ from you, and you try to shut them down and exclude them. Do it in the name of forwarding justice, and you get to polish your ego while achieving the opposite:

As it turns out, all of that shaming may be counterproductive. Multiple studies, Ms. Crockett said, have found that shaming can make people more resistant to change.

Prof Ross is a signatory of the Harper's letter, too.
posted by factory123 at 11:34 AM on November 19 [6 favorites]


Also useful is a post Professor Ross published last year, Speaking Up Without Tearing Down, where she addresses both the problem of requiring extra emotional labor from people who have been hurt and the problem of powerful people intentionally abusing civil norms.

But she goes on to say that many situations involve relative equals, who then have an opportunity to help people grow past their ignorance.

One thing that makes me really receptive to her arguments (aside from her long history of working for justice: the NY Times calls her a "radical Black feminist who has been doing human rights work for four decades") is that we know that shame doesn't work.

We know shame doesn't work to change people's behavior involving drug addiction, disordered eating, smoking, or not wearing a mask during a pandemic.

I want to live in a world where racism and sexism and ALL the other isms are universally held to be wrong, and where expressions of those views are held to be wrong.

As a white person who's not subjected to racism, I want to know all I can about how I can help bring about a better world, how I can do the work so those who have been hurt by racism don't have to.

I am really glad to know about Professor Ross. Thank you for posting this, PhineasGage!
posted by kristi at 11:43 AM on November 19 [10 favorites]


Not sure why the author refers to Ross as "Professor Ross" but refers to another academic as "Ms. Clark."
posted by Saxon Kane at 11:45 AM on November 19 [1 favorite]


Also useful is a post Ross published last year, Speaking Up Without Tearing Down, where she addresses both the problem of requiring extra emotional labor from people who have been hurt and the problem of powerful people intentionally abusing civil norms.

I just wanted to say thanks for this link because the premise of the FPP is interesting and I wanted to read about her ideas without having to do the whole New York Times article dance, and this looks like a good read from what I've read so far!
posted by LSK at 11:47 AM on November 19


It seems part of the problem is taking norms that are appropriate for dealing with anonymous strangers online, or for dealing with powerful people, and extending them to situations where they do not work. I think this is also a factor in arguments over restrictions on freedom of speech.

There are also now public figures, mostly but not exclusively on the right, and mostly but not exclusively on the side opposed to call-out culture, who have built fairly lucrative YouTube/Patreon audiences by stoking fear and outrage on this topic. Nobody's getting rich but there are people making comfortable livings off of making sure the debate on this topic is as unpleasant and uncivil as possible -- deliberately stirring the pot.
posted by vogon_poet at 11:57 AM on November 19 [7 favorites]


I don't think her credentials change the fact that like basically everyone who signed the Harper's letter, she maintains the least possible charitable reading of "call out" or "cancel" culture. People afraid to say that they watched or liked the Cosby show? That's BS straight out of the playbook of conservative culture warriors.
posted by Wood at 12:25 PM on November 19 [10 favorites]


That's kind of the point, Wood. One side is convinced that they are simply calling out bigotry, and how could that ever be wrong? Sorry you can't worship Hitler in public. The other side feels they are being needlessly attacked for honest mistakes or liking innocuous things like TV shows that have been denounced. Which isn't BS at all, I know I've seen similar things happen online at least, and these demands for "charitable" readings of "call out"/"cancel" culture are often demands to ignore or brush that aside.

Both sides conclude the other is therefore operating in bad faith, and round and round we go.
posted by star gentle uterus at 1:05 PM on November 19 [9 favorites]


I follow a dog breeder on tumblr who does a good job of modelling this sort of attitude and behavior re: weird dog breeding politics. Thinking briefly about it too long, I think some of his ingredients for success are open conversations about values and what people want out of their dogs, and having something tangible to discuss with other people (a puppy he may theoretically breed and sell to them). He's also firmly in a community -- by which I mean he has a tumblr presence, has a small community of like-minded folks, yet is open to chat with people he doesn't know. He's invested in the outcome of his discussion, unlike bozo42069 in the youtube comments who's just looking for an opportunity to piss somebody off for half a molecule of serotonin.

Because of his open conversations about values and willingness to listen and dialogue with people (specifically people who are invested in owning a dog), he is able to teach them a little about dogs and steer them in a better direction.

The idea of listening to racists more makes me very tired. What they have to say is worthless and corrosive. To my mind, then, it makes sense to save your boot leather and only engage when you can tell they've got some investment in the situation, and the situation is "physical" enough that you can measure their investment and work with it.

That cuts out most of the internet? 99.99% of the comment sections at the very least. But that might be for the best. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Otherwise, you're shouting at the void, and the void is getting fucking annoyed about it, and will probably do it to you.
posted by snerson at 1:12 PM on November 19 [2 favorites]


It is much easier to find "bad faith" in the points of view of people who disagree with you. It's easier to call people who disagree with you "bad actors," too.

The problem with this argument is the word "disagree" - or more to the point, how it is routinely abused in our discourse to conceal the actual scope of the positions held, to turn people fighting for their humanity into a bloodless "difference of opinion". Beyond that, this feeds into the societal cancer that is "both-sideism", in which the act of opposition is all that is necessary to grant one side legitimacy. We've created a culture in which bad actors do use the act of opposition as cover for their behavior, and we enable it when we just allow them to engage in bad faith out of some unwarranted concern towards "disagreement".

Related, I think that this piece by Emily L. Hauser serves as a counterpoint (while in the context of US politics, there are greater points made that I find applicable):
Indeed, any number of faith traditions and 12-step programs will tell you that forgiveness cannot come in the absence of genuine repentance; that repentance, in turn, requires changed behavior; and that bad behavior has consequences, no matter how much you might wish it otherwise. I would argue that perhaps the biggest reason Democrats shouldn’t start extending unearned olive branches is because America has a history of skimping on the whole “consequences” thing, and honestly, it’s a big part of why 2020 has been such an unremitting dumpster fire.
posted by NoxAeternum at 3:28 AM on November 20 [2 favorites]


Something that I think needs more discussion is how criticism, even well-meaning criticism intended kindly, is often interpreted as an attack. (Indeed, one of the core tactics of right wing media is to immunize its audience against anything that might cause self-reflection by constantly reinforcing the idea that any criticism at all is a violent attack on their values.)
posted by Nothing at 4:11 AM on November 20 [5 favorites]


I think her arguments are only applicable to situations where you have a personal relationship with the person who is fucking up. When strangers e.g. internet assholes treat us badly or say racist things, we are not obligated to tolerate it or engage with them or expend emotional labor calling them in. We don't owe anything other than passive forms of respect to people we are unconnected to.

However, when such a personal relationship exists, then I feel it is our duty to call the person in, to assume the responsibility of doing the emotional labor of persistent engagement and NOT simply cut someone out of our lives (unless there is danger to ourselves or harm caused to others by our engagement).

To me, "cancel culture" is absolutely wonderful and a powerful way of holding people accountants in most cases, but it is poisonous when it takes the guise of "cut off your toxic friends/family, go no-contact!" No. Not unless the caveats of danger to self or harm to others from staying engaged apply. We have a responsibility to the world as well as a moral obligation not to treat people we are connected to as disposable. We are all, to varying extents, responsible for holding our connected ones within the fold of the social fabric. Our mere discomfort or dislike of them doesn't let us off the hook from this responsibility, imo.

Thanks to those who dug up professor Ross's transphobic views in the past. I hope she can clarify and make amends.
posted by MiraK at 6:48 AM on November 20 [2 favorites]


Unless I'm misreading the page, that article appears to be by Jane Clare Jones, not Loretta J. Ross, and I can't see any references to or quotations from Ross in the article.
posted by vogon_poet at 7:38 AM on November 20 [5 favorites]


[augustimagination, can you update? I've temporarily deleted your comment because the linked article you arttribute to Ross doesn't seem to be an article by Ross or even mentioning Ross or anything about Ross. If you meant to link a different article that actually is by or about Ross, I can bring the comment back with a corrected link.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 10:34 AM on November 20


The problem with this argument is the word "disagree" - or more to the point, how it is routinely abused in our discourse to conceal the actual scope of the positions held, to turn people fighting for their humanity into a bloodless "difference of opinion". Beyond that, this feeds into the societal cancer that is "both-sideism", in which the act of opposition is all that is necessary to grant one side legitimacy.

"to conceal" is an interesting choice of words. I don't think that Prof Ross looked at the Harper's Letter and thought, "A-ha! Finally, a chance to stick it to the trans community under the guise of support for open debate!" Good people acting in good faith arrive at different opinions.

This reminds me of arguing with right wing christians. To be against any one of their shitty positions is taken as a proxy for being against god. You say you want fair treatment for gay people, but the "actual scope" of your position is to destroy god.

This reminds me of the healthcare debate. Oh, you don't support Medicare for All, well then I guess you like poor people dying! This reminds me of the build up to the Iraq War. Oh, you don't support the war, guess you love Saddam Hussein, then!

forgiveness cannot come in the absence of genuine repentance

Do you want a better world or do you want a pound of flesh?
posted by factory123 at 11:30 AM on November 20 [4 favorites]


vogon_poet: after a message from the mods, I double-checked and found that was an article she linked in a public Facebook post, and I mistakenly read her as the author when I clicked through to it. Thanks for pointing it out so I could fix my mistake.

For full transparency, here's the link to the public Facebook post where she does link to the transphobic article. Being that it's from 2015 I do hope she's changed her views, but in tandem with her recently signing on to the letter it is hard for me to feel that hope very strongly.
posted by augustimagination at 3:04 PM on November 20 [1 favorite]


From the article (my reformatting for readability here):
YouTuber Natalie Wynn has put together a kind of taxonomy of call-out culture after being “canceled” multiple times. Its characteristics include
- presumption of guilt (without facts or nuance getting in the way)
- essentialism (when criticism of bad behavior becomes criticism of a bad person)
- pseudo-intellectualism (proclaiming one’s moral high ground)
- unforgivability (no apology is good enough)
- and, of course, contamination, or guilt by association.
. . .
As it turns out, all of that shaming may be counterproductive. Multiple studies, Ms. Crockett said, have found that shaming can make people more resistant to change.
posted by PhineasGage at 4:14 PM on November 20 [3 favorites]


An endorsement of that article is pretty depressing, thanks for posting it. I would not myself describe it as "one of the best analyses" of anything.
posted by vogon_poet at 4:19 PM on November 20


There are many parts of the linked article that make me (as a trans woman) cringe. But I actually do appreciate that Ross was linking to it in what I perceive as good faith expressly because it's at least attempting to argue that the respective groups should not actually be in opposition when they (or we, rather) should be natural allies against larger, more powerful forces. And I can agree with them on that, certainly.
posted by Pryde at 7:49 PM on November 20 [4 favorites]


Do you want a better world or do you want a pound of flesh?

My response is twofold:

One, as pointed out in this piece, you'll never get that "better world" you want without accountability. I believe in rehabilitation and restorative justice, but I also believe that accountability and contrition are necessary, because you can't rehabilitate someone who believes they have done nothing wrong. (Not to mention that we send a horrible message to victims when we are more focused on the welfare of their abusers than on helping and supporting them.)

Second, using as an attack a line from a Shakespeare play that is dripping in antisemitism is...not a good look.
posted by NoxAeternum at 4:58 PM on November 30 [1 favorite]


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