stop attacking “call-out culture” just because it hurts your feelings. some people need to be called out

June 2, 2017
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Along with the growth of social media platforms, concerns about “call-out culture” have increased exponentially over the years. As defined in this piece against calling-out that went viral in 2015 (and seems to be making the rounds again), “call-out culture refers to the tendency among progressives, radicals, activists, and community organizers to publicly name instances or patterns of oppressive behaviour and language use by others.”

Many people claim call-out culture is “toxic” because its public nature can lead it to be (seen as) “performative.” Asam Ahmad, the author of the aforementioned piece, proposes “calling-in” instead, explaining that “calling in means speaking privately with an individual who has done some wrong, in order to address the behaviour without making a spectacle of the address itself.”

By Hari Ziyad*, AFROPUNK Writer

It’s undeniable that some people take great pleasure in pointing out the flaws of others, and see people who make mistakes as disposable beings who should be thrown away at the first sign of a mistake, and obviously that isn’t productive. What’s more undeniable, however, is that there are systematic protections already embedded in our society that uphold sexism, racism, queerantagonism and other practices that are usually the target of call-out culture. To push these issues even further into the shadows, as proponents of “calling-in” suggest, could only lead to more abuse and an even more dangerous lack of accountability.

Social media is a powerful tool for voices that are excluded from mainstream platforms. For all of its problems, social media does help shine a light on the many violences that others have too easily been able to erase or ignore for centuries. I credit (Black) Facebook and Twitter for educating me out of many of my own abusive ways of thinking, as it was online friends who were Black women and trans/gender-nonconfirming individuals especially who made sure I was called out on my shit when I needed to be. And as someone who has been called out many times, I can attest to the fact that it is hardly ever a fun, comfortable experience.

But unlearning this shit isn’t supposed to be fun and easy; that doesn’t mean it isn’t necessary or good. In fact, anger and the harsh tone that generally comes with “call-out culture” can just as often be a sign of love as anything negative, as it can indicate the belief in the recipient’s capacity to be a better person. Anger at injustice is a right. If we deny that someone can show anger publicly and still come from a place of love – a place that is constructive – we are denying people their full range of emotions.

This isn’t to excuse the way so many of us are overly willing to throw each other away and/or not allow room for mistakes. This is to say that allowing room for mistakes means we also have to be open to the possibility of making them and being publicly accountable. If anything, call-out culture isn’t the problem, but disingenuous holier-than-thou performances, or using calling-out to reestablish the same abusive practices but with the abused as the new abuser, is. These are two separate issues.

Putting all of the blame for toxic activist spaces on calling-out is a silencing tactic that will ultimately harm those who don’t have any other avenues to public accountability. The feelings of abusers who are called out is not more important than the harm they have the potential to enact, and because society ensures that there is always the potential to harm folks more marginalized than you this should always take precedence. Instead of shaming “call-out culture,” perhaps we should spend our energy creating structures and platforms where calling-out can be done in a productive, healthy way.

Banner photo via Getty Images

*Hari Ziyad is a New York based storyteller and writer for AFROPUNK. They are also the editor-in-chief of RaceBaitR, deputy editor of Black Youth Project, and assistant editor of Vinyl Poetry & Prose. You can follow them on Twitter @hariziyad.