Call-Out Culture Isn’t Toxic. You are.
Every month or so, an article comes out screeching about how terrible, horrible, no good very bad “call-out culture” is. Before I get into that, I want to start from the beginning.
Why Do Call-Outs Exist?
The idea of “calling out”, first and foremost, came from Black femmes on social media who were being violently harassed every single day. Rape threats. Death threats. Ban evasion. I watched as the idea of “calling out” developed around 2011–2012 on Tumblr, a site that had no real means to block someone or prevent them from harassing you in any way they saw fit.
Why did we use call-outs back then? Because the only way to stop people from abusing us daily was to scream at them until they stopped.
That was the original goal of a call-out. To make someone stop harassing you.
So How Did Call-Outs Become What They Are Now?
Those same constantly harassed Black femmes realized that people were learning when they did those call-outs. There’s no better learning experience than to watch it directly. Their hypervisibility allowed multiple people to watch, in detail, from beginning to end, how something that seemed okay to white sensibilities quickly devolved into racism. People actually began to learn about why Black femmes appear to “jump the gun”, that is, call something racist before they themselves can see the racism, because they could view the progression through the process of a call-out.
The hypervisibility of Black femmes allows what they do to be seen and also not be seen. What the people viewing Black femme call-outs saw was what they eventually began to turn call-outs into. They saw these “Sassy Black Girls” doing some proverbial neck-rolling and finger-snapping at people online and they wanted to be that too.
They didn’t and still don’t realize that for Black femmes, call-outs may be the only way to stop a violent motherfucker from sending you threats from multiple accounts. Particularly on these social media platforms that never listen to our complaints, even when we have screencapped evidence of threats.
Then How Can You Say It Isn’t Toxic When People Are Misusing It?
People misuse everything. Again, the hypervisibility of Black femmes allow what they do to be seen while also being unseen. Black femmes doing call-outs are either mean bitches or Sassy Sassmasters. There is no consideration or our pain, aggravation, or PTSD from the perpetual abuse we face online. The multiple attempts at more calmly speaking on things that happened before the call-out? All ignored. Anything that may give us humanity is ignored for the sake of the spectacle.
Calling out was originally our last resort…and for fun, performance and ally cookies, it’s been appropriated and now we’re the ones suffering from the results of your multiple articles on Why Call-Out Culture Is Totally Evil.
Calling out wasn’t and isn’t toxic. It was all Black femmes had for protection in multiple online worlds that didn’t care about protecting us. What’s toxic is the people who stole. The people using it now. The people who don’t bother to connect it to its context and history, its creation. The people who never bothered to understand why it existed in the first place.
But If It’s Misused That Bad, Why Not Just Use Calling In To Be Safe?
There are two main reasons why “calling-in” is bullshit. One: because those who eventually started calling-out already unsuccessfully tried calling-in on multiple occasions. Two: because calling-in is the social equivalent of “take it up with HR”.
Before a call-out happens on something that is, relatively, smaller in scale, there are usually multiple very small discussions with the offender on why they should stop a certain kind of behavior. There are usually attempts to disengage, to block, to mute, to ignore, whatever often flawed tools social media allows. It is only when those CEASE TO WORK that a call-out occurs. In other words: it takes 50 call-ins before someone is tired enough of being harassed to make the call-out.
Calling-in allows for people to claim a problem is solved without actually solving it. I’m sure any Black femme in corporate can tell you of a time they reported something, was told it was “dealt with”, only to find the offender received a slap on the wrist, if even that. It hides the entire process so that no one can verify what happened. It also allows major harassers to keep their abuses private.
Some people might say that having a long list of call-outs behind one’s name doesn’t allow people to “grow” because someone will always bring them back up. As someone who has this very long list behind them: I’ve grown anyway. In addition, people who know me and my work can easily split the lies from the truth. If you are going to blame anyone, blame people who dislike fact checking and reading carefully before jumping on a bandwagon! Not those who were wronged and trying to express that. And on top of all of that, the only people who end up on the bad side of a long call-out are the most heavily marginalized, the same people who NEED call-outs to avoid rabid harassment every day. It’s up to every individual to do their OWN work to figure out if the contents of a call-out are useful and genuine, now that people are misusing it. The answer is not to hide it all from the eyes of the public.
At the end of the day, those who demonize calling-out are likely those who said something horrible and got raked over the coals for what they felt like “wasn’t that big of a deal”. The truth is that what you reap, you shall sow. Sure, people use calling-out as a performance. Attack those people. That is an appropriated version and has nothing to do with the purpose and use of calling-out. Most alternatives to it? Black femmes tried and already know it fails. When you shit on calling-out, you shit on Black femmes doing whatever they can to prevent harassment, and that’s supremely fucked up. Talk about MISUSE, not about the concept itself.
Call-outs aren’t what’s toxic. Those who have appropriated it for their own shitty ends ARE.
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