3 alternatives to call out culture

Call out culture, or the practice of publicly denouncing offensive words or actions, has become a problem. The impact of this is a cycle of negativity that does not foster awareness or growth. It’s not easy or even possible to educate everyone but we can work on being a little more civil to one another. None of us is perfect and even the most aware, conscious person was at one point less so. We all know that it shouldn’t be the responsibility of the oppressed to educate their oppressors. But, if we all contribute, things will begin to change.

If someone says or does something offensive, what should you do? It seems that the popular thing to do lately has been to call them out in a very public way. That could be in front of a group of people, or on social media. The problem with this method is that it often makes it more about looking good than about educating someone. Sometimes a call out is totally justified. But that shouldn’t be the default.

Publicly shaming someone doesn’t create good feelings. People often get defensive or angry when they are called out in public. These emotions are not a good foundation for growth. We often dig in our heels in these moments and refuse to change. Let’s not be bigots, who, definition, are intolerant of people with differing opinions. We don’t need to stoop to that level.

call out culture - M Somerville Photography

Sometimes someone says something out of line that we can’t help but think “how stupid are they??” Even if what they said was so not ok, telling them that they are an idiot for thinking that way isn’t going to change their minds. Would you change your mind if someone said that about one of your beliefs? Try to see it from the other person’s perspective. We are all complex humans with a variety of motives. Were they trying to be hurtful? Does this happen often? These are factors to consider when deciding how to react.

Yes, we are angry and tired. We are all sick of putting up with this BS time and again. But if we work together, and support one another, we can make progress. It’s already happening. Let’s not resort to anger, belittling or hatred to solve our problems. That is not the path to progress. It’s not easy and no you don’t have to be nice or even civil to everyone, but let’s do our best. We have a long road ahead of us, let’s try to make it a little more pleasant for everyone.

Here are three alternatives to publicly calling someone out:

  1. Talk to the person one to one - this is the most straightforward method, but often the most challenging. This puts the responsibility on the marginalized to educate their oppressors. This method is great, but make sure you are not using it to your own detriment.

  2. Ask for support from your community or someone close to the offender - if you don’t feel up to the task of educating the offender (for whatever reason), ask someone else to do it. Examples are asking a local social justice group to address the person or speaking to the person’s mother. I heard an amazing example of a woman who contacted her classmate’s mom on Facebook about her son's behavior. The mother assured the woman that she would speak with her son about his behavior. Be cautious, though, because this can be tricky.

  3. Finally, speak to someone in a position of authority - this could mean going to the dean about a professor’s comments or actions, talking to your boss about a coworker or even going to the police. This is often considered a last resort, but it doesn’t have to be. Sometimes people won’t listen to their peers. It doesn’t have to be about getting them in trouble. Sometimes they won’t listen to anyone else.

We are making progress but we have to all be in it for the long haul. I know it is exhausting. Take care of yourself! But we have to keep moving forward. We cannot give up or think we have done enough because that is when patriarchy wins! This fight is worth it - for ourselves, for our children, for friends and family and those we will never meet. Let’s work together to make this world a better place for everyone.