It's been super trendy to discuss at length how call out culture is toxic and we need to find multiple ways of making accountability easier to swallow. I just read this piece, "A Note on Call-Out Culture" yesterday when I saw it show up on Facebook over and over again, and I felt taken aback.
First, I want to acknowledge that call out culture is fucking tiring as hell. I absolutely get why people feel a constant level of scrutiny and awareness is anxiety-provoking and stressful. I've even written on this topic before.
I also think it's vital if we want to actually dismantle the roots of structural violence rather than pruning the branches. It is often easier to attack each other rather than people higher up on the privilege chain, but, as with humour, we need to punch up, not down (and we need to see call outs within our community as part of punching up at the programming we've taken in, rather than individual attacks). I think for that solidarity to exist, we need to spend more time having fun with each other, not burning out on social justice. I think activists tend to feel we can't ever turn it off and just enjoy something problematic or not talk about social issues and just go to a concert but for self care, we need spaces to enjoy our community, too.
Maybe I'm an idealist, but I think we can have both. In order for that to happen, we need to separate what is bullying, and what is call out culture, because they are not the same thing at all and these "think piece" articles often seem to think that they are. Many incredible and useful tools can also be used as a bludgeon, that doesn't mean that's the best or even intended use for them.... and it doesn't mean those tools aren't still useful when properly handled.
We need to understand there are important and solid reasons why call outs are public and not private, why there's a "spectacle". I started working with call out culture as a means to an end- there were a few men who were repeatedly sexually assaulting women in my local "sex positive" community, and as many of the victims were sex workers, going to the police was not an option. With multiple women reporting assault from these men, merely sitting down and having a conversation did not seem like an effective option either. Call out culture allowed us to band together and loudly make people aware of these men, who have, for the most part, been blacklisted from these spaces - and it allowed us to alert *everyone*, not just our close friends via backroom whispers. Private name and shame techniques meant I was coerced into sex by a serial rapist, because I didn't know the right people to ask when seeking references. A public call out, though, with clear expectations on follow up behaviour, allowed us to create a space where accountability and community growth were a priority. And it makes the process transparent and open to the community, or at least more transparent than whispers behind hands at events.
Sometimes a spectacle is what's needed to get people to take notice and take action. It took #blacklivesmatter to get the rest of the United States to talk about systematic police violence against Black people, so dismiss hashtag activism if you want, but it's a useful tool and it's often in the hands of the marginalized, signal boosting their voices. And it’s worth noting that a lot of people condemning callout culture are often people who are being called out, regularly, who then claim that call out culture is super toxic... before using the same techniques to silence those doing the calling out (I am particularly right now thinking of some of the interactions I've witnessed on Twitter recently, as well as my ongoing issues with maymay, neither of whom I'm going to link because I don't need them doxxing and harassing me yet again). Seems a little suspicious, no?
I do agree that when considering utilizing a call out, it's pretty important to consider a) what sort of result you want, what kind of accountability are you seeking, what is the end goal, b) how invested you, as the person doing the call out, are in engaging with the person being called out, and in their education, c) is this person a part of your community, as in, do you feel you have a responsibility of mutual care, or no? Call outs are, in my opinion, fundamentally an example of caring about people, as to call someone out is to trust that they will hear your feedback and want to change. To be called out is, in my mind, indicative of people's belief in you, that you're worth improving. It's the opposite of banishment.
That's why I feel a lot of these protests of call out culture are not, actually, about call out culture. I think call out culture is about using exile as an absolute last resort, it's a way for people who have been hurt to try to talk to someone one last time. It's also about mildly nudging someone when they say something cruel so they can learn, and it's about better communication in community spaces. I think these protests are about people who are abusing the language of social justice and accountability to get people to do what they want rather than to implement actual change.
Unpopular opinion- I think "check your privilege" is a pretty mild way to tell people they're being assholes based off of their incredible advantages in life and they need to sit the fuck down, all things considered. I think it's important to remind people, over and over, when they're forgetting or ignoring how their privilege impacts their bias and experiences. If someone telling you something that is factual hurts your feelings, I think that is entirely on you needing to learn how to not be defensive.
I highly recommend this entire piece by Lex in Flux about call out culture, but here's a piece I wanted to pull because it's important:
"We need to talk about just how powerful call-out culture can be, in part because it so stands in opposition to the “appropriateness” that helps maintain the status quo. Shielding people from the consequences of their behavior, especially if their behavior is kicking someone who’s already down, is not going to empower them. Call-out culture is not all one thing, and certainly not “toxic.” The content of what is being said, and the act of being able to say it, matters so much more than the result in an interaction in which someone says or does something oppressive and possibly ends up feeling guilty.
Calling out oppressive actions, acknowledging and expressing our real, in the moment pain, in the place where it is happening, is intensely powerful.And, especially in the absence of certain privileges, we need that power to fuel the change we seek. Sure, power without real community can lead anyone down “totalitarian” and “anti-oppressive” roads, just as it did for those who have successfully become the oppressors throughout history. Unchecked anger can take us to places where we start justifying cruelty and reinforcing other oppressive structures, e.g. using cissexism to “fight” sexism.
But I do not at all share your thinly veiled hope that call-outs eventually “go away.” Rather, I believe that call-out culture is absolutely essential to accountability, and not the enemy thereof. We need to check each other’s behavior, and each other’s actions, to keep ourselves going the right way. We need to encourage rather than discourage a healthy maintenance of boundaries, and above all remember that none of these issues is illusory and none of us is totally immune."