Call-out culture at it’s core, is a great way to denounce bigotry. What I love(d) about it – in it’s social media manifestation – is how it gives people who are ordinarily not powerful a way to speak up about powerful people and systems and be heard.
I used to learn so much from call-outs – both mine, and others.
Then things started changing, slowly so most of us didn’t realise at first what exactly was happening and why we were uncomfortable with that new wave of call-outs. Some people began to advocate for “calling-in” – a kinder way to call out, because sometimes humans screw up not because they are evil, but there are still unlearning and you recognise that.
I sometimes reflect on why I am so uncomfortable with calling out as it is done these days, and here’s where I’m at:
Power Analysis is Key
I appreciated and supported calling out on twitter in the past because it had to do with power. At the time, people who ordinarily did not have any power in certain context could speak up about powerful people, systems and the harm they caused them. And they were heard because twitter was fresh and new and exciting and great (yay). Those call-outs were punching up – at unrepentant bigots, bigoted systems, powerful bigots and I was down with that, charley.
… but now, what I often see with my jaded jaded eyes is a lateral punching. A punching sideways. Punching laterally. Cite me. just kidding. No cite me, for real.
And most of the time, it looks and feels like a mean-spirited pile on. And occasionally it doesn’t even look like that lateral punching thing – it’s plain old punching down. It’s bullying.
I also understand that often, people without power are told to pipe down, or to change their protesting tactics by the powerful. So I also get the opposition to the opposition to call-out culture. I get why some people who suddenly have a way to be heard, an avenue to confront the bigotry which makes their lives difficult do not appreciate being told there might be something toxic about the methods.
The way I see it, there’s social media currency now and that’s power too. The kids call it clout… as in, me and my fellow kids call it clout. The number of followers a person has – of course, but also who follows a person, and or how quickly they can get people online to “take a person down” sometimes based only on they say a person said or did. It’s scary sometimes. Like that time people destroyed a Korean models career by making up a fake story based on a photo of her and circulating it, or that time a Ghanaian man was put in mortal peril because someone put up photos of him on whatsapp and said he was an armed robber. The man had to shave his beard off and go into hiding for a while.
This social media currency is a form of power too. I think we who are marginalised in offline spaces, but have this online power should think about how we use it, because god forbid we become like the oppressors we claim to fight when we taste a tiny fraction of the sort of power they have, right?
Can we call-out, call-in, or call-alfresco without the bullying?