One of the most common things people say to me when I call them out on harmful behavior or language is "you are looking to be offended" or "you just like to argue." These are hyper transparent straw man arguments, but outside of that, just think of this logically. Who in the fuck WANTS to be offended? I know someone is reading this and forcibly fake laughing to themselves and saying, "ha, um, A LOT of people" and the thing is no, it's not a lot of people. It's not even a noticeable enough amount of people that it is even a common occurrence. I can't speak for everyone that has ever been told this, but I can speak for myself. I in fact, do not enjoy being hurt. Being hurt fucking sucks. I don't like feeling less than. I don't enjoy being reminded that my existence isn't as important as the existence of others. I don't like being reminded that things can sometimes be harder for me based on nothing I've done and won't change no matter what I do. I actually really, really, fucking hate that that is a reality I have to live in. I hate it even more when I see someone I like, or someone I care about, saying or doing something ignorant to that reality. It's a really shitty feeling. It adds to the general isolation and hopelessness that living under oppression forces upon you. It makes you question who you can trust, who can you believe and who actually thinks of you as an equal or is actually thinking of you in a biased way they aren't sharing.
I hate arguing. When I come across a friend or colleague or acquaintance saying or doing something that I know I cannot ignore is racist, homophobic, transphobic, ableist, etc, the first feeling I have is, in fact, far from elation. I feel scared. I feel panicked. I feel sick. My first thought is FUCK. Not them. Why. Why are they saying this? Why are they doing this? Then I have to wrestle with whether or not I want to say something. Contrary to the folx who say to me that I am known for my "negativity" or "always starting shit," I actually DON'T say anything FAR MORE than I do. It's a lot to weigh. I have to decide if I want to test this friendship over advocating for myself or my allyship to people I've never met. Sometimes I am commit to the self harm, and endure the awkward moment without confrontation or correction out of the fear of losing a friend or the emotional exhaustion of starting a war of words with fragile and defensive folx ready to repeat to me the same stupid shit I've heard over and over. Often they throw in manipulative tactics that play on my fears, such as statements like "everyone hates this about you," or "everyone told me you were like this." It's an abusive tactic that feeds off of my need for community, socializing and just being liked. It makes me scared that no one will like me if I keep "being negative," also known as, speaking up. Once again, it's the fear of isolation. Their privilege is telling them to use it against me. Sometimes I am selfish, and if the comment or behavior is about a marginalized identity I don’t have, although every part of my brain is screaming, “THAT WAS FUCKED UP, SAY SOMETHING,” my privilege allows for me to ignore it because the pain is not so deep. I make a self-centered decision to avoid conflict for my own sanity, which again, is something my privilege of not identifying with the target group allows me to do.
Then there are the times I do say something. Whether out of anger, hurt, moral obligation or otherwise, I feel like I can’t let something just happen without anyone addressing it. I usually wait for a moment hoping it will be someone else, but most often, no one else speaks up. Then again, I weigh the outcome. What kind of hurtful shit will get thrown at me? Will I be told I am a horrible person that no one likes and can I handle that today? I usually know what I’m getting into with strangers. I want them to feel uncomfortable for speaking or behaving in a way that is harmful. I want it to no longer feel so carefree, common and normal to them to be transphobic, homophobic, racist, etc. If I don’t change their mind, I want to change their comfort level with the distribution of those thoughts and behaviors. With family and friends, it’s much harder. I have to decide if I am willing to never talk to this person again. If I am willing to have someone whose opinion I care about tell me I’m awful and no one likes me. Most of the time I choose to speak up to family and friends because I have the context of the person they are, the perhaps uninformed intent behind their hurtful impact. I assume maybe they will understand that I am just trying to make them aware they are being harmful because I know they don’t intend to, it’s just their privileges blocking their vision of the truth.
Sometimes they appreciate it, but they too can become fragile and defensive and decide I don’t care about them as a friend and in turn, no longer care about me as a friend. It all comes down to do you want a friend who will tell you about the spinach in your teeth? I get that it’s embarrassing and if you’re an insecure person like me, it can feel like someone who should be supporting you, choosing instead to point out your flaws. Also, those flaws are embarrassing in themselves, especially if a minute ago I was speaking confidently, blissfully unaware of those flaws. But the thing is, even if I didn’t see the spinach, everyone I talked to that day did. But more than something that is embarrassing, wouldn’t you want to know if you were hurting your friend? What if you were standing on your friend’s foot most of the time you were standing and talking with them and they didn’t tell you because they didn’t want you to feel bad or not talk to them anymore so instead they went out of their way making sure they didn’t stand so close to you or to wear steel toed boots or to stop crying after your talks? That would be ridiculous, right, because regardless of how or why your foot is on top of theirs pressing down on their skin and bones, you need to know about it in order to move it and to stop stepping on them in the future.
Metaphors aside, ultimately what I’m trying to say is that if this is something you catch yourself doing to a friend or stranger that lets you know your words or behavior is hurtful, think about what you’re actually angry about. Are you angry someone assumed you were meaning to hurt people? Because, with all fairness, not everyone has the context of your alleged “good person” status so they can just assume you don’t ever mean to be intentionally harmful. But what does intent chalk up to in this instance anyway? Whether something is hostilely racist or a racist micro aggression, it’s racism all the same. Both calling me a ‘spic’ and asking me if I want ‘hot sauce with that’ is reminding me that you think of me as an “other.” Not a default human, but a side character who is human, but with predetermined faults. It’s the difference between referring to a white man as “a man” and a man of color as “ a black man.” That language implies one thing, one is a person, one is a step down from a person. So consider who you are really mad at. Are you mad that someone told you that your behavior or words are hurtful because doing so is shitty, or are you embarrassed that you were hurting people without realizing it? Is it possible you’re really mad at yourself? Just something to ponder, before you choose accusations over accountability. Accountability literally never hurt anyone.
So what is the idea of “calling people in”? This really centers on making sure your message, aka your request for accountability is packaged in a way that the person receiving it does not feel bad. Unfortunately, this really isn’t possible. All change comes with challenge. To recognize our mistakes, we have to confront them and be accountable for what we’ve said and done. This is almost always painful because no one enjoys being wrong or hurting others. Feeling regret is a sign of empathy and empathy is actually a major part of taking genuine accountability because you actually have to care about what you’ve done and who you’ve hurt. I’ve been told over and over that I need to be considerate of white people when discussing their racist behavior. Consider how calling them racist or their behavior racist makes THEM FEEL. After all, you can catch more bees with honey. But consider that this stance suggests that the person you are confronting in no way should be made to feel uncomfortable for literally making you uncomfortable. Not only do you have to experience the initial hurt and dehumanization, BUT now you have to educate the person who hurt you and do so in a way they, themselves, are not feeling hurt. All this is, is once again, centering the feelings of the oppressor. Whoever has most privilege in this situation should be protected, for no reason other than, being forced to see the hidden rain clouds on an otherwise totally sunny day, ISN’T FAIR. Whenever someone tells you your behavior or language is harmful, don’t let your privilege convince you that you are entitled to only sunshine. Question your anger. Question your resentment. Question yourself. And if you said or did something with unintended consequences, don’t focus on the accidental nature of the harm, focus on the healing.
“Call Out Culture” is the new manipulative term for allyship. Just as “political correctness” is a stand-in gaslighting term for basically having human empathy and caring about people outside of yourself. Calling it something people can mock and suggest is silly, makes it easier to shame people into no longer caring about one another. Call Out Culture is advocating for ourselves and advocating for others. Suggesting that confronting harmful behavior or language is harmful, is exactly the kind of gaslighting manipulative language that abusers use to make their victims question themselves. It’s how oppression has taught us to oppress ourselves and oppress each other so the cycle never stops. I will not be shamed into silence. I will continue to call shitty behavior out when I see it and I encourage others to do the same to me. Self advocacy is hard. Allyship is uncomfortable. If all of it were easy, oppression wouldn’t be as successful as it’s been.