Our allegedly intelligent, enlightened culture has created a belligerent army of so called “woke” people set on lynching anyone and everyone who disagrees with their opinions. This epidemic of call-out culture is very disturbing to Professor Loretta J. Ross, a radical Black feminist who has been doing human rights work for 40 years. Profiled in the New York Times, she tells her students at Smith College: “If you need a trigger warning or a safe space, I urge you to drop this class.” She further clarifies “I think we overuse that word ‘trigger’ when really we mean discomfort. And we should be able to have uncomfortable conversations.”
The New York Times summarized the various aspects of call out culture:
“Its characteristics include presumption of guilt (without facts or nuance getting in the way); essentialism (when criticism of bad behavior becomes criticism of a bad person); pseudo-intellectualism (proclaiming one’s moral high ground); unforgivability (no apology is good enough); and, of course, contamination, or guilt by association.”
Ross openly and publicly challenges call-out culture: “I think you can understand how calling out is toxic. It really does alienate people, and makes them fearful of speaking up.” She opposes, as just one example, people being publicly shamed for admitting they once were big fans of TV’s “The Cosby Show.” And the ever present mistake of sending out a tweet they were later sorry for: “What I’m really impatient with is calling people out for something they said when they were a teenager when they’re now 55. I mean, we all at some point did some unbelievably stupid stuff as teenagers, right?”
Professor Ross thinks call-out culture actually cancels out positive learning opportunities, where someone in the wrong may respectfully be corrected, instead of lynching them on the spot: “I think this is also related to something I just discovered called doom scrolling. I think we actually sabotage our own happiness with this unrestrained anger. And I have to honestly ask: Why are you making choices to make the world crueller than it needs to be and calling that being ‘woke’?”
In the early 1990s, Professor Ross accompanied former spokesman for the Aryan Nations Floyd Cochran on a national atonement tour. “Here’s a guy who had never done anything but be a Nazi since he was 14 years old, and now he was 35 with no job, no education, no hope. And we helped people like them.”
Professor Ross takes the patient, long-term approach: “You can’t be responsible for someone else’s inability to grow. So take comfort in the fact that you offered a new perspective of information and you did so with love and respect, and then you walk away. We have a saying in the movement: Some people you can work with and some people you can work around. But the thing that I want to emphasize is that the calling-in practice means you always keep a seat at the table for them if they come back.” Numerous psychological and sociological studies have come to the same conclusion: shaming makes people more resistant to change.
Ross confesses her own experiences being called out:
“I, too, have been called out, usually for a prejudice I had against someone, or for using insensitive language that didn’t keep up with rapidly changing conventions. That’s part of everyone’s learning curve but I still felt hurt, embarrassed and defensive. Fortunately, patient elders helped me grow through my discomfort and appreciate that context, intentions and nuances matter. Colleagues helped me understand that I experienced things through my trauma. There was a difference between what I felt was true and what were facts. This ain’t easy and it ain’t over — even as an elder now myself.”
Confession almost always leads to good and positive outcomes:
“When I worked to deprogram incarcerated rapists in the 1970s, I told the story of my own sexual assaults. It opened the floodgates for theirs. They were candid about having raped women, admitted having done it to men or revealed being raped themselves. As part of our work together, they formed Prisoners Against Rape, the country’s first anti-sexual assault program led by men.”
Ross backs the #MeToo movement but believes they have gone too far:
“I believe #MeToo survivors can more effectively address sexual abuse without resorting to the punishment and exile that mirror the prison industrial complex. Nor should we use social media to rush to judgment in a courtroom composed of clicks. If we do, we run into the paradox Audre Lorde warned us about when she said that ‘the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house’ …… Every time somebody disagrees with me it’s not verbal violence. I’m not getting ‘re-raped.”
Ross abhors treating any human being as disposable and without dignity:
“We can build restorative justice processes to hold the stories of the accusers and the accused, and work together to ascertain harm and achieve justice without seeing anyone as disposable people and violating their human rights or right to due process. And if feminists were able to listen to convicted rapists in the 1970s, we can seek innovative and restorative methods for accused people today. That also applies to people fighting white supremacy.”
Ross in rural Tennessee:
“On a mountaintop in rural Tennessee in 1992, a group of women whose partners were in the Ku Klux Klan asked me to provide anti-racist training to help keep their children out of the group. All day they called me a “well-spoken colored girl” and inappropriately asked that I sing Negro spirituals. I naïvely thought at the time that all white people were way beyond those types of insulting anachronisms.
“Instead of reacting, I responded. I couldn’t let my hurt feelings sabotage my agenda. I listened to how they joined the white supremacist movement. I told them how I felt when I was 8 and my best friend called me “nigger,” the first time I had heard that word. The women and I made progress. I did not receive reports about further outbreaks of racist violence from that area for my remaining years monitoring hate groups.”
The harm of call-out and cancel culture:
“These types of experiences cause me to wonder whether today’s call-out culture unifies or splinters social justice work, because it’s not advancing us, either with allies or opponents. Similarly problematic is the ‘cancel culture,’ where people attempt to expunge anyone with whom they do not perfectly agree, rather than remain focused on those who profit from discrimination and injustice…..
“Call-outs make people fearful of being targeted. People avoid meaningful conversations when hyper-vigilant perfectionists point out apparent mistakes, feeding the cannibalistic maw of the cancel culture. Shaming people for when they ‘woke up’ presupposes rigid political standards for acceptable discourse and enlists others to pile on. Sometimes it’s just ruthless hazing.”
The solution: calling-in:
“We can change this culture. Calling-in is simply a call-out done with love. Some corrections can be made privately. Others will necessarily be public, but done with respect. It is not tone policing, protecting white fragility or covering up abuse. It helps avoid the weaponization of suffering that prevents constructive healing.
“Calling-in engages in debates with words and actions of healing and restoration, and without the self-indulgence of drama. And we can make productive choices about the terms of the debate: Conflicts about coalition-building, supporting candidates or policies are a routine and desirable feature of a pluralistic democracy.
“You may never meet a member of the Klan or actively teach incarcerated people, but everyone can sit down with people they don’t agree with to work toward solutions to common problems.
“In 2017, as a college professor in Massachusetts, I accidentally misgendered a student of mine during a lecture. I froze in shame, expecting to be blasted. Instead, my student said, ‘That’s all right; I misgender myself sometimes.’ We need more of this kind of grace.”
What if Instead of Calling People Out, We Called Them In? https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/19/style/loretta-ross-smith-college-cancel-culture.html
I’m a Black Feminist. I Think Call-Out Culture Is Toxic https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/17/opinion/sunday/cancel-culture-call-out.html
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