Today’s call-out culture is so seductive, I often have to resist the overwhelming temptation to clap back at people on social media who get on my nerves. Call-outs happen when people publicly shame each other online, at the office, in classrooms or anywhere humans have beef with one another. But I believe there are better ways of doing social justice work.
Recently, someone lied about me on social media and I decided not to reply. “Never wrestle with a pig,” as George Bernard Shaw said. “You both get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.” And one of the best ways to make a point is to ignore someone begging for attention. Thanks, Michelle Obama, for this timely lesson; most people who read her book “Becoming” probably missed that she subtly threw shade this way.
Call-outs are often louder and more vicious on the internet, amplified by the “clicktivist” culture that provides anonymity for awful behavior. Even incidents that occur in real life, like Barbeque Becky or Permit Patty, can end up as an admonitory meme on social media. Social media offers new ways to be the same old humans by virally exposing what has always been in our hearts, good or bad.
My experiences with call-outs began in the 1970s as a young black feminist activist. I sharply criticized white women for not understanding women of color. I called them out while trying to explain intersectionality and white supremacy. I rarely questioned whether the way I addressed their white privilege was actually counterproductive. They barely understood what it meant to be white women in the system of white supremacy. Was it realistic to expect them to comprehend the experiences of black women?