Callout culture, for those who are not familiar, is a toxic dynamic that social justice communities, especially those on the Internet, tend to fall into. Callout culture essentially means that when you do something oppressive, everyone is allowed to yell at you as much as they like and whatever they like, even if you apologize. It reaches its epitome on Tumblr, in which people occasionally tell suicidal people to kill themselves because they used the word “crazy.”
If you don’t know much about callout culture, I recommend you go down to the “further reading” section: there are lots of links that explain it on a more 101ish level than I am going to here. This is definitely inside-online-social-justice baseball.
Tone arguments are a real concern. I am going to put the points I agree with about callout culture rhetoric up front in the vain hope that people will not attempt to disprove me by talking about them in the comment section. There are people who will use another person’s perceived anger as a reason not to engage with them. This is shitty, and also a logical fallacy. After all, if someone says “you motherfucking asshole, the sky is blue, I hope you kill yourself” the sky is still blue and you should not believe the sky is green because that person was a dick.
It is also relatively common for people to use accusations of someone else being a jerk to recenter the conversation around that person’s jerkishness rather than around whatever thing the first person did to make the second person be a dick to them. That’s derailing! And kind of awful!
In addition, the kyriarchy is in general a lot better at recognizing asshole moves against privileged people than asshole moves against marginalized people. So you get people saying “Jeez, I just said ‘tranny’ and this crazy tranny blew up at me. So oversensitive!” No, dude, you’re a dick and she got pissed at you cuz you’re a dick. Reasonable people get pissed at dicks.
Anger can be empowering. Marginalized groups in general are policed about their anger against their marginalization. Some groups, such as people of color and the mentally ill, are stereotyped to be angry, so even the slightest expression of anger by those groups ends up being read as Scary Black Man or Monstrous Mentally Ill Person. Other groups, such as women, are not expected to be angry at all. For these reasons a lot of marginalized people tend to repress their anger.
For these groups, the right to be angry matters. Having a space where they are free to express their anger is liberating for a lot of people. Instead of pushing their anger down and smiling and making nice, they finally have a chance to express the emotions they actually feel. I mean, there’s a reason telling people that their emotions are Wrong Things and they Should Not Have Them is a tool of abuse: invalidating people’s emotions is seriously shitty for their mental health.
That doesn’t mean you get to do whatever you want. Probably the biggest flaw I see in callout culture thinking is the inability to separate “my anger is valid, liberating, and empowering” from “literally anything I do because of my anger is valid, liberating, and empowering.”
Guys: there are some things that are beyond the pale. Beating people up. Any sort of threats. Doxxing people, unless it’s to keep them to cause greater harm to other people (doxxing Violent Acrez? Fine. Doxxing some random kid who said something racist on the Internet? NOT FINE). Telling people to commit suicide. Et cetera, et cetera, you get the idea.
I’ve seen people say “I’m not comfortable policing how oppressed groups express their anger.” BullSHIT you aren’t. You are perfectly comfortable saying that you shouldn’t send people rape threats or call a black person a nigger even if they say horribly oppressive things. I am just suggesting that we expand the list of things that are Not Okay a little.
Alicorn, Me And The Abstracted Persona of the Anti-Ism Community At Large.
Flavia Dzodan, Come one! Come all! Feminist and social justice blogging as performance and bloodshed.
Jo Freeman, Trashing: The Dark Side of Sisterhood.
Natalie Reed, Five Ways Cis Feminists Can Help Build Trans Inclusivity And Intersectionality (mostly the first point, but the rest are also good and you should read them)