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How Callout Culture Can Become Toxic
Callouts can be used to bring attention to important issues, but with any callout there needs to be context.
By Mari Ramsawakh
If you’re an activist or online often enough, you’re familiar with callout culture. You’ve probably called someone out yourself— in and of itself, a callout isn’t a bad thing. Sometimes when someone says or does something that perpetuates violence or ignorance against marginalized identities, we should say something. But callouts are just a tool and there is no inherent good or bad to them; they are how they are used, and sometimes there is an attached toxicity to callouts. More specifically, sometimes when you lose the nuance of callouts, they can be used to perpetuate white victimhood.
When I say white victimhood, I mean the tendency that white folks have to center themselves as victims of any given scenario. We’ve seen it throughout the civil rights movement: as soon as people of colour get an inch of progress we’re asked, but how does it affect white people? People of colour live constantly under the pressure of how their actions and their success affects the white people around them. So when white people start to use callouts, well, it can become a slippery slope.
Not every callout from a white person is bad or wrong, it’s a specific kind of callout. It’s the type of callout that typically comes as a deflection of responsibility and it usually uses a very selective form of intersectionality. It only struck me how easily some people could throw another person under the bus in order to avoid taking action for their own transgressions. One example is when I started to see Vellum and Vinyl getting dragged on Facebook among other Facebook pages like Love Life of an Asian Guy (LLAG) and Shaun King.
King and LLAG were and are being called out for their abuse of women of colour, plagiarism, and speaking over Black people — especially Black women — on matters of race. These other popular pages have expressed violence and a fundamental lack of consideration for the people they claim to speak for. Vellum and Vinyl was called out for being anti-semitic (the proof being that she said she was Pro-Palestinian, which is not the same as anti-semitism), as well as a post on neurotypical advice, and for not communicating properly to autistic people as an autistic person. You can see that there’s a bit of disconnect between the severity of the offenses.
The post on neurotypical advice really illustrated to me the desperation of white individuals to claim oppression and demand the world change in order to suit them. The post itself asks that while a lot of neurotypical advice is unsolicited and won’t cure illness, that the advice itself is still something we should do. To me, this is a post to remember that although drinking water won’t cure my pain, drinking water does help prevent other issues. But Vellum and Vinyl was called out by mostly white chronically ill individuals decrying ableism and saying, how none of the tips would cure them. The autistic post was similar, demanding that Vellum and Vinyl be more considerate of how autistic people communicate because the person didn’t agree with how V&V communicated. The points seemed cyclical and hypocritical.
There was such a lack of nuance in these callouts, but V&V was considered as dangerous and offensive as men literally shutting down WOC. It is a very selective concept of intersectionality to suggest that we can’t critique disability and mental health communities and their reactions from within that community, and that this is just as bad as implied violence towards women. It is not. We cannot imply that telling someone to drink water is as bad as telling Black women to shut up for criticizing a page that was supposedly against racism. Especially when you consider how that erases the issues that disabled and mentally ill people of colour already face, such as rates of underdiagnoses in health issues and mental illness that restricts their access to healthcare and resources, or when their mental illness is used against them to justify their deaths or discrimination.
There is a time and a place for callouts, but if we keep using callouts to center white people as victims, all it contributes to is the demonization of people of colour who critique the communities they co-exist in, as well as exclusivity to activism. It plays upon the social capital that white people have to have their issues taken seriously the moment they approach them and it derails calls to action. It turns an activism calling on their community to enact change into offensive while demanding that the world continue to adapt to their needs. And while I agree that we should live in a world where our needs are met, it is physically impossible without changing ourselves as well. And that social capital is then used to politically ostracize activists who don’t have that capital.
When white people demand that the world adapt to them, it negates all the hard work that POC still have to face when navigating any system. In healthcare, we already have issues where our bodies aren’t included in studies and samples, our voices aren’t being heard in doctor’s offices, and we can’t get them to take us seriously. If you can’t get a diagnosis, you can’t get meds, you can’t get specialists, you can’t get help. Even if you do have a diagnosis, some of these meds are only accessible if you have insurance to cover the hundreds of dollars a month a prescription can cost. Sometimes all you get is learning to build coping strategies on your own and drink a little more water.
Callouts can be used to bring attention to important issues, but with any callout there needs to be context. Is it an appropriate time to critique this issue? What is the effect of attempting to shut down voices within the communities you are trying to help? Who is your callout actually helping? Communities should be critiqued from within, but we can’t keep centering the feelings of the white members before anyone else. And we can’t stop placing other forms of oppression as equal to white supremacy when it touches every community and every institution.
Author Bio: Mari Ramsawakh is a freelance writer and podcaster. They have been published on Daily Xtra, Leafly, and the Establishment. They also produce their own intersectional true crime podcast Sick Sad World. You can find more of their work and their personal blog at www.IndivisibleWriting.com