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Calling In Versus Calling Out: What’s the Difference?

In social justice circles, many people "call out" others who are engaging in oppressive behaviors. Calling out is generally when someone points out when another person is being or has said something problematic in public

In social justice circles, many people “call out” others who are engaging in oppressive behaviors. Calling out is generally when someone points out when another person is being or has said something problematic in public. 

A call-out can be in person or on social media. However, a calling in is another method that people use to address problematic behavior.

BDG Press has pointed out that call-outs have been happening for a while now. Some activists believe that call-outs are performative and can actually harm social justice actions.

Why Do Some People Call Others Out?

Calling a person out makes someone aware that they’re engaging in oppressive behavior. Once they are aware of it, then others can hold them accountable. 

Staying silent when it comes to injustice can further create more complicity in oppression, so calling out someone can be seen as letting someone know that what they’re doing is wrong and will not be condoned.

In essence, the goal of calling someone out is so that the person doing the oppressing will stop doing these actions. 

When Can Calling Out Be Useful?

Calling out can be beneficial, but it can also be challenging and even ineffective. In some instances, activists can find that a more gentle approach can get the point across. It all depends on the situation.

There are people out there who may not know they are being oppressive or where English isn’t their first language and may not understand the unjust meaning behind some words. There are others who are still fighting against injustice and may not be aware of saying something oppressive, which is where calling in can be a more effective strategy.  

Also, as Maisha Z. Johnson points out for The Body Is Not An Apology, the motivation behind a call-out is essential to understand and can impact how people receive criticisms. For instance, if someone’s intent behind a call-out is to see an individual publicly shamed rather than being held accountable, it can be ineffective to call someone out.

Johnson says,” Addressing harmful behavior is important, but so is understanding that everyone is on a different step of their journey, so we all make mistakes. You don’t have to shame other activists — or yourself — for being imperfect. We can give ourselves and each other room to make mistakes.”

Can Public Call-Outs Create Issues?

Public call-outs can for sure be toxic in certain situations. However, with your friends or other peers — call-ins can be more helpful in creating positive change. It may also ensure that your feedback is being heard (more on this later).  

However, that doesn’t mean public call-outs should never be used. Hari Ziyad writes for AfroPunk notes that be a necessary approach if a call-in doesn’t work or the person putting them into practice is further perpetuating the problematic thing they’re doing.

Constructive feedback can be uncomfortable for many, but it doesn’t give someone permission to engage in toxic behaviors like tone policing when someone addresses their behavior.  

A call-out can also be beneficial when celebrities or brands can’t be directly reached to talk about the issue in private.

What Is a Call-In, or What Does It Mean to Call Someone In?

A call-in is when you speak to a person in private about what oppressive thing they’ve done or said. According to the Consent Crew, it is a less reactionary approach when it comes to conflict.  

Sometimes people screw up by accident, whereas others may continue to repeat hurtful behaviors unapologetically. 

For many activists, their main goal is to have a person change their oppressive behavior. However, calling in can be a more successful way to do so if the person is open to change or working on being less problematic.

One of the critical differences between calling in and calling out is that the strategy behind calling has more compassion and patience.

For a more detailed account about “calling in,” Ngọc Loan Trần on Black Girl Dangerous does an excellent job of explaining this concept.

“I don’t propose practicing ‘calling in’ in opposition to calling out. I don’t think that our work has room for binary thinking and action. However, I do think that it’s possible to have multiple tools, strategies, and methods existing simultaneously. It’s about being strategic, weighing the stakes and figuring out what we’re trying to build and how we are going do it together.”

In Summary Calling In

It is ultimately up to the individual to decide how they want to approach addressing someone engaging in oppressive behaviors. There are advantages to each approach and times where one will be more that will work better than the other. All in all, practicing compassion during these situations can be effective. Using call-outs or call-ins in a setting where it will be more beneficial can help people, even the ones identifying the behaviors, to unlearn problematic ideas and behaviors. As a result, we can expect to see a community thriving overall. 

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Billie Olsen

MODEL: Billie Olsen

Billie Olsen (she/they) is a lifestyle writer, disability justice advocate, and cozy femme located in Kelowna, BC, Canada. Their works have appeared in Metro News, Discorder, Sophomore Magazine, the Post-Feminist Post, DINE Magazine, and NerdReader.