Calling “In”: A matter of getting my ego out of the way

(A blog post by SOLES Ambassador and PhD student, Nick, which was originally posted on his blog “Lets be Franc“)
On Thursday night, I guest lectured in the History and Philosophy of Higher Education course about chapters 7 through 9 of Barbara Miller Solomon’s book on women in higher education in the USA. It’s actually one of my favorite lectures to do because I get to make use of all the times I have watched Mona Lisa Smile, which is probably more than 10 now. :}
At some point in the conversation, we started talking about the ways that women – both feminist and “non”-feminists – police one another on things like fashion, makeup, being a stay-at-home mom versus working full time and not having children, and privilege/oppression/social justice issues. And two students named several experiences of being “called out” for saying or doing something problematic, which left them feeling as though their dedication to being a social justice ally was called out and that their existence as human beings was called out.
It reminded me of a post from Black Girl Dangerous my friend Cristina shared on social media about a “less disposable way of holding each other accountable”: calling someone IN, which is different than calling someone OUT. The author does a great job of referencing situations where people – who are gathered together and committed to the work of advancing various types of social justice issues – somehow lose compassion for each other and engage in “all types of fucked up behavior” when someone says or does something that supports the marginalization of another group. I have absolutely witnessed this. And, sadly, I have absolutely engaged in this sort of behavior before. Many people in my doctoral cohort probably remember when I first started the program and was so quick to belittle people for their language and super-unaware-problematic-and-privileged statements. It is not how I try to engage in these conversations now, and I am saddened at how many people I probably mistreated as a result of my lack of compassion (which, of course, was a reflection of my lack of compassion for myself).
So what might it actually look like to call someone in when we are doing social justice work? I think it depends a lot on what’s being talked about, where it’s being talked about, and who’s doing the talking. For me, it involves one primary thing:
Recognizing what my ego is doing so I can set it aside.
For example, one of the students in that Thursday night class made a comment about the evolving roles of men in the home, and that an egalitarian home requires men like himself to work with their “wives, girlfriends, or fiancés.” I was not angered by the heteronormativity latent in his comment (my impression was that he just simply is unaware and not saying it out of malice), but it did trigger all the times I have been treated as less than by others for not being heterosexual and made me want to say something like “Ummm, not every man wants a female or woman romantic partner.” Before I reacted, I recognized that this was what my ego was doing, formulated a few questions, and was ready to reply to him with inquisitive care. Other students chimed in, and the moment passed, but later we talked about “smashing” and Boston marriages, which later on provided me an opportunity to talk about how many straight people assume other people are straight without realizing it. Though I didn’t call him out directly, I was able to set aside my ego so I could call him in (when it seemed like the “right” time) and not put him on blast. Did he get the message? Who knows. As with most of my work as a social justice educator and ally in student affairs, I invest a lot of my time and energy into others without ever knowing or seeing the results (or lack thereof) of my efforts.
I realize some people may think this strategy of calling in (and the way I did so above) appeases rather than challenges “the Oppressor.” And maybe it does in the way that it might allow those in privileged positions the freedom to be a totally offensive goober and say and do whatever they want without critical thought and care. AND, I just don’t see how using my anger – fueled by all the times I have been physically and verbally harassed for not being heterosexual or traditionally masculine – in order to hurt someone else who has hurt me does anyone any good, particularly in spaces where people are gathered to discuss or do social justice-related stuff. I have hurt people before in this way, and no bridges were formed between the two of us, no deeper understanding was reached, and no one was really able to “hear” each other. I also recognize that my various intersections of privilege have placed a lens on the way I approach calling someone in, and that it may not be the most easy thing in the world to do for marginalized community members to, time and time again, try to be patient with well-intentioned and social justice-oriented privileged people who are unaware, uncritical, and sometimes downright ignorant. I can’t fathom just how exhausting, degrading, dehumanizing, and frustrating that is.
And, this is one thing I can bring to the work of advancing social justice.
PS – I highly doubt I would use a calling in strategy with people like Bill O’Reilly, George Zimmerman, Anne Coulter, etc. As a good friend and colleague once told me, “If you show your ass in a conversation, then expect it to be handed back to you.” You can’t be going around throwing your privilege everywhere and then get mad at people when they dare to (and deservedly so) throw your privilege back at you.

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