What does it mean to "call someone in" or "call someone out?" Is one of the better than the other?
If you call someone in, you circle back to a hurtful or oppressive comment they made in private. If you call someone out, you let them know their comment was hurtful in a public space. I’m going to be honest with you, I don’t think one is better than the other. I personally call folx out more than I call them in. It’s what I’m more comfortable doing, but that doesn’t mean it is what will work best for you.
Over the years I’ve learned that a lot of folx prefer to call others in and to be called in themselves, after someone says or does something that is harmful to an oppressed group.
For example, someone comments about a classmate who is Vietnamese American: “You don’t want them on your track team, they’d be better in the science club.”
If you are calling that person in, you can ask them to have lunch with you. You can tell them that they are perpetuating the “myth of the model minority” and that not all people who have Asian ancestry are math and science geniuses. You can explain that their comment over-generalized a large population of the world and lumps all folx from Asian countries into one big monolith of a people who are all the same. This is simply not true. Using the term Asian to describe all folx from Asian countries and ancestry does not acknowledge the vast and varied histories, cultures, and experiences of everyone.
To call someone in, you can also email or message them and explain why and how what they said is hurtful. You can send them articles and videos that explain how they perpetuated the stereotype that Asian folx are only good at math and science. And you can call them on the phone and let them know you heard what they said, that it bothered you because they were sharing misinformation and using a stereotype to set your Asian classmate apart from others.
Calling someone in can be a pretty effective way of working with someone to change their problematic behavior. They’re more likely to hear what you are saying if it feels like a more gentle approach. It does require you to be compassionate and invest some of your time and energy.
If you choose to call that person out, other folx would be around and witnessing this interaction. You would probably say the things we just mentioned within earshot of other people.
Calling someone out can also be effective. It does require you to take a risk. You will be bringing attention to someone’s oppressive and detrimental behavior. It allows for others to hear you and creates greater accountability as there’s more than one person involved.
We will all have moments when we are the folx on the receiving end of a call-in or call-out. If you are the person who has just been called out, instead of bristling in defense, or getting upset, think about what the other person has just said. Hear
them. Thank them for their comment and acknowledge you listened. Use that as a moment to teach yourself, open up dialogue, and dig deeper. This is how we all learn and move forward. As American poet, singer, and activist Maya Angelou said, “When you know better, do better.”
Whether you choose to call someone in or call them out, know that it will feel messy and that it will be. You will question yourself, wondering if you should have done it or not. You will make mistakes from time to time—we all do. Every action you take gives you the chance to learn and grow. You’ve got this!
Before you call in or call out, grab your notebook and ask yourself the following questions. These might help you to decide how to go forth.
-Who has the power in this situation? The person I’m calling in/out, or me? (If you have the power in this situation, consider calling them in.)
-Am I calling out a person or systemic behavior? (If you’re calling out systemic behavior or an institution, call them out.)
- How much energy and emotional labor am I able to share right now? (If you don’t have the energy or aren’t willing to put in the emotional labor it takes to educate someone and work with them to change, consider calling them in with someone who can take on the work you are not able to do. I have a friend who helps me out when I don’t have the capacity to educate white people on racial oppression.)
- Is this person likely to change their problematic behavior? (If they are not, call them out. If this is someone you’ve called in before and they’re still repeating their actions, call them out.)
- Who is in the room? Who am I accountable to in this moment? Am I centering the needs of myself or the group? What will happen if I call this behavior out? What will happen if I call this person in?
-What am I hoping to accomplish with this call-in or call-out?
Tiffany Jewell is a Black biracial writer and Montessori educator. She spends her time baking bread, building LEGOS, watching British detective shows and dreaming up how she can dismantle white supremacy. This is her first book for children and young adults. Find her on Instagram @tiffanymjewell.
Aurélia Durand is a French illustrator based in Paris. Her work is dedicated to representing people of color in society and she uses bold art as a vivid demonstration. Find her on Instagram at @4ur3lia.
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