It's been awhile since I have written a blogpost (enter Perfectly Logical Explanation here), but regardless, I have been thinking about two different concepts, one of which I want to discuss today. The idea is this: how some White people use the concept of "calling in" acts as an invisibility cloak for confronting one's complicity in enacting White supremacy, maintaining White dominance, and furthering racism and anti-Blackness.
Before I launch into it, I want to first explain for non-Harry Potter fans (are there people who don't like HP?!) what I mean by an invisibility cloak...although typing it out just now it seems pretty self-explanatory. Essentially, in the HP series, the invisibility cloak allowed Harry and his pals to move around Hogwarts (and various other places) without being detected (although somehow their footprints still showed up in the snow...but that's neither here nor there for the present discussion). In essence, the invisibility cloak allowed Harry & Co. to circumvent, escape, or move past particular barriers. Translating this to the current discussion, I am suggesting that some White people use calling in as a strategy/technique to circumvent, escape, or move past internalized White dominance and their enactment of that dominance. Thus, calling in becomes a way to stealthfully get out of addressing one's own privileged identities and the various ways in which our identities reify the racism and anti-Blackness.
Also, it would help to talk a bit about the very concept of "calling in," yeah? In this post from December 2013, Ngoc Loan Tran described calling in as follows:
I picture “calling in” as a practice of pulling folks back in who have strayed from us. It means extending to ourselves the reality that we will and do fuck up, we stray and there will always be a chance for us to return. Calling in as a practice of loving each other enough to allow each other to make mistakes; a practice of loving ourselves enough to know that what we’re trying to do here is a radical unlearning of everything we have been configured to believe is normal.
Tran discussed calling in as a process of remaining in dialogue within our communities, and recognized the concept as a way of promoting and displaying continued love for each other, even when we "fuck up" and/or "stray" from the very tenets we hold dear (e.g., equity, anti-oppression, social justice). Tran also stated, "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." In this sense, calling in does not create a binary between calling in or calling out, but is another strategy through which we can confront the realities of oppression, both as it is internalized and externally expressed by various groups and communities.
So then how is it that calling in as a strategy is used by White people as a way to stealthfully move past, beyond, or around White dominance and White supremacy? Good question; here is what I am thinking...
Calling in, as originally conceived, was a radical form of accountability that encouraged people to forward compassion, love, and community in working alongside one another to dismantle systems of oppression. However, lately I have seen some White people deploying this strategy in an altered form. Specifically, I have seen White people who use the notion of calling in to express a watered down, privatized version of accountability, where public enactments of White dominance and supremacy are only dealt with in private, one-on-one spaces. Additionally, I have been in spaces where White people have used the notion of calling in as a way to get around the rawness of anger, an emotion that needs no permission to be expressed, but exposes real fears in White people, who worry about being seen as "bad people." This is especially true for those of us White people who consider ourselves to be committed to confronting racism and anti-Blackness. And so the response from some White people, the way they cope with the (presumed/anticipated) anger of others is to suggest that others "practice calling in," to which they mean, "Just be gentle and talk to me offline in a 'calm' and 'polite' manner, because my feelings are precious and I am a 'good person,' and I don't want others to see me as fallible."
As a White person myself, I have to just state for the record that I get this. I have lived this. I still muck up. Despite all my work, and my continued commitment to confronting and counteracting White dominance, White supremacy, racism, and anti-Blackness, I still make mistakes. And when I mess up, I feel like shit. I feel guilt, shame, and failure. So yeah, I get it: I am White and I, too, make all sorts of mistakes. However, I have grown increasingly wary of my White peers who are vocally committed to social justice, but use a twisted notion of "calling in" as a way to eschew public engagement in our public mess-ups. I have grown incredibly frustrated by White colleagues who muck up in public ways, only to reach out to me or other White people looking to be absolved for their enactments of White dominance and racism. I have even heard some of my White colleagues express that they "do not want to be called out" in public, which reeks of all sorts of White dominance and enactments of racism, as their own self-image as a "good White person" is more important than counteracting and calling in/out racism in powerful ways (not to mention ways that reflect the ways in which that racism has been enacted...specifically in these cases, publicly).
Thus, it seems like some White people have twisted the notion of calling in to mean that they would prefer, if at all possible, that their enactments of racism and anti-Blackness be dealt with on an individual basis, if at all, thank you very much. Oh, and if you could do that gently, that would be best...because White fragility...
And if the sarcasm in the previous statement wasn't overt enough, let me state it a bit more bluntly...
You can miss me with this sort of thinking. Calling in, as originally defined by Tran, was imagined as a radical form of love, compassion, and accountability. However, it seems like some White people have spoiled this concept, using it instead as an invisibility cloak to hide, circumvent, or get away from being held accountable...or being held accountable on their own terms (e.g., privately, and without feeling, or at least without feelings expressed from the person addressing them, because if there is one thing we White people have, it's a lot of feelings...and we love to share them, particularly around how guilty, shameful, worried, and/or anxious we feel around issues of race and racism).
Essentially, some White people have appropriated the concept of calling in, twisting its meaning to serve their/our purposes (because I, too, cannot distance myself from White dominance, I use the word "our" as a way of taking ownership of my complicity in this process as well). And this, my friends, is all sorts of messed up.
So what am I proposing then? How do I suggest shedding this particular invisibility cloak? Here are some (working) ideas, about which I would love to hear feedback and further suggestions...
(1) First off, it needs to be stated again that not all White people have twisted calling in. However, the fact that some/most have means that we as White people need to actively recommit to understanding the concept and deploying it correctly.
(2) I suggest that White people must practice calling each other out more. I agree with Tran that calling in/out is not an either/or, zero-sum game. However, I think it is incredibly important to be very clear about expressing our own/other White peoples' investment and enactments of White dominance, White supremacy, racism, and anti-Blackness. We need to recognize, as White people, when this is happening, and say it, call it out, without worrying about the guilt, shame, anxiety, or other feelings associated with how our White peers may take our calling it out. I am not saying we need to be violent toward each other, but I do think we need to not play the "what if" or "but their feelings may be hurt" games that lead to the twisting of calling in to benefit White people (i.e., using the concept as an invisibility cloak).
(3) As White people, we need to deal with our own shit. In talking about race and racism, and its attendant feelings, a dear friend of mine expressed to me there are things that are "our own shit" that we need to deal with accordingly. I have taken a shine to this expression, and have shared it with others as of late; there are just some things that are our own shit that we need to handle on our own. White guilt, White shame, and White anxiety are three of those things. And when we feel like we cannot do them on our own, we need to find other White people to do this work with us. We cannot continue to brush this off by saying we are "good White people," or that "we get it," because the reality is that we: (a) may not get it, and (b) even if we get it, it doesn't mean we don't need to continually work at recognizing and counteracting racism and anti-Blackness in our own lives.
(4) Related to the last point, we need to be in community with other White people around these topics. The time is long since passed (and really, there never should have been a time) when we as White people should spill all "our shit" out with people of color. This is our shit, and so we need to deal with it together. As another dear friend told me years ago, "find your people." In this case, find other White people and commit to understanding and enacting calling in/out as they were meant to be deployed: publicly, with love, compassion, and kindness, but also with a raw feeling and intensity that does not belie the fact that a mistake was made.
(5) Recognize White fallibility, while also recognizing the urgency to do better. I shudder to even use the phrase "do better," to be honest. This is another one I have heard White people use recently, particularly White, cisgender people who tell me they are "committed to doing better" around trans* oppression. This sentiment is often expressed as always future-oriented, as in, "I wanna do better; it's so on my To Do List, so I will get to it eventually...but first I need to take care of these other things. Oh, and can you send me resources and shit?" (Again, note the sarcasm). So what I mean is, yeah, we make mistakes. Messed up mistakes. We, too, are fallible people. However, we cannot retreat in our own fallibility; instead, we need to recognize the absolute and utter urgency with which we as White people need to do better. It's not about committing to doing it later, it's about doing it now. We may not feel ready, but that is not the point. If we waited until we were all ready, we would never start. So let's just buck up, get out there, and attend to our public mistakes in public ways, yeah?
I am not suggesting I have this all figured out, or that I am completely beyond the practice of twisting calling in that I articulated here. I am sure that part of my own frustration with how White people have appropriated this concept is indeed that I am complicit in having done this very thing. However, I am unwilling to be silent anymore about this particular issue. We as White people need to hold ourselves accountable, and if this blogpost can be another move in that direction, then I am glad for that.
This blog is a space where I engage with ideas, concepts, and research that seeks to increase life chances for trans* people.