What are…Calling Out and Calling In?

Some terms are criticized as social justice jargon. However, many of these terms are important to know about and understand. Two such terms are “calling out” and “calling in”—words that are often used right next to each other in many social justice circles.

But what is calling out, and what is calling in?

Calling out is when someone publicly points out that someone else is acting unjustly, while calling in is when someone privately points out to the unjust actor that they are acting unjustly. Both calling out and calling in involve pointing out someone else’s wrongful actions, but calling out has a different approach to handling someone else’s actions than calling in. Calling out and calling in have both their benefits and their limitations.

I’ve come to notice that “calling out” has a bad reputation, even in some social justice circles. The issue, as far as I can tell, is simply by virtue of the fact that calling out someone is humiliating for the person being called out. And it is true that being called out is humiliating—I know that because I have been called out on one or two occasions before and have felt rather embarrassed about my own injustice being laid bare for an audience to see. However, what people forget about the importance of what calling out is supposed to do is that the act is meant to do more than educate the person being called out about that person’s injustice—it is also supposed to educate everyone in the room about the injustice of the person, so that nobody else can repeat the same issue. While it may feel humiliating to be called out, believe me when I say that it can be for a greater purpose for all who listen—namely, making sure that the injustice you are believed to have committed is not repeated by other people.

While a lot of people prefer being called in to being called out (since being called in doesn’t involve the public humiliation of being called out), being called in has both benefits and limitations. In my experiences (I have been called in, as well, on a few occasions), being called in when you’re in a private setting can really give way for an opportunity to discuss at length about why you’re being unjust and how you can do better in ways you wouldn’t be able to discuss in the public “calling out” setting. The limitation, however, is that you’re only educating one person about an injustice when you’re calling in someone, while you’re educating dozens or hundreds of people about an injustice (or, if you have the national profile of someone like Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, possibly millions[1]) when you’re calling out someone.

Regardless of the benefits and limitations of calling out and calling in, it is important to understand these two terms as approaches to tackling injustice within one or more people. After all, if the goal is to make the world a little more just, having a good understanding of both calling out and calling in, as well as recognizing the value of both approaches,[2] is important.


[1] Congressman Ted Yoho reportedly accosted Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez. AOC responded with this speech on the House floor. The speech, which is on C-Span’s YouTube channel, has nearly 3 million views as of the date of my writing this post: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LI4ueUtkRQ0

[2] Some debate whether calling out or calling in is better. For the purposes of this post, I will not weigh in on that debate. However, I think it’s good to be aware of how both can be beneficial.

Announcing Another New Blog Series!

One of the criticisms I’ve heard about social justice circles from the outside is that there are a lot of words we use, but do not always explain what those words mean. Some of us hear words such as TERFs, intersectionality, microaggressions, heteronormativity, and many more, but unless you’re deep in circles that deal with TERFs, intersectionality, microaggressions, or heteronormativity, you may not know what those words mean.

The knee-jerk response may be not make the effort to understand what these words mean, and just move on. Or, if your thoughts are more antagonistic to people in social justice movements, you might label one who uses these words as a “social justice warrior” or a “liberal snowflake.”

I propose a different way of interacting with these terms: familiarizing ourselves with these words that may be unfamiliar to us. In order to help familiarize ourselves and others with words or phrases commonly heard in social justice circles but misunderstood or not understood at all outside of them, I will start a new series on this blog, called “What Is _______?”

The concept of the “What Is _______?” series is that I take a term used in social justice circles that is often not used or not understood outside of those circles, explain what that term means, potentially give some examples to further clarify what that term means, and explain why it’s a term that is important to understand.

I am currently planning to write posts on the following terms (in no particular order):

  • Privilege
  • Four waves of feminism
  • Toxic positivity
  • TERFs
  • Intersectionality
  • Calling out/calling in (two terms, but these terms belong together in a post)
  • Microaggressions
  • Cultural appropriation/cultural appreciation
  • Heteronormativity
  • Safe space
  • White guilt
  • Gaslighting
  • Spoonies

I should also note that I am open to including other terms that I don’t list here. Terms that I learn about during the series, as well as terms that others think that I should talk about, are fair game. On that note, if there are any terms you think I should include that I don’t mention here, please let me know in the comments section below or at my email, blindinjustice2017@gmail.com. Even if you don’t think of a term now but think of one later, there’s no need to worry—as I’m planning on doing approximately one post in this series per month, and I have over a dozen terms here, I will be doing this series for over a year.

All of these terms are ones that are important to know, yet may seem like jargon or code to some of us. By explaining what these terms mean and why they’re so important, I’m hoping that many readers will come out with a good understanding of what these words mean. By improving our understanding of terms like these, those who are advocates will hopefully become better advocates, and those who aren’t advocates will hopefully understand what advocates are talking about when using these words.