Call-outs are always a source of contention, because they’re often so unwelcome by those who deserve them the most. People don’t like being told they’re wrong, and hearing it in a social context is even harder than in professional or academic scenarios. That’s because there’s this pervasive belief that the magic of “personal opinion” grants people the right to stereotype others. It’s just their opinion that all fat people are lazy. It’s just their opinion that women aren’t suited for leadership roles. It’s just their opinion that the mentally ill are evil. Like somehow opinions can’t be bigoted? Or like somehow that bigotry is acceptable?
Yeah it was rhetorical.
When someone calls you out on problematic behavior, they are doing you a favor. They are providing you with an opportunity for introspection, and in so doing, they are risking their own safety. They’re exposing their underbelly to you, telling you what hurts them and trusting you to stop. It’s a vulnerable position to be in, regardless of how toughly they may be trying to present themselves.
And that presentation may not always be palatable to you. Sometimes they may be angry, hostile, and confrontational. Other times they may be extremely emotional, pained, and sensitive. Not everyone can remain calm and neutral when presented with prejudice, and it’s not their job to be. It’s your job to not be bigoted in the first place. And if you fail at that, you can’t cry wounded when a minority objects to your bigotry, however harshly. It’s hard to be calm and kind to your oppressors, particularly when triggered by prejudice.
Likewise, it is the highest form of jackassery to take pride in staying calm and collected while a minority lashes out against your oppressive behavior. There is no call for smugness simply because you aren’t upset by your own bigotry. All you’re doing is displaying your lack of empathy; you’re proud of yourself for being a terrible human being.
Would you like a reward?
You also can’t expect someone to stay silent just because of circumstances. If you say something bigoted at a party, it’s not the minority who’s starting a scene by calling you out; it’s you for being a bigot in the first place. If you post something bigoted on your Facebook, it’s not the minority causing trouble by objecting, it’s you for victimizing them with your words. You can’t expect any circumstances to silence a minority when you are engaging in bigoted rhetoric. Staying silent grants your words passive acceptance, and no one should be forced to accept hatred.
They aren’t asking for much.
So the next time you find yourself called out for problematic behavior or language, take a step back. Reflect on not just what the minority is saying, but on your own words and actions. Calm your defensive reflexes, and try to walk in their shoes for a moment. All they’re asking for is some respect–surprise them by giving it.