The problem with call-out culture
The catharsis in blowing out your opponent. You know what I’m talking. You read something on social media, or you watch something on TV, or even in-person, and you have to resist the urge to yell out the problem on what the other person said. Some of us want to just yell out, “CANCELLED!” It’s like we’re looking for the missteps that we might make in order to demonstrate our moral superiority! So here I am, calling out call-out culture. And I’m learning something from my impulse to do that. I don’t just want to be right. I want to be helpful. But I think I’m learning that just shouting someone down, or sarcastically mocking them, isn’t the best way to approach it.
The issue here isn’t that we just want to be right. It’s that our hearts burn with passion and fire. I think the desire to be prophetic in our word and deed is given to us from God. God, indeed, through the Bible, has God’s own “call-out” moments. You can read Job to see how ferociously he called out Job. Jesus himself retorted his detractors with rhetorical questions on their own, putting them in their place.
So is there a time and a place for the aggressive call-out? I think there may be. But it requires discernment, a honed instinct, and a certainty that the person in question is indeed a wolf, ready to hurt sheep, a person relating in bad faith.
But honestly? Despite my experience with wolves in real life, I think it’s easy for us to assume someone’s relating in bad faith just because you aggressively disagree with them. There’s so much going on between the ideas that we have that we seemingly identify ourselves with (as if Republican or Democrat, or progressive or conservative, are “identities”), that I think it’s best not to jump to conclusions. So before you subtweet about a friend or an acquaintance, before you talk shit to your cell leader or pastor to your roommate, try to relate in another way. That doesn’t just mean let our disagreements pass, but speak in a way that demonstrates your own listening, and tries to convince someone, as opposed to just blasting with moral correction so that you feel better and get the likes and retweets that you want (whether that is in person or online).
Even calling out your uncle may not help
I guess I came to this conclusion when again Hasan Minhaj related to me so personally. I wrote about how much I fell in love with his commentary a while ago, and the same was true when I tuned into his latest TV show Patriot Act. Hasan and I are the same age and we’re both children of immigrants. We have so much in common; and in general, children of immigrants and I do too, especially if they come from the Middle East, South Asia, or East or Southeast Asia. The parental expectation, the cultural conservatism (my Chinese friend was just saying his mom hates his long hair—prior to mine dwindling into nearly nothing, I could relate), the honor/shame culture. It’s there all over Asia. Hasan shares about it with wit and charm and I feel finally known.
He spends the first two episodes talking about immigrant attitudes on a variety of topics, and it is clearly his bailiwick because he speaks about it with such authority. I laughed along, but then thought to myself, “I think he’s going a little overboard.” I mean, I got the jokes too, but they were so specific. I wondered who else was getting them. Or, he wasn’t just fueling inadvertently, anti-immigrant hostility (which is quite in style in the United States at the moment, if you haven’t noticed).
I was also familiar with the easy slam dunks immigrant children can make on their FOB (fresh of the boat) parents, since there is just so much they don’t get about the American culture that we assimilated to. I know that part of what fuels our hyperbolic hostility against our ignorant uncles, and I have them too, is the racism and prejudice we experienced as brown kids. It’s easy to blame our parents for being odd-people-out in a world and a country that makes them that.
To be fair, though, Hasan is fairly “woke” when it comes to these matters. He’s not just a self-loathing child of immigrants. He considers his culture well and demonstrates genuine appreciation for it. So I don’t think that’s all that’s happening. I think he wants to represent immigrants well, so he calls out his racist and prejudicial uncles for their ideas rooted in fear, but I think he also wants to change their mind.
For me, it was too aggressive, too many jokes at their expense, too much what felt like laughter in bad faith to me in the audience. It made me uncomfortable. I could relate to it, but I’ve since grown to relate and empathize with my parents, their experiences, and why they might feel a different kind of a way about the world. I prayed that Hasan might also empathize with his seemingly ignorant relatives’ bad politics and see them for more than that. Despite the cheers and applause and laughter he got for his hot takes.
It doesn’t matter if you’re right if no one believes you
So that’s what I took away from his show. I’m not exactly different than Hasan, both in my God-given convictions about justice and compassion, but also in my heritage. I have made poorly-placed dunks on uncles who are decidedly shorter than me. What good does it do? It does make me feel better, sometimes. It does give me affirmation from my friends. It does give me an heir of superiority. But I just don’t think Jesus cared about that stuff.
He spoke in a way to be listened to. In fact, much of his preaching and teaching was done in parables, so that those who could hear did; or it was demonstrated in signs and miracles. Fundamentally, though, at its core, God through Jesus came to us in person, to relate to us in person; not to call us out from on high and demonstrate moral superiority.
I want to model that, and though I’m still as convicted as I am ever am, I don’t think my anger and sarcasm is the best way to share my convictions. I don’t think speaking to those who already agree with me is the best way to change the world. It’s one way, I suppose, but that’s not God’s way. If anything, when I aggressively call-out, I think I’m just demonstrating my smugness and self-perceived moral and intellectual superiority. Using $20 words that I bought at some seminary to make my points is beneath me. I don’t need to outsmart or outfox my enemies, even if they are acting in bad faith. I actually need to love them.
But my own family? In the church and in the flesh? They need even more than that. I owe to them to relate with some kindness, and not to get affirmed based on their expense. I don’t mean to suggest we should dumb down our lyrics to double our dollars (Lord knows, you could say a whole lotta nothing and get everyone to like you with how agreeable and conciliatory you are), but I don’t think we should collect our affirmation from being right either. Can we seek our sense of self, our sense of security, our sense of righteousness from God? My prayer is that we can center ourselves on God’s love and truth and learn how to share that in quietudes, in “calling in,” in relationship.
Yeah, I know that isn’t the solution to our pain, to our insecurity, to the oppression that we feel. So, we must march for justice and peace, but we also might internalize those things too. Another suggestion: call up your pastor or cell leader or mentor or psychotherapist or spiritual direction or your roommate or spouse (the people you might vent to about your racist aunt), and tell them how you’re feeling and ask them for encouragement. They might give it to you. And that might be enough to give the wear-with-all not to flex on people you think are weaker than you because you’re so swole.