Calling IN: Making Room for Each Other’s Mistakes

Debbie says:

I saw this post by Ngọc Loan Trần in December, and I decided then to save it for the first Body Impolitic post of the New Year. It comes from Black Girl Dangerous, which has very strict guidelines on what other bloggers can repost, so let me say now that you need to go read the whole thing. If you are (as I am) white, or if you are (as we all are) allies in some struggles which are not about us, be especially sure to read the disclaimer at the end of the post, which their guidelines don’t permit me to include here.

I started having conversations on this practice of “calling in” after attending Race Forward’s Facing Race Conference in Baltimore, MD in 2012. Facing Race was a gathering of thousands of people working on advancing racial justice. The space was full of energy, commitment, and a ride-or-die-and-put-it-all-on-the-line mentality for making sure we’ve got our bases covered in this fight against racism and dismantling white supremacy.

What happens when thousands of people who all “get it” come together and everyone knows something about “the work”? We lose all compassion for each other. All of it.

I witnessed all types of fucked up behavior and the culture that we have created to respond to said fucked up behavior.

Most of us know the drill. Someone says something that supports the oppression of another community, the red flags pop up and someone swoops in to call them out.

But what happens when that someone is a person we know — and love? What happens when we ourselves are that someone?

And what does it mean for our work to rely on how we have been programmed to punish people for their mistakes?

I’ll be the first person and the last person to say that anger is valid. Mistakes are mistakes; they deepen the wounds we carry. I know that for me when these mistakes are committed by people who I am in community with, it hurts even more.

The author goes on to develop a concept of (my words, not theirs) how to engage with other activists on a complex level, to engage without “disposability,” to say, I take you seriously enough to want to work with you on why what you did hurt me, or was wrong, or doesn’t work, how to remember that we are all always on a journey of learning about this stuff, and no one is going to be in exactly the same place we are and (as they say in the all-important disclaimer), this does not give white people, or allies in any fight, a free pass to behave badly.

Again, please read the whole thing.

For me, this piece is a New Year’s reminder: whether the struggle is race/ethnicity/skin color, or gender, or body shape, or ability, or whatever, I have the option to decide to call someone IN instead of calling them out (and I still have the option of calling them out). Engagement is hard, and at the same time, in my experience, throwing someone out is rarely rewarding–though it is sometimes right–while engagement can be amazingly rewarding.

My personal New Years’ thanks to Ngọc Loan Trần for compassionate thoughts and new language which will help me as I move through the year.

One thought on “Calling IN: Making Room for Each Other’s Mistakes

  1. Thank you for the link and for your comments on it. I felt tremendous relief in reading what the author said because I’ve often felt exhausted in interactions with people talking about social justice because of how nasty they seemed to be being to each other and how much they bonded by sneering together at people who don’t use the right shibboleths. I find myself not wanting to get involved, feeling that being involved in the group would just drain the life from me even while inspiring me to want the world to be a better place. I don’t trust the change that comes from nastiness and infighting.

    And at the same time it’s also true that some of the most centered, kind, and decent-to-others people I’ve met are involved in social justice work.

    Fortunately I’ve found a place to do my work for the next few years and I am learning a lot by working there.

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