(Originally posted 1 Feb 2017 on the old blog)
My core belief with regards to social justice is that everyone should be treated equally, so when I see a comment or a post online that is bigoted or contributes to the suffering and/or oppression of others, I immediately feel the moral imperative to call out people on their bigotry. I do try to curb that instinct for self preservation or if I can see that the person just won’t understand, but the need to point out the bigotry is always there.
Other than the very common explosion that happens when you point out people’s prejudices and they’re not ready to contemplate your words, the next most common reaction for me is someone getting angry and accusing me of insulting them.
I’ve never really understood this reaction.
To me, an insult is a label describing a trait of a person that is probably permanent. Essentially an insult is a judgement of someone’s moral essence or it’s a way of making someone else less human than you are. In general, it’s usually describing something that can’t be changed or something that someone thinks isn’t changeable. Like, being called a “chauvinistic pig”, is usually a label given to cis het men who think that women exist to meet their needs and for no other purpose.
An insult is what you call someone when you know they’ll stay an asshole, so there’s no point in having a discussion with them. It’s an insult because you’re calling them something as their identity, and not just identifying bad behaviour, i.e. you’re assigning them an identity based on their behaviour or beliefs.
But when I’m calling someone out, my intention isn’t to assign someone an identity of “bigot”, my intention is to call out their behaviour, to name their behaviour and inform them of the consequences of their behaviour so that they think about their actions. So, if I take the time to construct an intelligent reply that points out to another person why what they’ve said/written is offensive, and perhaps give them other ways of responding to said situation that is less harmful, what I’m actually saying is that I believe that the person is a reasonable individual who just simply doesn’t understand all of the implications of what they’re saying. I’m also saying, that I believe once they understand, that they would care enough about other people that they would want to be a kinder person, that given additional knowledge they would choose to change how they deal with said subject to minimise the harm that they previously spread with their prejudice.
So, if I take the time to actually call you out, particularly if it’s a long post/reply, I’m not actually insulting you, I’m challenging you to understand the situation a little better, because I believe that you’re a good person who would want the opportunity to learn how not to be an asshole to other people if only you understood the situation a little better.
Being called out isn’t a comfortable process, it’s embarrassing, challenging and can hurt one’s feelings, it can feel like you’re being attacked. But, at least for me, the purpose in calling someone out on their bigotry is to challenge them to be more aware of the consequences of their actions.
I’m calling someone out as a challenge to be a kinder human being. So when you reply with things like “don’t insult me” or “political correctness gone wrong” or “grow a thicker skin”, all that I end up hearing is in fact that you don’t care. That I’ve just wasted my time and my belief in your kindness towards others. In the end you’re actually the one who is insulting you, not me, because you’re revealing that you just don’t care enough about other people.