calling people out

So, I keep running across this, and don’t know how to handle it: person a talks about subject x, and then gets sick of talking about it and sets boundary of ‘stop talking to me about this’. which is fine, except often this is right after person A said something racist or ableist or sexist or fatphobic while discussing said topic. Is it okay to call them out on this, even though they set a boundary that they’re done with the topic?
realsocialskills said:
I think it depends a lot on the situation, and the particular relationship you’re talking about.
Relationships and obligations are complicated, and so is the question of what is and is not an ok boundary.
One thing I’d say is that if you’re calling someone out a lot in a friendship, there’s probably something going wrong. Calling people on things is generally a somewhat hostile act. I don’t mean that pejoratively, sometimes it’s absolutely vital to be hostile. But if you’re finding that you’re frequently angry with a friend because of their attitudes towards marginalized groups, and that you usually strongly want to address this forcefully, it might be worth reconsidering whether you actually like them enough to have that kind of relationship. Particularly if this has been going on for a long time and things haven’t gotten better. It might be time to create some distance; you might be realizing that you don’t actually want to be that close to them.
If most of your interactions with someone end up being attempts to correct their worldview, you probably don’t actually like them that much. And close friendships need to be between people who like and respect one another in a deep way.
Friends can and do criticize one another and point out ways we’re going wrong. Everyone is wrong about something important that hurts people, and friends can really help one another to figure this out and be right about more things. But this is a respectful and mutual process between equals, not something that happens where one person transforms another. It’s also something that needs to happen consensually.
It also might be worth naming it explicitly, even if it isn’t a close relationship. For instance:
  • Bob: Cars cars cars cars. Long rant about cars. And also trucks.
  • James: Cars! Cars cars trucks cars. Wheels.
  • Bob: Wheels. And also axels. Women who think they can drive big trucks are such r@$%@$%s. Argh, sick of cars now. Let’s talk about something else.
  • James: Ok, we don’t have to talk about cars anymore, but that comment was really sexist and ableist and I’d appreciate it if you stopped saying things like that around me.

In this case, James is respecting the Bill’s decision to drop the subject, but still addressing the offensive comment.

  • James explicitly says that he’s willing to stop talking about cars
  • And then he does, in fact, stop talking about cars. 
  • But he doesn’t let the hateful comments go, either
  • But he also doesn’t start an argument about the content or continue an argument about cars
  • Eg, James doesn’t say anything like “Bob, why do you have to be so sexist about that? My sister’s way better at driving than you’ll ever be. That’s why she wins the truck races and you totaled your car last month.”

James also isn’t necessarily trying to fix Bob or to make him see the error of his ways. He’s objecting, and asserting a boundary. 

If it’s a closer relationship, the conversation might be more like:

  • Bob: Wheels. And also axels. Women who think they can drive big trucks are such r@$%@$%s. Argh, sick of cars now. Let’s talk about something else.
  • James: It really bothers me when you say things like that. Those comments are sexist and ableist, and I know things like that hurt people.
  • Bob: What’s the big deal? Isn’t it just an expression?
  • James then attempts to explain why it’s a big deal

When people are open to this kind of conversation, explaining things can be really good. If they’re not open to this kind of conversation, trying to force them to have it is likely to hurt you and unlikely to change them. If they’re not willing to engage these issues, all you can really do is set a boundary about how they behave around you.


Social skills for autonomous people: another thing about privilege



If you have a lot of privilege, you’ve learned to take up all or most of the space when you’re around people below you in the hierarchy. 

It’s important to learn to stop doing that. It’s important to learn how to be in a space without dominating it. It means learning to listen to people you’ve been systemically taught that it’s ok to talk over.

This can be hard to learn. When you stop dominating spaces, you have to live with less control, space, and attention than you’ve become accustomed to. You’re going to feel constrained, and like the other people are taking up all the space — even if you’re still taking up most of it.

And, once it becomes clear that you’re trying, people will express anger at you a lot more than then used to. This might feel really unfair, since you’re acting better than you ever have before, yet you’re attracting a lot more anger and criticism. 

The reason it works this way is because people used to put up with you treating them badly because they didn’t see any point in objecting. Most people who have privilege and power over others don’t especially care about how it hurts people. Further, a lot of them get really angry and retaliate when it’s pointed out. You’ve shown that you’re someone who might actually listen. That means you’re the one who gets yelled at.

It’s not fair, but the people who are yelling at you aren’t the ones responsible for the unfairness. Don’t get angry at them for it - get angry at the people like you who aren’t getting yelled at because they don’t give a damn. And maybe start calling them on it and make their indifference cost them something. You’re probably in a much better position to do this than the people below you in the hierarchy. 

And keep in mind that the situation faced by the people who are yelling at you is a hell of a lot more unfair than the situation you’re in.

That said, don’t beat yourself up for feeling frustrated, either. This is hard, and it’s ok to find it difficult. You’re going to make mistakes, and some of this is really going to suck. That doesn’t mean you’re a bad person or that you can’t learn how to act right. (Also, sometimes people will tell you that you’re oppressing them when you’re not. You can’t automatically assume that everyone is right when they tell you off — but if you’re in a highly privileged group and you think *everyone* who is telling you off is wrong, you’re probably the one who is wrong.)

Just keep trying, and don’t make the people below you responsible for making you feel better.

It can be TRULY HORRIBLE to be yelled at, while others (often doing stuff you think is terribly, terribly wrong, often who are much more successful and powerful than you) are not yelled at… and sometimes join in the yelling at you. It feels extremely unfair.

But how much more horrible is it for other people who have had to deal with unfairness for years and years, unfairness they cannot opt out of.

Personally, it helps to hold onto why I’m engaging in this process in the first place. I’m not trying to check my privilege because I want people to be nice to me; I’m trying because I want to address the pain that inequity causes, and a foundational step is improving and monitoring my own behaviour.

Mmm goals-focused processing.

On reflection…

…I kind of don’t like my original post anymore. I don’t think it was ready to be posted. Because it seems like it’s endorsing things that I actually don’t think.

I think everything I said was true, but I also think it was misleading.

Because someone being mad at you doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve done something wrong. Even if someone is mad and thinks of what they’re doing as calling you out. It’s possible, and common, for people to think that and be wrong.

I think what I wrote was too general, and too misleading. And, as written, a bit removed from what I’m aiming for here. I want to explain stuff in a clearer way and not be shaming people for innocent mistakes, and I think I failed with that post.

And, also - I feel like  I’m missing something important about this, and that ignoring the part I’m missing is going to hurt people.

And I really wish that I would have sat on that post for longer before posting it.