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LISTEN: Longtime Activist Loretta Ross Speaks Out Against The Call-Out Culture

Ben James
New England Public Media
Activist and visiting Smith College Professor Loretta Ross.

When a peer says something you think is racist, ignorant or wrong, what do you do? Most people agree that staying silent is not a good idea. But do you talk to them privately or take them to task publicly? Known as call-out culture, some think public shaming is a way to further social justice and change. But not everyone agrees with that approach. Loretta Ross is an activist, visiting associate professor at Smith College in Massachusetts and author of the upcoming book “Calling In the Calling Out Culture: Detoxing Our Movement,” which comes out in 2021. Ross strongly supports calling out people in power but says call-out culture among peers of the same social status is “toxic.”

“They immediately get defensive because they feel like you’re attacking their character, their morality. … They’re not going to listen to someone who’s made them feel awful,” Ross told NEXT in an interview last year. “And so it doesn’t produce the positive outcome you may desire.”

We had Ross back on NEXT this week to talk about call-out culture in the context of recent protests of police violence and systemic racism in America. Ross says she’s witnessing a rise in “group think” since the protests, where people are advocating that there is just one way to be an anti-racist activist. She advocates more openness to a variety of tactics and promotes the idea of “calling in” when people make missteps, whether they say the wrong word or offend someone.

“I think that we need to seek a different set of tools that are centered on respecting not only the human rights of the person who was harmed, but the human rights of the person who did the harm,” she says. “Because no one comes out of the womb wanting to be a human rights violator. That is a trained … conditioning.”

Ross says “calling in” means holding the offender accountable -- with love.

Listen to the entire episode of NEXT here.

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