Call Out Culture

It occurs to me that perhaps what some white progressives perceive as 'political correctness' could be  referring to well-known negative tendencies within progressivism. If that's the case, then a misidentification of the underlying issue has been made, and the problem really isn't 'political correctness,' 'safetyism,' or 'identitarianism.' What's causing some us of trouble is that progressives eat their own. Callout culture and virtue signaling are rife within progressive circles, and Unitarian Universalism is no exception to that. I had my own very minor experience with it at the 2018 General Assembly in Kansas City, and found it mildly amusing.

My teenage son went with me to General Assembly that year as well as this year in Spokane, and he enjoys and participating in the youth-oriented activities. This is programming created by and for youth that's available to them during the event. Of course, they can also attend any of the other scheduled workshops as well or in place of their own programming. Also, adults are welcome to attend youth gatherings, though it's appropriate for such folks to respect that this space is not primarily for them and behave accordingly. In any event, what has happened both years we've attended is that he goes off and has such a good time that I only see him in the morning when we get up and at night when he returns to the hotel.

One of the nights in Kansas City there was a 'GA Dance' on the schedule, and both my son and I went to check it out. When I got there I realized that although there were many adults, it appeared to be more oriented toward youth. Yes, there were adults of all ages dancing and mingling, and yes I could have hung around as well. It just wasn't my scene, though, so I headed back to the hotel room, content in the knowledge my son would be having a good time. At the same time, the thought crossed my mind that perhaps others would feel the same as me and prefer to do something like Pub Theology meets UU Geeks, so I posted the following in the GA mobile app. Note as well the first comment on it.

As is usually the case with me, my first reaction to the comment was self-criticism, assuming that I had a blind spot and had said or done something offensive. Then I realized that I was on the receiving end of call-out culture. As soon as that dawned on me, I literally laughed out loud at the absurdity of my fellow UU's comment. On further reflection, I decided to go a step beyond my reply to that comment with the GA app analog of a sub-tweet, posting the following to my feed.

There are many ingrained, habitual ways of thinking that tamper with how effectively I move through this world, and that's simply indicative of the human condition of which we all take part. I regularly need to check myself, always attempting to remain open to correction, if I am to have any hope of participating effectively in the struggle for collective liberation. At the same time, for my own personal psychological integrity and so as not to collapse into insecurity with progressive legalism riddling me with false guilt, some filtering and a good dose of courage are also required.

This was a ridiculous attempt at a 'gotcha,' mere 'ally theater' that someone hopes will set them up as a progressive saint. It could represent a bit of grandstanding for attention on the part of the perpetrator, or perhaps they do it to feel morally superior. I can only speculate. Whatever prompts it, call-out culture has no place in the 'Beloved Community' that Unitarian Universalists and others often speak of wanting to build. When possible, we can address issues between one another directly and privately, perhaps with capable independent mediation. That's why we have a Right Relationship team at General Assembly.

There is a stark difference between the nonsense I faced and the kind of harassment targeted at people of color, women, and lgbtq+ folx within the Unitarian Universalist Association. It is right for people to be advised when they behave in a way that is harmful to marginalized people, the ones most directly oppressed by white supremacy culture. Unitarian Universalism should be a community in which people are encouraged to be their best selves, free of the discrimination and constraints they face in the world at large, and maintained within a faithful covenant. Someone taking me to task for inviting others to have drinks is ridiculous. Telling someone to stop telling people who are struggling against injustice that they are 'coddled' is quite another story.
"If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another." (Galatians 5:15 NRSV)
So, on the one hand, how about if we progressives drop the nonsense of picking over each other's words looking for some angle to attack? And on the other, why don't we agree to live within covenant with one another, engaging in tireless dialog when there are misunderstandings, and work through them together, with respect and love?


How To Tell the Difference Between Real Solidarity and 'ally Theater'
Mia McKenzie -

6 Signs Your Call-out Is About Ego and Not Accountability
Maisha Z. Johnson -

The Problem with Call-out Culture