On Saturday 21st January, women all around the world marched in protest against Donald Trump’s inauguration, the rise of fascism in the West, and a whole host of other social justice issues. It was a powerful moment, one I’m glad to have witnessed, albeit from Twitter rather than from one of the actual marches.
It was, however, not perfect. Following the march, I saw a lot of criticisms for it being trans-exclusionary, inaccessible to disabled people, and generally centred largely around white women. These are valid and extremely important criticisms. However, a lot of women who attended the marches are angry that they’ve been called out for being less than perfect. And you can’t blame them.
Earlier this month, I wrote about how to call someone out when they’re being problematic as hell. What I didn’t talk about, however, was what to do if you get called out for being problematic as hell.
It’s not something we like to think about, really. As good liberals, we like to think we’re infallible. We like to think that we’re fighting the good fight perfectly, and it’s all those nasty right-wingers who are being the problematic ones.
But the truth is, we’re not perfect. We’re human. And as humans, we’re ingrained to care about ourselves, and what impacts us directly, first. That means we often – whether we want to or not – exclude others. And when we exclude others – be they black, trans, LGBT+, poor, or disabled – we should damn well expect to be called out.
So what should you do after you’ve been called out? After someone was legitimately criticised you for being racist, homophobic, ableist, transphobic, classist, or in any way exclusionary?
First of all, you should pause. Stop. Don’t reply straight away. Getting called out – especially when you think you’re a Good Little Feminist or ally – stings. It hurts our pride. That’s fine. That’s normal. But don’t let that hurt dictate your response.
After you get called out, it’s natural to want to defend yourself. To explain that you didn’t mean it like that. Resist that urge. Instead, take time to quietly reflect on what it is you did wrong. Think about why you’re being called out. Was the shitty thing you said a slip of the tongue? Or was it said because of a subconscious bias you didn’t realise you had? Think about why you said the thing you said, and why that thing was wrong.
The first thing you should say after you’ve been called out is sorry. Swiftly followed by thank you. Apologise because you acknowledge that what you said was wrong. Give thanks to the person for taking time to educate you. Because you know what? Calling people out is tiring. People aren’t doing it cos they love the Twitter drama. They’re doing it because it’s necessary if you want to evoke any kind of change in the world.
When you apologise, make sure you’re actually apologising. Don’t say ‘Sorry I hurt your feelings’, or ‘Sorry, I really didn’t mean it like that!’. Just say sorry. Remember: this isn’t about you. Quite frankly, your personal pride doesn’t matter in this moment. What matters is that you did something wrong, and you need to own up to it.
The next step is to educate yourself. Read into the issue at hand. Were you just called transphobic? Start reading about the history of trans people and the trans-exclusionary nature of feminism throughout history. Were you just called racist? Take the time to learn about the issues that are affecting black people today.
If you’re lucky, the person who called you out might be willing to educate you. Ask them – but don’t expect answers. They don’t owe you shit. If they say ‘Google that shit’, then Google that shit. If they send you links, read them. But if they say nothing at all, respect that. The onus on you is to better yourself. Sometimes people will help you, but they don’t have to.
Educate yourself so you know why what you did was wrong. So you don’t do it again. So you can recognise problematic shit in other people. Educate. Yourself.
The important thing to remember about being called out is that it doesn’t make you a terrible person. Chances are, you didn’t say something shitty because you deep down really hate trans people or black people or disabled people. Chances are, you said it because it’s so ingrained into you and society that you didn’t even realise it was shitty.
If you keep getting called out for the same shit, then maybe you do need to take a long hard look at yourself in the mirror. But if it happens occasionally because of a genuine mistake, then forgive yourself. Forgive yourself, and do better next time.
Getting called out can be an uncomfortable experience, but it can also be positive. It can be a chance for you to learn, to better yourself, and to be a better feminist, activist, and ally.