In a recent article by Asam Ahmad, call-out culture was, itself, called out as being inherently toxic, primarily because it does not facilitate rehabilitation through conversation but constitutes a sort of public shaming in which activist egos are stroked and perpetrators are demonized. And while I tend to agree with this sentiment, that call-out culture is abusive far more than it is effective, and especially having seen just how far conversation actually goes to change people – at the same time, there is a pattern emerging for which call-out culture is useful: the most stubborn of haters who dominate in socio-economic, gendered ways over those whom they hate.

It might seem counter-intuitive but there are actually many types of people who hate. It is my understanding that the vast majority of people who have been conditioned to hate fall into two main and often overlapping categories: the fearful and the ignorant. In fact, ignorance is the direct precursor to fear which necessarily precedes hatred, particularly when one’s livelihood, and more importantly, one’s identity and sense of self is held in the balance. Perceived threats to both our livelihood and our self-hood which are exterior to us are often not the subjects of curiosity and genuine interest but, rather, end up being objects of hatred and violence. One need only look so far at how a fearful, phobic individual treats an animal or phenomena they fear to know how they might treat a human being they also fear.

There is, however, another type of person who hates. This person is neither ignorant, nor fearful. I know this is going to make a lot of people I know uncomfortable because we tend, as activists, to buy into the narrative that everyone is redeemable to our worldview when this is, very likely, not a real possibility –  at least not without mass social accountability. Human beings engage with hatred to consolidate power. They hate in order to be in a masterful position over the one they hate and, because of this, are easy to detect. They are the most prone to violence, the most prone to saying flippant and hurtful things, the least apologetic about it. They tend not to offer excuses without masking or hiding their hatred. They shout it from the rooftops, unabashedly, in the name of “not appearing PC”, of reclaiming what they think is owed to them, of making their name and their personhood and their nation great again from whence it came.

These people cannot be dismissed as being “stupid” or unaware of what they are doing. And they often do not respond to criticism. In their worldview, critics belong to the “other” – someone for which they have an ever-present snappy response an undercutting retort that pushes buttons and gets the job of hatred done. They can rationalize things that seem impossible to others. They can excuse atrocious things.

These people are the target of call out culture. These are the people most in need of public shaming if we re-conceptualise public shaming as social accountability and accept that call out culture has some work to do in terms of its effectiveness. “An interaction between two individuals” as a public performance, as Ahmad puts it, is not an academic brand of activism: it is the only option some people have left. Ahmad seems to be under the impression that conversations are, by definition, equal playing fields. That they can even be made to occur at the instigation of victims of oppression…all the while ignoring major power imbalances, not even to mention personal repercussions incurred by the one who initiates a conversation with the one who oppresses them. Putting this onus on the victim of repression is not only unrealistic, it is unsafe.

Call out culture has emerged because “calling in” is not always an option and just because that may be the case, oppression should not continue unmarked. As I previously mentioned in my article entitled “The Internet is the Voice of the Oppressed”, what is important to note for our purposes is that the internet (as the ultimate stage of call out culture) has become a vehicle for connecting liminal, minority groups – for communicative memories to develop in peripheral forums and for connections to be made across geographically disparate spaces. What we are seeing is a dramatic increase in critical awareness for a variety of minority issues – and a territorializing of these groups’ memories on an exponential basis daily. The result is an influx of posts, videos and pages devoted to the causes of those marginalized in regular society, those who were previously unable to “call in”. Almost immediately, people in positions of privilege have criticized these movements as minorities being overly-sensitive or abrasive, rolling their eyes at the proliferation of trigger warnings, or jumping to defend those who have been brought to justice by bringing their injustices to light online. What these individuals don’t realize is two-fold:

  1. These oppressed people have always been around. They just have a larger collectivity now because of the internet and their voice is much louder because of the heavy use and reliance on this technology today.
  2. Oppressed people who cannot find justice in their everyday lives will use every means at their disposal – outside of the collectively prescribed methods – to achieve their justice.

Perhaps what Ahmad was warning against was my own concern, not so long ago: that those who challenge the order run the risk of becoming it.

When the oppressed achieve recognition, their communicative, everyday memories tend to be distorted in the name of their collective, which ultimately has little need for the individuals in this new memory form. As I stated before, this raises further questions about the meaning and even the possibility of true social aggregation, meditations on which will have to be left for another time. So to ask the question again: Is call- out culture always toxic? No. It isn’t. Not always. Oftentimes, it is the only tool we have in sounding the alarm on oppressive behaviours. For now, give pause before you do, then keep wailing that hammer.


nakitaNakita Valerio is an academic, activist and writer in the community. She is currently pursuing graduate studies in History and Islamic-Jewish Studies at the University of Alberta.  Nakita was named one of the Alberta Council for Global Cooperation’s Top 30 under 30 for 2015, and is the recipient of the 2016 Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, as well as the Walter H. Johns Graduate Studies Fellowship. She has also been honoured with the State of Kuwait, the Queen Elizabeth II and the Frank W Peers Awards for Graduate Studies in 2015. She has been recognized by Rotary International with an Award for Excellence in Service to Humanity and has been named one of Edmonton’s “Difference Makers” for 2015 by the Edmonton Journal. Nakita is the co-founder of Bassma Primary School in El Attaouia, Morocco and the Vice President of External Affairs with the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council.

Recently, I was present at the creation of the Edmonton Chapter of Black Lives Matter and, in my personal process of learning about racism and the daily grievances of POC from POC, I have consistently found two activist narratives at play. On the one hand, there are activists who argue that we need to educate people and offer programming and workshops for non-POC people to become allies. On the other hand, while not detracting from the efforts of those working in education, other activists fiercely defend their right to live in peace, to not be asked, to not have to educate the ignorant.

The latter group bases their reasoning on the existence of the internet (where learning can easily be done) and by how damn tired the whole issue of racism is. In other words, if you don’t know that discriminating against someone by the colour of their skin is a sin by now, then you are never going to know. You are a lost cause.

I can’t necessarily argue one way or another for the correct course of action. I do think there is a point to be made by the latter group, if only because there is no discriminatory equivalent to melanin in one’s skin. As a visible Muslim, I simply do not experience the same type of discrimination as POC do daily. I can remove my hijab and step into privilege once more. They can’t remove their skin. Nor should they have to. And for the POC sisters who wear hijab, their discrimination is intersectional and therefore, exponential.

Dismantling the system that marginalizes a person based on the amount of or hue of the pigment in their skin is a must but should not have to rely on the actions of those who are marginalized. Those who benefit from and are privileged by the system should also be responsible for its dismantling. People of colour are traumatized and continue to be traumatized every time they see their kin gunned down by police in the street, every time a microaggression can’t be #madeawkward for fear of violent repercussions or stereotyping, every time white supremacists get the nation’s attention by being permitted to hold a media megaphone. They are exhausted from making and taking space they are owed.

Any efforts POC make are excellent and valid; however, non-POC allies need to step up to the plate, calling out racists in their midst, and developing their own education initiatives that, while centering POC voices and their cause, do not rely on them to be present for explanations in spaces that can quickly become unsafe. #makeitawkward is the responsibility of every ally.

That being said, what about cases of discrimination that are not centered on discourses around race or ethnicity? What about Islamo- and Judeophobia?  I am still working through my thoughts on this, but generally speaking, in my experience while working against Islamo and Judeophobia, I have found that education by individuals from those communities is one of the single most powerful instigators of change. Having conversations with diverse groups of people, lecturing to audiences that may, in fact, hate you, is exhausting and unending but it is also exhilarating. Every single time I have lectured, I have come away with stories of change, of growth, of increased understanding from people who simply lacked knowledge, from people who even feared me and thus hated me. By being available to answer questions (no matter how ignorant those questions might seem), I am providing the theatre for change to happen. I humanize myself to people and, in turn, they come to see me as a person. These conversations are challenging and difficult, but the outcomes are worth the effort. Change does not always come immediately. Sometimes it is months, even years after something has touched the life of someone before they come to me and let me know how a talk changed their perspective, how a list of resources shaped their learning, how a safe space to be ignorant led them to seek knowledge.

Ultimately, whichever area of activism you are working in, and whichever course of activism you choose to take, make sure you are taking care of yourself in the process. Sometimes, the most powerful revolution takes place by simply remaining present, owning your space and refusing to give in to hateful rhetoric around you. Loving yourself and staying healthy in the face of a deeply imperfect world is powerful too.

In solidarity,

Nakita


nakitaNakita Valerio is an academic, activist and writer in the community. She is currently pursuing graduate studies in History and Islamic-Jewish Studies at the University of Alberta.  Nakita was named one of the Alberta Council for Global Cooperation’s Top 30 under 30 for 2015, and is the recipient of the 2016 Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, as well as the Walter H. Johns Graduate Studies Fellowship. She has also been honoured with the State of Kuwait, the Queen Elizabeth II and the Frank W Peers Awards for Graduate Studies in 2015. She has been recognized by Rotary International with an Award for Excellence in Service to Humanity and has been named one of Edmonton’s “Difference Makers” for 2015 by the Edmonton Journal. Nakita is the co-founder of Bassma Primary School in El Attaouia, Morocco and the Vice President of External Affairs with the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council.

During the 2015 Canadian federal election, the niqab came into central focus as a key election issue with Canadians dividing themselves among the camps of supporters and condemners. The issue reached such a ridiculous fervour that, on the advice of the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council, I opted to write an opinion-editorial on the issue about how it was dividing the country and we must stand together to move forward. After this article’s publication, I received an email from the Rabbanit (wife of the Rabbi), Dorit, at Beth Shalom Synagogue. She proposed that we start a Muslim-Jewish women’s dialogue circle to talk about some of the issues that plague both of our religious groups and would allow us to create a safe environment for women from both groups to ask questions, offer insights and generally get pushed out of their comfort zones in the interests of learning.

Our first meeting in January at the Synagogue was small but intimate. The few women from both sides shared their life stories and, by virtue of the fact that the meeting was taking place in the Synagogue, answered many questions about their brand of Judaism, Jewish dynamics in the city and their perspectives on some political aspects of both faiths. Some amazing connections were made, especially between myself, Nakita, and Michelle from the Jewish community. A philosopher, feminist, life coach and convert, Michelle is a tour de force who has gone on to launch Edmonton’s first women’s film festival in honour of International Women’s Day. Nakita was lucky enough to help in a small way with this effort with The Drawing Board being privileged enough to build the website and help with some public relations aspects.

Such relationships are not the only beautiful thing to come out of the group so far. In our second meeting at the MAC Rahma Mosque in February, the turnout was much higher and the Muslim and Jewish women were lucky enough to get a tour of the mosque from the brand new Imam, Dr. El Sayed Amin. The Imam is exceptionally gifted in public speaking, interreligious dialogue and intellectual pursuits so to have his full attention was a true honour for all of us. Additionally, most of the Muslim women had never had a tour of their own mosque before so it was an amazing learning opportunity for us as well. The mosque was unbelievably hospitable to us, offering us the space on a continuous basis (bi-monthly as we change on and off with the Synagogue) and having the Imam around to answer any of our more in-depth questions and read us excerpts of the Qur’an.

The second meeting’s conversation revolved around the subject of veiling and modesty in both the Muslim and Jewish traditions and the dialogue was amazing. For many participants, it was the first time for them to encounter a person of the other faith, let alone sit across from them, sharing food and life stories. Perhaps my favourite part of all was when the Jewish women joined the Muslim women in the Musalla for ‘Asr prayer, with some Jewish women actually participating in the prayer, shoulder-to-shoulder with their Muslim sisters. It was so beautiful, it actually brought a tear to my eye.

In the coming months, we will be discussing such important and controversial issues as conversion, terrorism, Palestine-Israel and much, much more. As our group grows and solidifies, we hope to have more public events aimed at creating a better understanding of both of our often misunderstood communities. And if we can do this together with mutual respect and kindness, we have already won the day.