November 23, 2020 - 7:00am

Countries differ as to what is considered offensive. For instance, an East Asian acquaintance of mine once casually remarked that she found it hard to tell apart European faces. I wasn’t in the least bit offended by what she said and she clearly didn’t mean to offend, but I wondered whether I should let her know that other people in this country might take a different attitude.

If I had, it would have been a very small example of what Professor Loretta J Ross describes as “calling in”. As the term suggests, it’s the opposite of ‘calling out’ — i.e. publicly criticising someone over some actual or perceived transgression.

Her humane alternative is the subject a profile piece by Jessica Bennett for the New York Times:

“…Professor Ross, 67, [is] an unlikely figure in the culture wars. A radical Black feminist who has been doing human rights work for four decades, she was one of the signatories of a widely denounced letter in Harper’s Magazine, for which she herself was called out. ‘There’s such an irony for being called out for calling out the calling-out culture,’ she said. ‘It really was amusing.’”
- Jessica Bennett, The New York Times

So how does calling in work?

“Calling in is like calling out, but done privately and with respect. ‘It’s a call out done with love,’ [Ross] said. That may mean simply sending someone a private message, or even ringing them on the telephone (!) to discuss the matter, or simply taking a

breath before commenting, screen-shotting or demanding one ‘do better’ without explaining how.”
- Jessica Bennet, The New York Times

That seems very reasonable — at least in situations where there’s no intention to cause upset.

However, there needs to a safe and discreet opportunity to do the calling in. Ironically, social media makes it easier to publicly condemn someone than to have a quiet word with them.

And there’s an even bigger obstacle — and that’s the ideological framing imposed by wokeness. If someone says or does something  that genuinely needs to be challenged (a big ‘if’), then it makes a difference whether the offence is perceived to be an individual failure of awareness or if it’s automatically assumed to be a symptom of some wider group mentality. If the issue is made all about the transgressions of ‘whiteness’ or the ‘patriarchy’ or whatever the oppressive collective might be, then anything particular to the offending individual is of secondary or no importance. To the woke way of thinking, calling in is irrelevant to the bigger picture.

Calling in also implies a conversation – including the opportunity for the offending individual to defend themselves or even to express hurt feelings of their own. That too contravenes the laws of wokeness, where to deny whatever ‘ism’ one is accused of is itself proof of guilt.

In short, calling in is a great idea. But as long as wokeness is allowed to dominate the conversations that we need to have about race, sex and other issues, then they’ll begin and end with calling out.

Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.