Navigating Confrontation: Calling in vs Calling Out

Let’s set the scene. You are out with some friends about to order some food at a fast-food restaurant. While you and your friends are waiting in line, talking about how the whole series of Avatar the Last Airbender is coming to Netflix (which I am so hyped for), and a person in front of you starts belligerently flipping out on the cashier spouting deeply offensive and problematic things. In the words of John Quiñones, what would you do? Also, What would you do if someone you knew started flipping out on a cashier?

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What is Calling Out

If you are on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or any other social media, you are aware that people say homophobic, trans-antagonistic, misogynistic, ableist, sexist, and all the other deeply offensive and problematic things in the comments. On the flip side, you are also aware of the people that will nip that shit in the bud real quick. They will call out the offender for saying wildly prejudice and problematic things. While social media is the mediated way we communicate to one another, calling out also happens face to face.

Now I am sure you are can put two and two together and figure out that calling out is when a person publicly confronts someone the moment they made a prejudiced comment. Calling someone out is a strategy you can utilize to help guide a person back, in that moment, if they are veering away from using language that does not serve to maintain a person’s dignity or respect. Think of calling out as a stop sign. When you are driving on the road a stop sign tells you to stop and look in all the appropriate ways before you proceed through traffic again. When you are calling someone out you are essentially telling them in that moment to stop using prejudice or offensive language before they proceed with their day.

What is Calling In

Calling in is very similar to calling out. However, calling in may require a level of intimacy that calling out does not require. Imagine for a minute that a friend of yours made an offensive or prejudiced comment. You know that they are a well-meaning person — I don’t think you would be friends with them if they weren’t — yet they made a comment that goes against their character. You could pull them aside at a later time and explain to them why their words were not acceptable.

An example that is not offensive at all but can help drive the point home is, if your friend said that Avatar the Last Airbender was a garbage show (I would be highly offended if my friend said that to me, but I digress). You could sit down and talk with them about why that is wrong. You could explain that the character development in the show is amazing, the messages in the show are truly inspirational, and artistic style is unrivaled. Your explanation takes a different level of intimacy and patience that would not be required if you just flat out told them that they shouldn’t call Avatar the Last Airbender garbage.

Calling in can also take place with a person online even though you are not sharing physical space. Recently I saw a comment that I thought was problematic and I addressed the person. I explained to them that what they were saying was problematic and if they wanted to have a deeper discussion about it I was willing to talk with them. I did not just call them out publicly and leave it at that, I extended an olive branch for an actual discussion. Granted they did not reach out to me, which is fine, but at least the option is still available if they want to talk later. I was attempting to build rapport with them. Building rapport online is especially important because mostly everyone you encounter online is a stranger. By building rapport it allows people to trust you and feel vulnerable enough to start a conversation.

Use These Strategies Wisely

While I feel like calling people in is the strategy that I gravitate more towards; I utilize both depending on my situation.

You need to be aware that calling people out can make people very defensive and that defensiveness can make people become hostile or even violent. It is very important to judge that for yourself, and understand the risks that come with calling someone out. Calling people out online can also present you with security risks. People could find your information and dox you. Doxing is when someone finds out private information about you and publicly display that information for people to see. That could mean that your address is released, your job location is released, or you phone number is released. It is very important to always place your physical, mental, and emotional safety and the safety physical, mental, and emotional safety of those around you first.

Calling people can also present you with some difficulty. It would be very difficult to call someone in that has a considerable about of social capital over you. Social capital can range from being more popular to having some sort of power over you i.e. a boss, a coach, or a professor. Calling people in is also very energy depleting. If you go around trying to have super in-depth conversations about why racism is wrong all the time that can take a toll on your energy and emotional well-being, especially if you are speaking about how someone’s words harmed you as a marginalized person.

One thing I really want to stress is that it is not the responsibility of any marginalized person to educate the person being prejudice, discriminatory, or oppressive!

Confrontation can be very anxiety-inducing, yet learning what is the best way for you to navigate it is paramount. With that being said, it is okay to only call people out. It is okay to okay call people in. It is okay to use a combination of both, but whatever you decided to do understand that it is something that works for you. Also, make sure that your mental, physical, and emotional well-being is protected.

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So again, now that you know some strategies to navigate confrontation, what would you do?

Previously published on


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