Calling Out and Calling In, we need to practice both

pandaHi, I’m going to ask for a little forgiveness with this week’s post. I need to get to bed at a reasonable hour, midnight, I had a migraine today and sleep is what is needed to recover. I didn’t proofread the post very well. So if you are an early reader try to ignore the odd sentences.

I’m listening to First Lady Michelle Obama’s campaign speech at Southern New Hampshire University. In many ways her speech broke out of the usual campaign stump speech and instead she called out bad behavior, and called in the audience to use their voice to say what they stand for. I’m not going to get into politics or breakdown this election. I will instead write about how we need to be bold and call out when things aren’t racially equitable or even equal.

Oh those Meetings
A good majority of meetings I go to a list of group norms, agreements, values, or practices will be generated. They often have words like “We agree to: Confidentiality, stepping back and leaning in, practice best intention, silence cell phones, etc.” Even within the meetings I run we put out table tents with the Color Brave Space meeting format Heidi created and we borrow and model our meeting on. The intention of these values is good – to create a standard and accountability practice for us to use.

However, I don’t think we’re particularly good about living these values in ways that create and promote racial equity. Too often we continue to default to the same practices and power dynamics we always do. The same people speak or speak first, set the agenda, control the clock, and we don’t stop to call it out. We all need to get better about slowing down meetings and recognizing when we fall into these familiar patterns.

Recently at a meeting I hosted we opened up the meeting inviting people to abide by the Color Brave Space principles. One of the points says: “Notice Power Dynamics in the Room.” Power shows up in who speaks, who disengages, who gets emotional, and in our word choices. At the meeting our presenter, an African American/Black, asked the group a question. An African American well-respected woman, answered and gave feedback. After she spoke, a white man followed up to add to her statement. The presenter stopped and asked the first person to answer how she felt about having her comment followed up on. She said “I felt like he was using his power to change what I said.” The interaction made many uncomfortable, but it was in the uncomfortable moment that learning happened. The presenter was bold to follow up and hold everyone accountable to the Color Brave Space principles and creating space in his presentation to dive headfirst into looking at how power dynamics play out. This is something we need to do more – slow down and check in with people.

Calling In
The term ‘calling in’ means we can’t always be mean and call out people – the scorched earth method of racial equity work leaves a lot of victims in its wake.

In the video clip of First Lady Michelle Obama she called in people to stand with her and to take a stand against bigotry and women-hating. She asked people to use their power as voters to women and girls need to be seen and valued. We all need to do this, to call in and invite allies to share and stand with us.

I need to get better about calling in people to support racial equity work. The more I do racial justice and community building work, I find myself getting more bitter, tired, stressed, and jaded. This isn’t a great formula for wanting to partner and build relationships with people who don’t have the same world views or are starting their journey on racial equity. Calling in and asking people to learn alongside me is a better long term strategy and it takes intentional slowing down and patience. I also recognize as people of color the burden often falls to us to be in the role of  educator which is taxing and tiring, but maybe if we invest time on the front end in the long term we will see better results.

I also need to call in partners to share the burden. It is easy to want to be seen as the champion for racial equity, we get invited to sit on too many task forces, to share our opinions, sometimes we get invited to cool events and we get to meet amazing people. All of this is fun but we need to share and invite people along otherwise we’ll burn out. We need to build a movement which means sharing. We need to share access to information and meetings, we need to be patient and kind in explaining why things need to change, and we need to be generous with forgiveness.  This doesn’t mean we stop calling out bad behavior, but it means once we call out, we also call in people to change and join in the movement to create more inclusive and welcoming communities for people of color.

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