As our culture becomes ever more connected and engaged, so does the pursuit of social justice and equality. With the emergence of platforms such as Twitter and Instagram, it has become as easy as picking up your phone to “call-out” something that you believe someone has done wrong. Victims range from seriously guilty celebrities all the way to right here on campus. This has come to be known as “Call-Out Culture”.
This culture has become a hotspot of social conversation and controversy. No longer does the state decide who is innocent and guilty- Twitter does. While broad communal social justice is a positive development in American society, it has also become a dangerous breeding ground for “canceling” people. This includes things such as boycotting people and/or the content they are involved with, all the way to petitioning for their banning from public platforms.
At times, these calls to action and boycotts are very necessary. Serious comments about issues such as sexual harassment, climate change, and racism deserve to be pointed out for what they are and punished. Large movements, one of which includes #MeToo, founded by Tarana Burke, who visited campus last semester, are necessary and important parts of improving our society and giving justice to survivors. #MeToo is just one of the many examples of movements that use Twitter and other social media sites to their advantage to call out people who do or say terrible things.
While I agree that many people deserve to lose any attention that they’ve been given, others are being destroyed for one misled comment or quip. By condemning someone for one comment or belief, it leaves very little room for mistakes. And when there is no space allowed for people to make mistakes, they will be afraid to contribute to the conversation or even say anything. Creating this type of toxic culture hinders society from hearing a diverse array of opinions and stories. When someone believes something bigoted or backward and they have good intentions, they deserve space to be corrected, and then learn and grow from their mistakes.
I understand that this is a very fine line to walk, and those who should be punished and what remarks should be condemned is often in the eye of the beholder. But serving justice and punishment should not be decided without ample evidence, thought, and understanding. These decisions can become even more difficult when we do not know the context of the situation or conversation. Avoiding jumping to conclusions is key.
While this may seem to be solely a Hollywood or social media problem, I have observed countless people on campus saying the very same things to their peers. From simple contributions in class to interactions around campus, so many of us are willing to drop someone or talk behind their backs before learning anything of their intentions, background, or true beliefs. As I mentioned before, many people, including Gustavus students, love to assume that they know everything about a person or situation. But there is no way that we can know why someone said what they did, what they meant to say, or what led them to believe the “problematic” thing that they said.
With Gustavus being such an involved and socially aware campus, it is easy to believe that most of the people here on campus have similar beliefs to us or the same upbringings that we did and that everyone agrees on what can and cannot be said, or what needs to be done. While many students swear up and down that they are open-minded and accepting, they more often than not have a difficult time hearing opinions that differ from their own. If we immediately push away someone who disagrees with us or someone who we believe has made a mistake, both people lose a valuable learning opportunity.
I would also argue that when correcting someone for a mistake, do it kindly. This is the true spirit of Gustavus, not viciously taking someone down or dryly and rudely correcting them. I am consistently shocked at the pure joy that people exhibit when tearing someone else down for a remark. No one can say the most politically correct thing at all times, and I can guarantee that the attacker has made many similar mistakes in the past. A dose of empathy, kindness, and patience, for Gustavus students as well as for everyone as a whole, could do us all some good.