The Daily Northwestern

Bian: Severity of “callout culture” reduces rehabilitation

Andrea Bian, Assistant Opinion Editor

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






Last November, Minnesota Chipotle manager Dominique Moran was captured on video refusing service to two black customers. Moran asked that the customers pay before ordering because “you never have money when you come in here.”

Accusations soon flew criticizing Moran for racially profiling the customers, and she was soon fired from her manager position. Days later, however, tweets from the involved customers surfaced, suggesting the two had a history of dining and dashing.

Chipotle eventually offered Moran her job back. However, the negativity surrounding the incident exposes the worst of social media; people can viciously attack others through screens, attempting to destroy their careers or ultimately “cancel” them.

This is callout culture: the exposure of racism, sexism or other bigotry in an attempt to take down harmful systems. Despite the original intention of callout culture, it can spiral out of control, especially when people consume media without context — as shown in Moran’s case.

To an extent, callout culture makes a compelling case, especially when offenses are not jokes, but intentional actions. Last October, Hilary Brooke Mueller went viral in a video showing her blocking a black man from entering the building he lived in. She was later fired from her real estate job. This social ostracism has extended to other people such as environmental scientist Jennifer Schulte, who called police on black people barbecuing at a park in Oakland (eventually earning her the meme of “BBQ Becky”).

I’m not saying that in these cases people shouldn’t be called out at all for their wrongdoing; in a way, videos like these display a nonviolent relative of racism, and draw attention to the fact that racism still occurs daily and all around us. My issue with callout culture, however, is the intense shaming that goes on toward offenders that can sometimes be misplaced.

It’s hard for me to imagine that subjects of this callout culture like Moran may have more positive feelings toward the experience than negative. I was once a fierce advocate of callout culture; I insisted on bringing on negative attention to people’s social media mistakes, believing they deserved the harshest punishments. But Moran’s example is just one incident that demonstrates not the takedown of harmful systems, but people’s haste to expose and destroy.

Even when someone makes an insensitive joke, the negative personal feedback can affect them more than it appears; they may take only resentment from their experience, rather than their desire to learn from their actions. In other words, more destructive forms of callout culture can limit the possibility of rehabilitation. If someone is completely ostracized and isolated from the public, they have little to no chance of changing their actions.

Not everyone who makes a single, poor decision should lose their job or be publicly shamed as punishment. Calling out is different than shaming. I understand that specifically educating people can be overwhelming emotionally, but at the very least, not everyone who makes mistakes should see others attempting to ruin their lives. Callout culture can then achieve its original intention: to eventually take down racist systems and build up positive ones.

Andrea Bian is a Medill first-year. She can be contacted at andreabian2022@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

Comments