Calling out or casting out: toxicity and mob mentality of activist spaces

by LS

With the greater connectivity of the world through the Internet and ease of finding safer spaces for marginalized people, the broader accessibility of safer spaces to marginalized people offers a place for recovery and personal growth in defiance to the microaggressions and daily threats of violence inherent to the oppressive society in which we live.

In the maintenance of these spaces, call-outs serve as an essential practice to defend against the risk of spreading the marginalization outside of the safer space into the safer space. Outside activist spaces, call-outs come from a place of marginalization, defending against the everyday struggle of living under oppression through actively resisting the oppressive behaviours of specific individuals. Within activist spaces, call-outs come from a place of ending this same behaviour in order to maintain the sanctity of the space. While used as a method to assert one’s right to identity and humanity, the ability to misuse and abuse through the revelry and ritualization of call-outs cultivates an environment of dehumanization, toxicity, and mob judgment through the same oppressive mechanisms that call-out culture serves to mitigate.

The misuse of call-outs develops through essentializing oppressive behaviour by defining who is pure and impure within the space. Through this deification of purity, none are validated for their humanity or faults, as oppressive behaviours are rooted out in an obsessive fervour. Individual political growth is denied in favour of maintaining a space that revels in whoever is placed on the call-out block. As the activist space’s community flocks around a target for their faults, no reconciliation or growth is offered to any involved party as the community swarms around to parade the indiscretions of the offendoe, projecting oppressive structures and other presumed faults onto their target.

The ritualization of call-outs permit the same aggression of current oppressive structures, only this time validated as the called out target represents the oppression being fought against. In other words – any means are necessary, even the basest dehumanization, in the pursuit of an idealized and perfect activist space.

As the community rallies around witticisms, slurs, and platitudes of “I told you so” in the ostracization of the called out, the community congratulates itself on another oppressor displaced despite cultivating animosity and self-assuredness in political purity. In this respect, call-outs cultivate and concentrate toxicity within activist spaces. Call-outs become a spectacle for denigrating the oppressor rather than for education and reconciliation of involved parties. The community of the activist space serves less as a place for respite and health, and more for a place of flexing the ideological purity of one’s activitsm.

By targeting of oppressive behaviours, collective call-outs run the risk of mob judgment. This is not to delegitimize the genuine grievances and the marginalized place that call-outs come from, but rather the exponential danger of misplaced accusations through circumstantial evidence and guilt by association that often permeates a community-wide call-out. Rumours fuel the community’s scapegoating of perceived oppressive behaviour of their target. Through this rampant hearsay and scapegoating, a self-proclaimed space for marginalized people contradicts itself in mirroring the same structures that it claims to offer safety from.

In the sanctification of an impossible standard, dogmatism represents the crux of anti-oppression politics in denying the humanity of all people. Through strict legalism, none are permitted the essential process of radicalization, personal development, and solidarity-building in favour of the performance and adulation of fellow activists within the space. By denying humanity to those deemed “too problematic” for the community, these activists reinforce hierarchical power structures in favour of purity supremacy.

Undoubtedly, dogmatism hamstrings the ability of the community to reach out in building mass movements towards ending oppression. As small slights become inexcusable crimes, potential comrades are ostracized and distrust is spread throughout the community. Toxic activist spaces use mechanisms of the oppressive structures they criticize to dehumanize and scapegoat, only clothed in the language of anti-oppression for those being called out.

The need for a culture of genuine love and solidarity is required, given the concentration of toxicity to activist spaces, the. As we are all affected by the influences of oppression in society limiting our choices and humanity, the affirmation of everyone’s humanity must be a solid foundation for activist spaces to be built upon. In this pursuit, mediation, de-escalation, and the space for self-criticism are essential in providing development and education without the volatility of call-outs. With people coming into mass movements from different levels of political education, backgrounds, and identities, giving the space and time to educate in an environment conducive towards this development is a first step in building a mass movement.

From toxicity to recovery, there is a constant need for humanity affirming spaces. Collective shaming and mob judgment serve the aims of current oppressive structures by cultivating shame, guilt, and fear in the pursuit of an idol of purity. By denying humanity, an activist space cannot work in favour of the marginalized people it claims to serve; it essentializes their experiences and identity. In moving forward, there is hope in mediating activist space issues through measured speech and de-escalation strategies rather than public shamings.

Further reading:

Hot Allostatic Load

Excommunicate me from the church of social justice

Exiting the Vampire Castle


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