|by Chris Lee|
Amidst the conversations around digital 'call-out culture', a curious trend signaling compensation for calling out is beginning to take shape. Sift through the controversies surrounding Celebrate Brooklyn's ill-fated Paris is Burning screening, take stock of the pushback against the new Stonewall film, and one might find a few comments of this nature:
"I'm logging hours."
"I'm writing you an invoice."
"I hope y'all are getting paid for this."
These aren't serious proposals, but they can raise a serious concept: moments of cultural correction encompass digital work. And the idea that call-outs could ever be compensated challenges us to consider them through the loaded circuits of emotional, educational and immaterial labor.
The fraught debates over calling out and calling in, its retributive or vindictive tenors, might miss the fact that even restorative models of calling in are weighted to work for the transformation of some while putting others to work. As a speculative response, I want to pose 'calling collect' as an addendum to any and all variations on the 'calling' theme.
What's it like being a person of color in predominantly-white spaces? How do you feel about your body? What parts do/don't you have? Sorry if I offended you. Sorry, sorry, sorry.
Calling collect means that those who habitually raise basic, boring questions need to acknowledge their debts (and basicness), so that we consistently remind each other to be culturally and economically responsible to those in precarious positions. Calling collect also means taking the time to think twice before asking 'innocuous' devil's advocate questions about class vs. race consciousness, separatism vs. accommodation. It means paying up when historically underrepresented parties swoop in (yet again) to snap back.
One of my favorite gifs shows Whitney Houston gesturing vigorously to "show me the receipts," indicating the burden of proof for ad hominem attacks. When Internet combatants demand proof for systemic racism, heteropatriarchy, or the pitfalls of late capitalism, respondents can mobilize to meet that charge. They organize in the spirit of the counter-gif, "I have the receipts," imaging Joan Collins in full Dynasty grandeur victoriously holding paper evidence. Need proof? There are pages upon pages of proof: prison industrial complex (PIC) statistics, income disparity demographics, extensive histories of cultural erasure and violence against indigenous populations. Flip through these pages enough to find a brightly-colored insert: an invoice logging hours for all that dropped knowledge. Calling collect issues bills for this kind of labor. Whether it means intervening on suggested instances of appropriation, tone policing, or historical amnesia-- surcharges for male tears and white fragility always apply.
The growing media attention to trans representation and the advent of #BlackLivesMatter to social consciousness have generated fresh opportunities for teaching moments posing as cultural exchange. The newly-conscious arrive ready to mine the feelings and stories of close relations and anonymous Internet users alike. The competing logics of navigating identity politics compel some to take a 'straight-to-the-source' strategy of verifying marginality, where the intentionally-framed notion of centering marginal voices is confused for haranguing already-exhausted folks for their precious lessons.
One of the great deceptions of idealized 'public discourse' is the misdrawn logic of equal exchange-- that magical teaching moments result in both parties learning something, refreshed and renewed to take on the world. But even in the most glowing of encounters, the search for cultural verification tends to prove, for one, the presence of oppression, and for their beleaguered interlocutor, another in a seemingly ceaseless string of reminders that the cards are stacked against them. The relevance to the digital and immaterial signals that in the terrain of Internet turf-wars, the users most likely to 'offend' are clueless as fuck, and the ones quickest to respond are already under close scrutiny. One doesn't have to click very far to find a few experiments in kind, where women of color have switched their profile pictures to white men, and suddenly experience a steep decline in violent threats and harassment. Digital venues are distributed unevenly, so that some can afford to be trolls, and others either their favored targets, or, worse, their patient teachers.
Calling collect is nothing to be taken lightly, though the project of seeking compensation for conjuring the magic of racial healing is indeed laced with venomous irony. About a month ago, some dude came up to me asking me 'what I was' (meaning where I'm from, where my parents are from, and so on); not wanting an extended confrontation, I rhetorically checked a few census boxes for him and he immediately turned to his friend, smacking his buddy to let him know that he was owed $20. It was then that I surmised that I'd been the subject of a little wager, and was left thinking that I should get that money, his hat as interest, and an opportunity to humiliate him at his next Staples visit. If I'd taken the time to explain why he shouldn't have bet on my identity, or why this played into the systemic othering of people of color in the US, I would have asked for more.
If compensation proves a poor substitute for reparations, it can at least recognize that there is work within the vexed economies of story-sharing, reblogging, and @replying, where personal interventions become the only measure for countering well-meaning and at times feigned ignorance. The personal is assuredly the political, but it seems that only certain lives, bodies, and feeds are personal enough to serve as justifications for joining the struggle. Calling collect suggests that the solidarity of recognizing the most impacted in social movements can't mean asking them to constantly speak, tweet, and blog about their experience in order to verify the need for intersectional organizing. Nor can it mean a swarm of allies recentering themselves as the dominant voices of anti-oppression.
Part of the reason why thinking beyond experience seems counterintuitive is that feminist, queer, and critical race movements have focused their own attentions toward experience, prioritizing collective modes of learning over banking and top-down models of education. Yet the challenge to collectivize knowledge is also the challenge to find modes of redress other than cultural and human resources, acknowledging that some stories are not ours to use for teaching or transformation.
One trend to emerge from the persistent coverage of police brutality and terroristic white supremacy is that more and more folks are becoming attuned to opportunities for horizontal education. In lieu of the quintessential summer reading list, many activists, academics, and journalists have published resources like the Charleston Syllabus, Ferguson Syllabus, and Black Feminism Syllabus-- all in service of bringing further attention to critical consciousness. The idea is not just to aggregate this knowledge, but also to indicate that current events are steeped in extensive histories beyond the creeping feeling of a passing crisis. Ideally, projects like these can take the place of authenticating oppression, where token friends or Internet strangers are coerced to spell things out from their subject positions. New platforms will need to spring up, physical and digital, to fill in for racial and queer literacies, as various movements share or split their moments in the mainstream.
As we proceed, we need to be shown the receipts in order to recognize that the rituals of asking, teaching, and transformation have transactional qualities. When the will to learn disguises itself as information freely given, calling collect exposes the exploited labor of story-sharing, and suggests that interrogators pay for their much-lauded teaching moments. This isn't to say that those prepared to change minds should do any less; but that when the time comes to collect, those doing the asking must make good on their debts. We must remember what receipts we are owed, and what receipts we still owe to forebearers and friends: caretakers, secret historians, and others locked in struggle.
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