Sitting at home, browsing Twitter and liking posts have rarely ever accomplished anything without being backed up by tangible action. Rather, this type of behavior has only fueled the craze of “slacktivism” – defined as activism without any real commitment – and created an environment in which change is often advocated for but rarely occurs.
Judgmentalism doesn’t translate to progressivism, yet modern social and political movements – especially those driven by social media – are often quick to confuse the two. Former President Barack Obama criticized this sort of new-age activism two months ago at the Obama Foundation Summit, denouncing the increasingly popular trend of “call-out culture.”
“There is this sense sometimes of: ‘The way of me making change is to be as judgmental as possible about other people,’” he said, “and that’s enough.”
Instead of going out to protest or boycott, a dangerous number of people are comfortable with sharing walls of text on their social media and thinking, as Obama jokes, “Man, you see how woke I was. I called you out.”
That’s not to say that spreading awareness can’t be valuable, because it is – as nuanced as call-out culture is, it is ultimately very necessary. Simply put, companies, celebrities and politicians should be accountable for their villainous actions without debate.
However, “spreading awareness” isn’t a matter of serving one’s pretentiously-feel good intentions. Scrutinizing a person’s every movement simply because they’re in the public sphere is not only ineffective but dangerous. Moreover, it perpetuates a very black-and-white way of thinking, which leaves little room for ambiguity.
“This idea of purity and you’re never compromised and you’re always politically ‘woke’ and all that stuff,” Obama said. “You should get over that quickly.”
David Brooks, a columnist for the New York Times, adds to this by claiming there is a certain cruelty that underlies the naivety of call-out culture. When everything is done online, Brooks states, binary thinking and the categorization of people into “good or evil” have the ability to ruin entire lives.
“You can destroy people without even knowing them,” Brooks said.
Justice cannot be the result of brutal vigilantism that serves the self-interests of people wanting to feel better about themselves. Being “woke” means being aware of the wrongs of society, not acting self-righteous, condescending and actively looking for controversy on social media. Actions speak louder than words, and call-out culture tends to be nothing but words.