on getting checked
I write about social justice on the internet, which means I have a go-to toolkit when it comes to responding to problematic or offensive content from readers.
There’s the tough love classic “call-out,” the kinder and gentler “call-in,” the cruel, funny, satisfying, and yes, bullying “meme mockery,” (that I reserve exclusively for up-punching), and the high-road path of “don’t feed the trolls.”
I ask myself lots of questions before I decide how I’m going to respond to a rude comment. Is this person trying and failing, or is this person being a raging boner? What’s this person’s platform and social power? What are the potential consequences of engaging in a drawn-out debate with this person - will I be amplifying or validating a bullshit stance by agreeing to discuss it? What are the potential consequences of permitting an offensive statement to live in this space unchallenged?
In case you thought I just whip shit out on this blog, my Facebook page, or Twitter, now you know. Sometimes I make mistakes or regret the choices I made, but I put a shitload of care into how I respond to people out here.
Today, I want to drop a couple of quick reminders about what it means to get "called out" or "checked."
Depending on who you ask, “checking” someone is either an act of education, or an act of tRigGeRed MiLleNNiaL sNoWflAke VirTuE SigNAlinG.
Actually, you know what? Let’s not talk to that second guy for awhile. He needs some time in the woods to reflect.
Go, Chad. Go to the woods.
Chances are pretty good that you’ve either witnessed a check or experienced one yourself, but if you have just emerged from the Appalachian shed where you spent your life breeding giant beetles, first of all, hi Nell, welcome to society, it’s not always like this, except it kind of is, sorry. Oh, and thank you for contributing to coleopterous biodiversity in our Appalachian wilderness!
Second of all, you would probably like to see an example of what a “check” looks like.
So I’m going to tell you about a time I got checked on the KatyKatiKate FB page.
Full disclosure: I remain deeply embarrassed about the incident I’m going to share with you. I fully knew better. I just fucked up.
It was a weekend morning in early September. I’d just stumbled upon a tweet that I read quickly. I felt a strong emotional response (I believe the technical term is “Feminist Werewolf Fury Rampage”) and I whipped out a short threaded response.
The original tweet:
“If white women had banded together and supported their sister Hillary, we wouldn’t be in this mess. I don’t get women who voted for Trump.”
“Listen, we all agree that the vibe in America is, “bag of Red Lobster leftovers you found in your car a week later,” but please take some time to reflect on why it’s so easy to blame the women for this outcome. Why is it easier to be mad at women for Trump than it is to be mad at men?
This is a really common and sometimes tough-to-spot form of misogyny: holding women to a higher moral standard, and holding women accountable for the actions of men, or for events that were beyond their control.
You can see it in the way girls are told not to dress in a way that will distract their male classmates - their bodies are made responsible for their male classmates’ ability to focus, when that shit isn’t their job and isn’t in their ability to control.
You can also see it in the way sexual assault crimes are investigated - “why were you drinking?” “Why were you dancing?” These questions reveal an expectation of unwavering, unimpeachable behavior for women - an expectation that is not applied to men accused of sexual assault.
Am I baffled by women who voted for Trump? Of course. He hates women. But why do we think that women are the only ones who should care about Trump’s violent sexism? I’m also baffled by the pro-Trump men. Because violence against women isn’t a women’s issue, it’s a human issue.
This is an extreme time of social change and we have an opportunity to think critically about our biases and start to change the way we instinctively approach these issues. Thanks for reading and considering.”
Good one, Katie!
High five, Katie!
Pour yourself another cup of coffee and luxuriate in your rock-solid Twitter own, Katie!
I posted screenshots of my Twitter thread on the FB page. I was proud of the points I’d made and certain that KatyKatiKate readers would find them educational, entertaining, and valuable. Everybody loves a misogynist own on Twitter on a Saturday morning.
A few minutes later, I looked at my notifications. I was sure that readers would fucking love my feminist battle cry and holler that triumphant shit back at me.
That is not what happened.
I got checked.
“He’s specifically referring to white women, yet you don’t mention race in your thread. Would you be willing to talk about that?”
“He isn't wrong though. I do hold women to a higher standard when it comes to issues that affect women. I find it baffling that 53% of white women voted for this dumpster fire. Maybe it is the cynic in me, but I don't expect better from men. I do from other women. White women tipped the scales in Trump's favor. We can't pretend that didn't happen.”
“Holding white men accountable doesn't mean that you can't hold white women accountable. Both sides are responsible, but as a White Woman that's where our work lies".”
… and the one that clinched both the check and my sphyncter:
“While your points about misogyny are spot on, they have ZERO to do with the fact that Whyte Women ARE responsible for tRUmp. The majority of Whyte Women voters, voted for tRUmp. It’s as factual as saying that I’m a bi-racial woman of color who loves red lipstick. All of those things are true. What you’re doing here is a classic Whyte woman whataboutism, not me, disassociation. I blame Whyte Women for this. I blame non-voters for this. I blame write in and third party tickets for this. I blame Bernie and Stein for this. Classic Whyte Feminism, Katy. This is so dangerous.”
Live footage from inside my brain:
Have you ever felt the “u’s” in a panic “fuck” stretch out inside your brain like links in the chains that you’ll drag through eternity, Jacob Marley-style? If so, congratulations.
You’ve been checked.
Now, who can explain the symptoms of “Checked” Syndrome?
Yes, Dr. Yang.
Initial physical symptoms of “getting checked” include elevated pulse, increased blood pressure and skin temperature, flushed cheeks, stomach upset, racing thoughts, dry mouth, and general “uh oh” feelings.
Psychologically, people who are “getting checked” often report unhealthy fixation on:
1. Whether or not I’m “in trouble”
2. Explaining why I didn’t mean to & why I’m really a good person
3. Digging in my heels to defend my character instead of listening and learning
4. Do other people think I’m racist? (Or, depending on the strain of the “checked” situation, swap out racist for sexist, ageist, ableist, xenophobic, homophobic, a TERF, really any subspecies of bigotry or exclusion.)
Thanks, Dr. Yang! Love you in Killing Eve, btw.
My heart started racing. My stomach clenched. I had an immediate “oh fuuuuck” response and I recognized the impulse to cover my ass. In my head, I hit every single one of Dr. Yang’s symptoms of getting checked:
1. Not Getting In Trouble & Explaining Why I Didn’t Mean To: I’d read the tweet so quickly! Honestly, I’d just skimmed over the “white” part in the first sentence, and really fixated on the second part of that tweet, the part where he just said, “I don’t get women who voted for Trump.” That’s why I didn’t address race in my response, it hadn’t even really sunk in as part of the original message! The OP’s profile picture was kind of underlit and he was wearing sunglasses and I thought he was Mediterranean or something. (Yeah. That’s real. That’s a thought I had.)
2. Defending my Character Instead of Listening: I would NEVER do a #notallwhitewomen on purpose! I would NEVER do that! Don’t you know me at all? Haven’t I proved I care?
3. Digging In My Heels: What I said is true though, people keep blaming white women and it’s not just white women’s fault!
Yep. All of those instincts were there: It was an accident. Don’t you know I’m not racist? I wasn’t wrong, though.
The only reason I didn’t immediately make any of the ass-covering gaffes that are so instinctive and common, is because about 3 years ago I was lucky enough to join an anti-racism Facebook group where women of color pointed out those instincts to me and explained why they are both understandable (#whitesupremacy) and unhelpful. Because I was lucky enough to be educated by these women, I recognized the CYA instinct for what it was, and I already had rebuttals in my head for each of those instinctive reactions.
I want to pass those rebuttals on to you.
“I read it so quickly! I really just skimmed it before responding. Plus I didn’t know the OP was black. I thought he was just very tan.”
Katie. If you’re reading too quickly to know what the fuck you’re talking about, then you don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about and you need to hit pause, not publish.
As Dr. Yang would say, this one’s a real ass-ache.
You might have skimmed but you didn’t skip. You’re usually capable and methodical. The lapse here is telling.
You read the word “white” and chose not to engage with it. Why? Why did you decide only to engage with the part of the tweet where you felt you had the high ground - as a woman being blamed for an outcome that was caused by both men and women? You, your actual self, have written extensively about why white women continue to support the white supremacist patriarchy. Why the hecking shit did you decide to change the subject and write a full-on THREAD, sucking up way too much air in that room to argue a point that wasn’t the subject of the dang conversation? You could have written that thread on your own wall. Why didn’t you?
And about the “tan” on the OP? Katie.
Girl, please. An Italian man fresh off his Hawaiian vacay is tweeting about white women and Trump? I mean, maybe. But you and I both know it was way more likely that this man was black. The race commentary + enough doubt in your mind that you were like “Maybe he’s Greek!” = you should have put 2 and 2 together, and the fact that you didn’t shows willful disregard for context, not accidental thoughtlessness. To clarify: you were thoughtless, but it was not accidental. It was preventable neglect. You declined to care.
You need to care more, listen harder, and pay closer attention before you engage.
Every time. Every single time.
”I would never do a #notallwhitewomen on purpose! Don’t you know me at all? Haven’t I proved I care?”
It doesn’t matter what you meant to do.
It only matters what you did.
This isn’t a conversation about whether you’re a nice person in your heart. This is a conversation about the very real words you typed and shared, and the pain they caused. Your heart is your business. Your actions today hurt people. Care more about the (metaphorical) bruises on the people you hurt than about their opinion of you now.
You did a #notallwhitewomen, you did it big, then you bragged about it, and now you’ve been checked.
Right here is where you can prove you care: How will you respond to the true callout that’s happening on your page?
Do this right.
“What I said is true. People keep blaming white women and it’s not just white women’s fault.”
Nope nope nope.
You just said that you didn’t even really read the original tweet before responding, and now you’re trying to cling to the intellectual integrity of an answer you crafted before you finished reading the question? Girl, no. You’re done.
It’s like someone came in for hair color, and you gave them a perm, and when they said, “My hair is now curly, yet I wanted it purple,” first you were like, “Oh whoops I didn’t hear you,” and then you were like “But the curls are so perfect with your bone structure. Look how your brow bone is popping.”
No. I will not look at the popping brow bone. You need to look at the problem: I now have non-purple, non-straight hair. Look what you did. Not only did you not solve the problem I asked you to solve, but you created a new problem as well.
Recognize and resist these instincts. They’re older than my attempts to learn anti-racism. They’re everywhere around me, in every non-apology I hear and read. And those instincts are, as much as the thing I got checked for, what isolates me from the people I hoped to defend. Those instincts are why I’m not trustworthy yet and may never be. It’s not because I’m a “bad person.” It’s because most often the moment I realize I’m a menace is the moment AFTER I’ve talked out of my ass again.
So what do you do instead of make excuses, defend yourself, and feign helplessness until you go nuclear? Well, the first thing you need to do is evolve your understanding of what it means to be checked.
1. If someone cares enough to check you, they believe you have the capacity to grow. It takes a lot of courage and faith to willingly confront someone about a behavior that you know is going to cause conflict. Real talk, most people do NOT accept a check with grace and openness. Be grateful that the people in your life respect you enough to think you are worth the risk, and thank the people who took that risk to educate you. I get a lot of comments and DMs and emails from readers that are obviously fucking assholes and I don’t even bother to try to check to them. If I’m checking to you, it’s because I have faith in you. If you’re checking me, thank you for having faith in me.
2. Getting checked is NOT getting canceled. Conflict won't kill your relationship. Stubborn refusal to listen, learn, and grow, however, will.
3. When you get checked, you have a chance to grow. There are two assumptions from which you can begin a conversation about offending someone. The first is the assumption that you did something offensive. The second is the assumption that the other person is overreacting. If you routinely assume that you're surrounded by overreacting women, or overreacting people of color, or overreacting queer people, then to paraphrase the old chestnut, you might just be the asshole.
4. Nobody's perfect. You’re tougher than you think you are, and discomfort never killed anybody. Don’t die of shame and don’t run from the apology you need to give. Everyone hurts someone. Respect yourself enough to know that you are more than this crappy thing you did.
Apologize. Explain why what you did was wrong. Fix your mistake but don’t delete it. Leave a record of what non-defensive learning looks like - there are so few of them out there.
Apologize. Learn. Do better. Don’t do that shit again. In fact, that's the only way to live your life: Have a drink, take a shower, and get back in there, a little older, a little wiser, a little kinder.
If you found this post valuable, share it!
These posts are made possible with the support of readers like you. I’d be so grateful if you hit the tip jar at Paypal or joined the KatyKatiKate investment team at Patreon. Thank you for being here!