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May 13, 2017

‘Call In, Call Out’ talk examines current human rights movement


(Jessica Picard/Daily Collegian)

(Jessica Picard/Daily Collegian)

Activists Loretta Ross and Asam Amhad led “Call In, Call Out,” a panel discussion attended by 60 students that focused on examining the practices essential for human rights and social justice reform, Wednesday night in the Commonwealth Honors College Events Hall.

The practice of “calling in” is one whereby individuals “turn to each other rather than on each other” according to Ross. The two discussed in vivid detail the tools they’ve used to degenerate hate movements, such as those led by the Ku Klux Klan.

“No generation has been as intersectional as this generation,” said Ross. “Our human rights movement begins at the natural position of leadership that time and history has put you in.”

Ross has worked on hate groups, violence against women and human rights, and helped create the theory of “Reproductive Justice” in 1994. She is currently an associate at the Five College Women’s Studies Research Center operated out of Amherst.

Asam Amhad is a Canadian writer, poet, scholar and community organizer who has been involved in queer and Islamic social justice movements. Both have gained tremendous experience working with organizations that bring in political consciousness and leadership values.

Ross described how a human rights movement begins by distinguishing between groups encountered. She divided activists into three groups based on their position within the movement: trusted coworkers, enemies and problematic allies one can work with.

A problematic ally, according to Ross, is someone who doesn’t mean to be racist, yet is born into the societal structures which are fundamentally racist, sexist, etc. One does not have to “call out” problematic allies on terminology they are not aware of because typically these allies lack the language and resources needed to combat their inherent micro-aggressions.

“Before you call someone out for being ignorant or politically incorrect, ask yourself several questions,” Amhad said. “What is your relationship to this person? What will you get out of calling them out? Is it possible for them to learn something? What does publically shaming them serve?”

“Shame isn’t always bad,” Amhad continued. “It can be incredibly powerful for internal mobility.”

Ross explained that surrendering hate means “being there for the enemy when you do.” She told the audience that she had once thought of people such as the Ku Klux Klan as subhuman. However, once they are seen as human they cannot be seen as anything else.

“You cannot develop a human rights movement by violating the rights of humans,” Ross said.

“Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. knew when to disagree but also knew when to come together,” Ross continued. “We must practice the skills of learning to be with people who don’t necessarily agree with us.”

Ross discussed how identity politics aren’t just about knowing who you are but also being aware of what you’re going to do about it. She encouraged the audience to recognize that anti-oppression focuses on what activists are against, while a human rights movement focuses on what activists are for. The oppressed have been unable to create a human rights world because “hurt people hurt people,” Ross explained.

“When people think many different thoughts and move in the same direction, that’s a movement,” Ross continued. “When they think the same thoughts and move in the same direction, that’s a cult.”

Ross and Amhad went on to describe how those with privilege can call one another in to build something larger than their own point of view. This united understanding of natural rights and freedom will lead the oppressed to witness choices that can change their perspective of personal pain.

On April 2, Ross will join Katherine Cross to host “Calling In the Calling Out Culture,” a free skills-building day for student activists in the Pioneer Valley. The all-day gathering will be held in Wright Hall at Smith College and aims to build and nurture student leadership and activism in the Pioneer Valley.

Students can contact to register in advance as space is limited.

Rachel Ravelli can be reached at

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