How to Call Someone Out or In No Matter Their Rank


Photo by ANTONI SHKRABA: https://www.pexels.com/photo/photograph-of-coworkers-having-a-quarrel-6632523/

Have you ever found yourself in this predicament?


In the office, a co-worker says or does something racist. Perhaps someone makes a racist joke intending to be hilarious or a racist statement without considering the consequences. Maybe everyone in the area laughs at the "joke" or is oblivious to it being racist.


Perhaps you’ve been part of a team where women of colour are expected to take on more menial office work and receive fewer offers of so-called “glamour work” than their white counterparts. Or your company organized an event where there is an obvious lack of diversity among the panelists.


If you've been witness to similar instances, did you speak up when you overheard a comment or witnessed behaviour that marginalized, undervalued, or denigrated a person or a group of people? Did you call out or call in the perpetrator?


What is the difference between calling out and calling in?


The primary difference between calling in and calling out someone has to do with the sphere or space within which it is done.


Calling someone in entails circling back to the hurtful, offensive, triggering or oppressive comment they made privately. This could be speaking to them on the phone or in-person to discuss what happened. A call in is considered a less reactionary yet effective way of working through conflict.


Calling someone out, however, involves communicating how their comment was malicious or hurtful in a public platform. You can call out people through various channels, such as social media (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, etc.), in your workplace or in front of your colleagues, or some other public space.


What is a call out at work?


The meaning of call out at work is to directly confront someone in the moment or immediately after who made a racist comment or committed a microaggression while still in the presence of your colleagues. Of course, you may also call them out via social media if they use those platforms, especially if they are communicating privileged, supremist or racist views.


Some common racist statements that crop up in the workplace typically involve variations of the following:

  • Is that your food? Why does it smell weird?

  • Wow, you sounded like a professional lawyer while giving your presentation!

  • How come you dress up like someone white?

  • Sorry, I can’t really tell one from the other.

  • You finished college? You’re a lucky one, aren’t you?

  • Come on, all Black people know how to sing and dance, right?

  • So, is that natural or a weave?

  • Your fashion is so understated…and here I was thinking you people all love bling!

While most folks don’t deliberately go out of their way to be racist, many people can make careless remarks that are no less derogatory or offensive. And sometimes, all it takes is for someone to take a stand and speak up to stop racially offensive situations from cropping up.


To call out someone, you can simply say something like: “Hey, were you trying to say …” (then state what you’re referring to). Then continue with: “Did you really mean to say that? Did you think it was funny? I mean, it could’ve offended some people.”


Of course, the words you use to call out someone depend on what they actually say and the gravity of its effect on the target group or subculture.



Photo by fauxels: https://www.pexels.com/photo/happy-colleagues-working-together-3184285/

When to call someone out or call them in over racist behaviour?

Deciding when to call someone out or in over their racist behaviour depends entirely on your judgment. If the person is someone you know or are familiar with, you can likely tell if they’re the type that needs calling out or in.

Look at these calling in vs calling out examples:


  • Someone makes racist comments during a Black colleague’s birthday party. Let’s say this person talks about what could’ve been the choice of gift for the celebrant because they’re Black. If you want to call out that person, you can respond to whatever they say immediately by saying something like: “Hey, Black people aren’t all the same! They’re individuals just like everybody else.” If you prefer to call them in, you’ll take this person aside and discuss what transpired calmly. This will give them the opportunity to explain their behaviour and you the chance to raise your own points.

  • Your favourite celebrity says something insensitive about Blacks or insists on using the hashtag #AllLivesMatter in all their social media posts. In this type of situation, your only option is to call them out on social media because they’re a public figure you probably will never have private access to. Also, you’ll only be using the channel they use to express their thoughts or opinions on certain issues.

  • An elderly relative makes derogatory remarks about Black youth playing music in your neighbour’s backyard. You can immediately call out your relative and point out their offensive comment in front of everyone. Or you can speak to them privately and discuss what happened, with the goal of spreading awareness about racism and how it affects other people.

Again, deciding between a call out and call in is within your discretion. However, whichever alternative you choose, be prepared for the possible responses and be ready to make a stand.


In all situations, strive to be respectful, patient and honest. Hopefully, you’ll be able to navigate each situation in a way that brings enlightenment to those who need it. But also recognize that not everyone is ready to be challenged or willing to change their views. Some folks prefer to be right than wise. You have to be willing to let some people go.


If you’re looking to reduce or eliminate racism in your workplace or introduce DEI initiatives, Tough Convos can help. Book a call with us today!