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The Anatomy of Calling In: A Beginner's Guide to Having Hard Conversations

At least you KNOW she’ll be good at math

When my middle child was a baby, I was at a meeting. Another (also white) mom turned to me and commented how lucky I was to be married to a man who was Chinese American. Intrigued, I asked why. Because, she said, “At least you KNOW she’ll be good at math”.


To be clear, this mom did not intend to be offensive. She meant it as a compliment, however, it was still problematic (model minority myth, anyone?). What did I do? Nothing. I laughed and turned away, but this comment and my inability to tell her what I thought, has stayed with me over the years.

Talking About Uncomfortable Things

Fifteen years later, that baby is a teen* who is interested in systemic injustices. We’ve been taking A LOT microaggressions and being an upstander – especially after the Proud-To-Be-An-American-Woman-In-Truck incident.

Together, she and I watched Tiffany Alvoid’s Ted Talk on microaggressions (which you might remember from this post). This was a fantastic conversation starter for us, but of course, we quickly moved to what can I do?

And so I created “The Anatomy of Calling In: A Beginners Guide to Having Hard Conversations”. This handy how-to guide outlines what to do when you hear a microaggression, racist comment, misstatement etc. – in real time.

Calling IN vs Calling OUT

We are a culture which Calls Out. We shame or cancel people who don’t agree with us. And sometimes that is exactly the right thing to do. Calling out is "public criticism with the intention of demanding a change in someone’s behavior"**. This is a powerful tool, useful when when the people around us are harmed by another’s words or actions and/or when confronted with malicious and intentional racism (or other behaviors).

On the other hand, Calling In is about relationship building. It is for "having uncomfortable discussions—with the aim of respecting the humanity of everyone involved"**, useful for those who are uninformed rather than malicious. (For more on this subject - google Loretta Ross).

Calling In is aligned with my “radical mom-ness” . It is a way to have difficult conversations which allow others the space to hear different ideas.

Check out the Anatomy of Calling In below.

* She is neither particularly good, nor particularly bad, at math.

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