Shame versus Accountability

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I just listened to this very timely episode of Brene Brown’s podcast, Unlocking Us, where she discusses the difference between being shamed and feeling shame when it comes to being called out for racism. Now that shame has become a trending buzzword, everyone is talking about it and decrying against its usage. Why? Because shame kills empathy. Shame stops people from being able to be present, learn, focus on anything but themselves, and take accountability (see my previous posts for more information on shame and how it works).

Why is this important?

What is so important about this episode, is that Brene has been a shame researcher for like 20+ years. Unlike many of us who are very new to understanding shame, and therefore easily confuse feeling shame because of our own fear of accountability, trauma, or past experience, with actually being shamed by someone. White people often feel shame around being confronted about racism. Our white histories are filled with trauma that our ancestors inflicted on people of colour. Our privilege is based and built on the oppression of others. So when we participate in racist behaviours whether purposefully or not, and we get called on it, we feel shame. This is normal.

Shame vs Accountability

So now, what is happening is that people are conflating call out culture with shaming, which often the two do overlap, but not always. People offer respectful callouts or call-ins all the time. Many that we won’t see or hear about because they happen in private. We may only see the last resort if the previous attempts failed. New trends associate a public call out as always ‘shaming’ when really, this isn’t the case. Sometimes it is actually just accountability. Brene says: “shame is put downs, name calling, dehumanization, humiliation; accountability is you’re not doing your job”. Here she is referring to people who hold positions of power, allies, those in leadership positions, etc.

Building shame resilience

The shame we feel when a call for accountability happens is our own feeling and it’s our responsibility to regulate it and to develop our own shame resilience, as she calls it. This is not easy work. In fact, it’s painful work, but it’s part of being in solidarity with People of Colour, Black people and First Nations people. Brene offers some great tips and tools in this episode for white people who are striving towards anti racism and/or getting involved in anti-racist work. I really strongly encourage people to listen to it and to start practicing and building shame resilience.

So next time you read a ‘call out/in’, ask yourself: is there shaming in this? Is the person being name called, are they being dehumanized or humiliated? Also, think about power. Who is doing the call out/in and who is being called out/in. Who has more power? Who has more resources? Is there more to this situation than you are aware of?

I’m on this learning journey with you, too! It’s hard and we’re all figuring it out as we go. But this is work that is necessary in unlearning white supremacy so we must keep at it.

Also, as much as I love Brene, please continue to support BIPOC thinkers, writers, practitioners, etc who work with shame and not just white academic professionals. I very much recommend the Irresistible podcast for discovering some of these voices.

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