Women's Brick Initiative logo
Women's Brick Initiative

Calling in, Calling out, Curious: the Three C’s Response Plan

Published October 10, 2022 By Yutong Zhang | 0 Comments

by Rose Porta, Kira S, and Yutong Zhang

When doing social justice work, you are bound to encounter individuals who will criticize you and your work as unimportant, pointless, or even harmful or threatening. You are likely to experience criticism of your work through comments if you post content related to advocacy or social justice in an open, online forum, especially in the age of the internet and social media where it is so easy to post critical comments from behind the comforting barrier of your screen. 

As an organization who posts social justice-oriented content on our website as well as on social media, we have encountered numerous critical comments both online and in-person. Sometimes it can be challenging to respond in an informed, respectful, and impactful manner when these situations arise. You know what your values are and why you are doing what you do, yet it is difficult to articulate that on-the-spot when you feel attacked. It can be challenging to face the continuous criticism from white males who have historically dominated this community, especially if you hold a historically marginalized identity within the LEGO community

In this article we provide you with some strategies to keep in your back pocket for the next time that you are in this type of situation. We describe three different approaches for responding to critical comments: Calling Out, Calling In, and Curious. We describe what each of these approaches would look like, when to use each one, and provide several examples of each using real comments that WBI has received on Facebook. 

Summary of Three Approaches:

Calling Out

Definition: The Calling Out approach involves making a statement in response to a comment that directly critiques the content of the comment and often has the intention of shutting down an idea rather than inviting conversation.

Intended Outcome: A single (one-time) response that makes a statement of your values to both the commenter and “bystanders”, but is not intended to invite further conversation from the commenter directly.

In recent years, “calling out” has become a major approach to addressing harmful content, especially in the context of social media. What often occurs is that someone posts something that offends another person who reads it, and the offended person “calls out” what they perceive to be a harmful post by making a comment that often has a harsh tone and often has the intention of attacking or insulting the original poster. It tends to be the case that the individual doing the calling out feels heroic and believes that they are standing up for their values in a positive way, and yet the actual outcome is only an increase in the divide between the opposing views. Calling Out often happens in response to comments that are truly harmful, yet it is not always the most effective approach to mitigating the harm. This is because the “calling out culture” has created a hostile environment such that even people who genuinely want to work toward change do not express their views for fear of saying something “wrong” and being called out. 

Although calling out can have these negative consequences, it can be the most effective approach in certain scenarios described below. This approach is powerful in that it makes your point clear, and also makes your values known to outside observers of the conversation. However, when used in all scenarios, it can do more harm than good. 

Scenarios to use:

  • Comment on social media that you want to address to make a statement, but you are not in a situation to have a full conversation with the person.
  • Addressing a comment in order to demonstrate your values to the community, and not necessarily to respond to the commenter directly (with some more care and respect for the person).
  • You know the person who made the comment is very set in their beliefs and would not be open to conversation.
  • # of people: unlimited (public setting, most often an open online forum/platform)
Example 1:

Considering the following facebook comment, here is one possible way to respond using the calling out approach.

No one said anything about taking away your toys. Research shows that children get ideas about who they are from the toys they play with and that this has long-term consequences for later social and cognitive development.

LEGO Friends features diverse minidolls, and Duplo has used racially diverse figures since 1989.

Calling In

Definition: The Calling In approach involves responding to a comment in a way that conveys your alternative view clearly, yet is respectful and caring rather than harsh and confrontational.

Intended Outcome: The commenter feels open and respected enough to be receptive to new perspectives rather than feeling attacked, which may cause them to either shut down and close themselves off or hold even more firmly to their original view and attempt to escalate the argument into a heated debate. 

In contrast to the often harsh or attacking approach of calling out, feminist, reproductive rights activist, and academic Loretta Ross coined the approach of “calling in”. Speaking about those points in the article “What if Instead of Calling People Out, We Call Them In?”, she defines it as calling out with care and respect for the individual you are addressing. This approach can be more beneficial than calling out when you are intending to actually shift the perspective of the individual who made the comment, rather than simply responding to make a public statement of your values. 

Scenarios to use:

  • You want to address the person who made the comment directly and invite them to re-think their perspective
  • If the comment is made on social media or in social settings where there is not time to have an in depth conversation, and you don’t have the opportunity to have an extensive conversation with them
  • The shorter the response, the more likely the receiver of the response will understand the point being made (recommended: <=3 sentences/paragraph, <=2 paragraphs)
  • # of people: tens to hundreds (public setting such as a social media forum, conference, workshop, or presentation)
Example 1:

Considering the same facebook comment above, here is one possible way to respond using the calling in approach.

We are not asking for any toys to be taken away, we are simply asking for the designs of future toys produced to change to reflect a broader range of diverse individuals. None of the original minifigs will be taken away, as all minifigs produced since 1978 are available on BrickLink. Instead, more children and adults from different backgrounds will have toys to play with in which they can see themselves represented.


Definition: The curious approach involves responding to a comment in a way that is meant to invite open conversation, question-asking, and listening on both sides, rather than only having the intention of imposing your own opinion to change the other person’s perspective. 

Intended outcome: An extensive conversation in a private setting in which both people are willing to be open to the other’s views. Both you and the commenter share your perspectives and listen to one-another, and ultimately the intention is to invite the commenter to at least be open to a new perspective they may not have considered. 

Although it could be frustrating, we must admit that sometimes our closest family members and/or friends take on different values than we do. When this is the case, the harmful comments might be coming from them instead of strangers. Because of the particularity of the identities of our “opponents” this time, we should take on a different approach in responding to their comments. Normally, we have some knowledge of our family and friends’ backgrounds to make sense of why they are making the specific statements, or they are willing to share their experiences and time with us. This is a sign for the possibility of deeper and richer conversations that can result in us making a somewhat significant impact on the other side. 

Scenarios to use:

  • You have the opportunity to engage directly with the person who made the comment (either in-person or through direct messages), and they are willing to have an open conversation with you
  • The person who made the comment is a close friend or family member whom you are able to reach out to offline.
  • You can more or less get a sense of why they are making this statement. 
  • # of people: 1-2 (relatively private setting)
Example 1:

Considering the same facebook comment above, here is one possible way to respond using the curious approach.

What are you concerned about losing? What loss do you see in creating minifigs that represent a wider variety of people?

More Examples

Below we provide several examples of how one might use each of the three approaches when responding to harmful comments. For each example, we provide a screenshot of a real comment WBI has received along with a starting point of what you might say in response to the comment using each of the three approaches. Keep in mind that these examples are not meant to tell you verbatim what you should say, and instead they are meant to give you a few ideas of what each of these approaches could look like and get you thinking about how you might respond in a similar scenario. Also, the lines between the 3Cs in the examples below are by no means clear-cut. You should evaluate on a case-by-case basis when deciding leaning towards which end of the spectrum in your responses. 

Example #2

Calling Out 

Europeans were responsible for bringing 10-12 million enslaved Africans to the Americas between the 16th and 19th centuries, and between 1880 and 1914, over 20 million Europeans immigrated to the U.S. Denmark has shown extreme documented racism against its newest wave of immigrants, most of whom are Muslim. Tell us again how this is a “US-made controversy about ethnicities.”

Calling In

Although LEGO is a European-based company, there are over 730 LEGO stores across 50 countries worldwide. The diversity of children and adults who play with LEGOs is enormous, and each of these individuals deserves to see themselves in their minifigs– not just those who are European.


What contradictions do you see in how LEGO has talked about the color of minifigs? What implications might those contradictions have? Who might be harmed or made to feel not seen by these contradictions?

Can you explain what you mean when you say we are applying US-made controversies about ethnicities to LEGOs? Offering minifigs in a wide variety of flesh tones simply reflects the diversity that exists in the world, while offering minifigs in only yellow does not. It is disappointing that the idea of diverse representation is controversial at all, and this controversy does not only exist in the US.

Example #3

Calling Out

From LEGO’s Diversity and Inclusion statement on their website:

“Regardless of race, gender, language, or religion, children of all ages love to play, and LEGO commercials should reflect that. That’s why we work to ensure that our creative content reflects society and the children who play with LEGO bricks.”

Also, LEGO has shifted its marketing largely targeting adults especially in the recent 5 years. There is an entire theme catalog titled “adults welcome”, so it is not only a “kids building toy”. Even if it is, isn’t it essential to increase the awareness in children of the heterogeneity of the world? It is not “turning kids political”, it is simply teaching them to acknowledge and value the diversity that exists. 

Calling In

Although the representation within LEGO toys may seem like a small concern to be focusing on, transforming the world starts with conveying to young children that everyone in the world is a unique individual, and we get to celebrate our differences and value all people even if they seem different from ourselves. Children start to make sense of the world and their place within it starting from a very young age, and these ideas they construct in early childhood can last a lifetime if they go unquestioned. A major way that children develop ideas about themselves and the world is through the toys they play with. If we offer them toys that only represent individuals of European descent and that all look the same, we teach them that the world is homogenous and that anyone who looks different is less-than. If, instead, we offer toys that reflect the diversity of the real world, we teach them to value difference. 


Are there any issues that you see as important? What are they? Why are they important to you? Are you aware that many adults enjoy LEGO too, and these issues are important to them?

Example #4

Calling Out

The fact that “the licenses that LEGO makes toys for are very white dominated” is not an excuse for not showing awareness of the existence of different races. 

Also, LEGO has shifted its marketing largely targeting adults especially in the recent 5 years, so it is not only a “kids building toy”. Even if it is, isn’t it essential to increase the awareness in those 7-year-olds who “doesn’t give a crap of what color their minifigure is” of the heterogeneity of the world? 

Calling In

What message do you think it sends when all minifigs are the same color? Since the minifigs have skin and represent people, race is implied. LEGO is not “bringing in race”, and instead they are acknowledging that yellow minifigs do not represent all people and diversifying skin tones to create a more accurate representation of reality. 


Why don’t you think that race needs to be brought in a kid’s toy?

Have you considered how children of different racial and ethnic identities may perceive minifigures differently? A white 7-year old may not care what color their minifig is because they may not be as aware of difference and inequity due to white privilege, while a child of color may be more aware of these inequities at an early age and notice that there are no minifigs that have darker skin tones like them.

What does it mean that the licenses LEGO makes toys for are very white dominated?

Example #5

Calling Out

There are racist undertones in what is being stated; why are you asking for representative diversity in criminals and not other professions? If we want to have criminals of all colors, we need to first have professions of all colors, genders of all colors, age groups of all colors, cultures of all colors … 

The fact that criminals were brought up/called out instead of other scenes in City shows exactly how LEGO has been obsessed with violence – there are an abundance of minifigs and sets featuring good guys v.s. bad guys but rarely “normal people” living in the society. 

LEGO is at least smart enough to not attract criticisms for themselves by intentionally including darker-flesh-toned minifigs in criminals, but they are not smart enough to give names like “Vito” and “Frankie Lupelli” to their prisoners minifigs, especially when City is not an IP that minifigures are normally not named. 

Calling In

The author of this post seems to be bothered with the fact that they are not seeing any people of color being represented as criminals. Of course, it is true that people of all races can potentially be criminals. But isn’t it also the case that people of all races can live, exist, let alone do whatever job they want? LEGO is apparently not producing as many minifigs of color than yellow and light nougat ones. Why are these aspects avoided to be discussed and only prisoners were brought up? Isn’t this a reinforcement of racism?


You are also confused with the fact that all minifigs are yellow, aren’t you? (even if you are only bothered with the misrepresentation of criminals) This is exactly why we need different representations of skin tones: to better reveal the reality in the real world. 

Example #6

Calling Out

Neither “technology” nor the world are the same as they were in 1978. Change can and must happen. 

Whether the toy will be at the global reach should not be an excuse for not acknowledging the variety of skin tones in human beings. This post is supremacist in that it acquiesces that the white does not need to recognize the existence of people of color as long as they constrain their livings and activities to somewhere they only see their own skin tone presents / dominants. 

Calling In

The fact that everyone has vivacious expressions and multitudinous emotions makes it ridiculous to assert that they are more easily observed and less costly achieved on light-colored faces. 

Every LEGO fan needs to be able to see themselves represented, regardless of their skin tone. If the cost thing is true, LEGO should have shared the burden on all customers while ensuring a sufficient number of heads of all colors and all emotions are produced. 


I agree that LEGO’s initial choice of using yellow was probably not racially motivated. Take a further step back, we can forgive a profit company for prioritizing minimizing cost as they were just starting up. However, 44 years later, as a global company, aren’t they now qualified and responsible to set out to show some awareness on diversity, equity, and inclusion that they previously left out? 

Example #7

Calling Out

It is not “extremist” to be aware and critical of institutionalized racism. 

Since when has “there is absolutely no original lego theme with mini figures that have flesh tones other than yellow” became something to be proud of and brag about?

Among the minifigs LEGO created for licensed themes, there is still a disproportionate representation of flesh tones (light nougat to everything else). 

Calling In

Most LEGO players are not celebrities who are either represented by LEGO as live characters or have acted as fictional characters in movies. Shouldn’t the option of getting a minifigure that shares our own identities be available to the general public?


What makes you think that the intention of this article is to attack LEGO? It doesn’t matter whether LEGO is the world’s largest toy company: we would have done the same on any company if we believed that they exhibited bias and/or microaggressions. 

Example #8

Calling Out

Stating yellow as the “heritage” implies thinking white is always the foundational, traditional, and original race. Other words could have been used in place of it, such as “history” or “original color”. 

Calling In

What message do you think it conveys saying the heritage of minifigures are yellow? Minifigures originally started as yellow, but there are problems with having soley yellow minifigures which is why LEGO started having different flesh tones. So many yellow heads exist compared to other flesh tones, which is why LEGO could and has the ability to stop production of yellow heads to focus on printing other flesh tones. 


Why do you think yellow minifigures need to be included to make the placeholders happy? What do you mean by “representative percentages in the product catalog”? Yellow minifigures were the first color of minifigures, but that does not mean it was the correct color to use. 

Example #9

Calling Out

Saying “let it be like it is” is showing the privilege of always being represented in toys, and accepting the injustices in the world when it comes to representation. 

Calling In

How do you think “let(ting) it be like it is” could be harmful? Adding rainbow doesn’t mean everything should be rainbow, it means including rainbow adds more representation to LEGO then there was before. 


How is having rainbow harming you? Are you thinking about other people who are glad to see their representation in LEGO? If it’s not hurting you, then why do you are so much about it? 

Example #10

Calling Out

In this example, the comment is very brief, and calling out may not be an effective approach because it would require making assumptions about the meaning and intention of the comment. Instead of making assumptions and jumping to conclusions, it makes most sense in this case to use one of the other two approaches. 

Calling In

What connotation does “yellow minifigs matter” bring? A politically charged one, or one where you’re trying to state yellow minifigures should not be forgotten about? 


Why do yellow minifigures matter and no other color? Yellow minifigures matter to some extent, but having flesh tones of different colors also matter. It might not be important to you for feeling represented with other flesh tones, but it does matter to many other people. 

Hopefully you now have a solid understanding of the three approaches to responding to criticism: Calling Out, Calling In, and Curious, and when to use each approach. Keeping these approaches in mind, we hope you can respond in a way that is informed, respectful, and impactful at achieving your desired outcome the next time you encounter criticism of your social justice work. 

Useful Reference Articles

In any of the situations described above, no matter which approach you are taking, it can be helpful to have some resources to refer folks to if they are curious to learn more about why these issues are important or if they question the validity of what you are saying. 

Here are a few to keep on hand:

Filed in: Research Tagged with:

Leave the first comment