Tone Policing


From The Sun Magazine‘s brilliant interview with Ijeoma Oluo author of the recently released So You Want to Talk about Race:

Tone policing is when someone disputes a statement by focusing on how it was said, not on its content. It’s when you’re told to “calm down” or “be more ladylike” or “be less emotional.” The person who’s suffering has to express their experience in a way white people will accept before whites are willing to listen. You all think you’re a better judge of what’s proper than black people are, and that you have the authority to deem our complaints invalid. Your comfort level is more important to you than stopping the brutality we’re facing.

I’m not saying white people have to leave themselves open to blatant abuse. Tone policing is when you say, “Be more polite. Don’t call people out. Don’t shut down a conversation by pointing out racist behavior.” Multiple times a week white people will tell me how committed they were to fighting racism — until I said something they didn’t like. It always flabbergasts me: It’s an option for you to support injustice because I made you feel bad? If white people really believe that racism is bad, they won’t be talked out of it because someone was rude to them. Just like I don’t think puppies should be murdered, and I won’t change my mind if a puppy bites me tomorrow. [Laughs.] I’m a steadfast believer in the humanity of transgender people. Does that mean I’ve loved every transgender person I’ve met? No. Any population has its assholes. But if one of them is mean to me, I’m not going to say, “Wow, you ruined my Sunday. I don’t think I can support your right to exist anymore.”

White people’s support in opposing racism is not a gift to people of color. Many believe we were born ready and willing to fight racism, and that it’s our duty to destroy the system that oppresses us. Meanwhile if we ask benevolent white people nicely and give them a lot of thanks, they will bestow on us the gift of their effort to reduce the amount they participate in the exploitative system that’s harming us. We don’t tell men who’ve stopped beating their wives how generous and kind they are for discontinuing the abuse.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s