On Tone Policing: Why It's Bullshit And Why You Need To Stop

One of the things that bothered me about the discussions that happened over the HS debacle in the last few days was the rampant tone policing by some of the white female commenters. It didn't happen a ton, but it happened enough that I was genuinely annoyed by it, especially since tone policing is a tactic that MRAs use all the time to derail feminist discussions. To see white women (who are supposed to be allies) use those same tactics against black women as a defense against their justifiable anger was more than a little enraging.

So in an effort to make sure that no one is ever confused about why tone policing is bullshit and automatically labels them as racist/sexist in my brain, I've pulled the following quotes from this great piece (which you should read in full) that explains it better than me.

Let's begin:

It’s cruel and ridiculous to expect a person to be calm and polite in response to an act of oppression. Marginalized people often do not have the luxury of emotionally distancing themselves from discussions on their rights and experiences.

Tone policing is the ultimate derailing tactic. When you tone police, you automatically shift the focus of the conversation away from what you or someone else did that was wrong, and onto the other person and their reaction. Tone policing is a way of not taking responsibility for fucking up, and it dismisses the other person’s position by framing it as being emotional and therefore irrational.

But being emotional does not make one’s points any less valid. It’s also important to note that, by tone policing, you not only refuse to examine your own oppressive behavior, but you also can blame that on the other person, because they were not “nice enough” to be listened to or taken seriously.

And the kicker:

Tone policing assumes that the oppressive act is not an act of aggression, when it very much is. The person who was oppressed by the action, suddenly is no longer a victim, but is “victimizing” the other person by calling them out. [...] But anger is valid. Anger is valid, anger is important, anger brings social change, anger makes people listen, anger is threatening, and anger is passion. Anger is NOT counterproductive; being “nice” is counterproductive. Nobody was ever given rights by politely asking for them. Politeness is nothing but a set of behavioral expectations that is enforced upon marginalized people.

On Tone Policing: Why It's Bullshit And Why You Need To Stop

Summary? As a black woman, I am entitled to the full spectrum of human emotion, and that includes anger. My anger is justified when it is in response to oppression and oppressive tactics. By you questioning my anger instead of addressing the issues I've raised, you are telling me that I, as the marginalized member in the discussion have a responsibility to make you comfortable as well as try to enact change.

I am not responsible for your feelings. I am responsible for making my life better for me and for the people who are similarly oppressed. I give no shits how recognizing your complicity in an oppressive system makes you feel, and I don't have to. No one gives a shit about how it makes me feel when I am told that things would get better if I just "asked nicely". You don't think I've tried that? The reason I'm angry is that I tried playing by your rules of niceness, and you ignored me.

Obviously, not everyone needed to read this, because most of you ladies on Jez totally get it and I'm grateful. But for the few who don't, I hope this makes you recognize why you will always be forced to deal with the anger of oppressed people.

If after reading all this, you're still butthurt about your fee-fees*, read this piece on how to deal with being called out.

*Yes, that was anger.