Me & Tone Policing

What I have learned about myself and tone policing is that I center myself, my comfort and feelings over the content & context of what is being expressed to me. I have pushed back from conversations (and friendships) because I have thought to myself, “All they ever talk about is race.” “I can’t handle the non-stop anger.” “It’s too intense for me to be around.” “Can we take a break from this?” I call out my extreme hypocrisy and racism in these instances because I actually do have the privilege to take a break, calm myself down and talk about other things since I am not being constantly persecuted and policed for the color of my skin.

I need to call myself out for my post yesterday also. I see that my examples of my white fragility were actually a form tone policing. In each example, I was tone policing and being shocked at what I experienced as anger and intensity being directed at me, when it was actually about unacknowledged racism by me as a member of the “white people pretending a post-racial culture exists for our own comfort” group. Instead of working to understand the issue, I made it about myself and told the story as a victim would. Also, in times when I have listened, resisted tone policing, and not walked away, I feel like I have done a service and should maybe be rewarded. I must delete that mindset immediately. Being a decent human able to listen and have compassion does not deserve a reward.

I have tone policed non-verbally with my thoughts, facial expression, body language, and actions. I have walked away and decided that I needed to “protect myself” from negativity and anger. I have used spiritual jargon like, “I’m choosing to be around people with a higher vibration and consciousness” to tone police BIPOC. I have tone policed by seeing myself as more “spiritual and evolved” because of my ability to communicate calmly, intentionally and peacefully. The self-centeredness of my tone policing is very clear.

Until recently I didn’t truly question or investigate WHY BIPOC talk so much about race, why they are angry, why they are speaking to me in such an intense way…because what is going on all the time for BIPOC is violent, manipulative, unfair, and inhumane and white women like me are most often not hearing, acknowledging or doing anything about it. I read an example of a black woman that said it felt like her body was on fire and she was screaming for help and white women were telling her that she needed to calm down and ask nicely.

I have been the tone police when I claimed that I was against using violence and anger in protesting. Also I was tone policing when I didn’t show up to protests because they are “too intense,” “too much,” and “I’m a highly sensitive person.” I felt most aligned with and comfortable with peaceful protests, who wouldn’t? But if I protested peacefully for decades upon decades and nothing changed and my oppressors got smarter and sneakier about keeping me down, then what? I get louder and angrier and take any means necessary to protect myself, my family and my ancestry? The way I’ve blamed BIPOC, tuned out their voices, walked away, unfollowed and condemned their anger and outrage…it is downright inhumane. To behave this way and see it as normal is evidence that a big part of me split off, checked out and lives/has lived in complete denial for a really long time.

What’s been going on is just dead wrong and I known it deep in my heart. It is true that the world has so much suffering and I am just one person. But what I can do going forward is sit in the discomfort, listen to and feel the anger rise in me too, use my life to fight for racial equity, out myself to other white people about the ways I’ve upheld white supremacy. I know I can use my skills to help dismantle white supremacy. I will make mistakes, say the wrong thing, and mess up many times I imagine.

What I have learned is that it takes minimal effort to understand and educate ourselves about the brand of racism that exists everywhere today and how it has existed in the past. Look, listen, read, acknowledge and act. I stood in my own way because I could and for a long time no one called me out in a way that I was willing to hear. Recently, I was called out and I heard it. I am doing my work to move forward in a good way.

My heart is pounding, my head is throbbing, and I feel the anger rising at what I’ve been doing and how I’ve been avoiding owning it. But how I feel is not the real issue. White Supremacy is the issue. My prayer is to transform my anger into action and awareness. #meandwhitesupremacy

This is in response to Layla Saad‘s 28 Day You & White Supremacy Instagram Challenge. @wildmysticwoman

Question for Day 3: “Tone policing is a tactic used by those who have privilege to silence those who don’t by focusing on the ‘tone’ of what is being said, rather than the actual content. It is when white people ask BIPOC to say what we’re saying in a ‘nicer’ way. It’s saying (or thinking) things like: I can’t take in what you’re telling me about racism because you sound ‘too angry’. Or your tone is ‘too aggressive’. Or the language you are using to talk about racism is making me feel ‘ashamed’. Or the language you are using to talk about racism is ‘hateful’ or ‘divisive’. Or you should address white people in a more ‘civil’ way if you want us to ‘join your cause’. Or the way you are talking about this issue is not ‘productive’. Or if you would just ‘calm down’ then maybe I might want to listen to you. Or you’re bringing too much ‘negativity’ into this space and you should focus on the positive. Or, or, or…
There are so many direct and subtle ways that tone policing takes over. Essentially, it is a request that BIPOC share our experiences about racism without sharing any of our (real) emotions about it. It is also a demand that racism be presented to you in a form that is more palatable to you, and doesn’t make your White Fragility flare up.
So what have you learnt about You + Tone Policing? How have you used tone policing to silence or shut down BIPOC? Or what tone policing thoughts have you harboured inside when you’ve heard BIPOC talk about race, even if you didn’t say them out loud? How have you derailed conversations about race by focusing on HOW someone said something to you, rather than WHAT they said to you? How often have you claimed or felt you were ‘being shamed’ in conversations about your or other people’s racism? How often have you walked away from race conversations because you didn’t approve of the tone being used? How often have you made your willingness to engage in anti-racism work conditional on people using the ‘right’ tone with you? How have you discounted BIPOC’s real pain over racism because the way they talk about it doesn’t fit with your worldview of how people should talk? How have you used tone to police BIPOC?” – Layla Saad

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