Tone Policing People of Colour

When White people try to dismiss Indigenous and other people of colour’s (POC) discussion of colonialism and its present-day impact by focusing on “tone,” that’s racism. Consider this exchange. I shared an important article by Teila Watson , Birri Gubba Wiri and Kungalu/Gungalu Murri woman artist, who wrote about the impact of colonialism on Australia’s past, present and future. Originally published in The Guardian, Watson was unimpressed that the editors changed the title from White “Australia” Has a Black Future, to “Indigenous knowledge systems can help solve the problems of climate change.” So she chose to self-publish the longer version of her article with the original title on Medium.

A White woman writer decided to reshare my tweet, which includes a quote from the Medium piece.  By doing so she informs me that she refuses to read the article due to the title, which she sees is “uncivil.” I shouldn’t have to explain this, but in the course of my interactions it was obvious that I did, in fact, have to point out that refusing to read the words of an Aboriginal woman is racist, and calling an article reflecting on Australia’s history of genocide “uncivil” is the epitome of White supremacy.

Continue reading Tone Policing People of Colour



Panel 1: [Top – heading] Why Tone policing sucks. 

[Bottom – Person 1, the author,  talking to audience] I keep seeing posts on Tumblr getting loads of praise from “allies” and anti-sjw’s [social justice warriors] on how to confrot ignorance. It’s always some stupid gif of someone being super nice, getting a super nice response, or some “catching flies with honey” thing.

Panel 2: [Top – two people talking] Person 1: That’s offensive to me, man.

Person 2 [looking shocked]: Oh man- 

[Bottom] Person 2: I didn’t mean anything by that, but definitely won’t happen again.

Person 1: Great!

Panel 3: [Top – Person 1, talking to audience] But we don’t live in a fantasy land, peace and love world where every instance of kindness is met with equal kindness. Let’s check out the reality!

[Bottom – green writing for emphasis] REALITY

Panel 4: [Top – same two people, but Person 2 wears mocking facial expressions] Person 1: That’s pretty offensive man. 

Person 2: Oh no!

[Bottom] Person 2: You’re not going to make it in the real world with thin skin like that!

Panel 5: [Top – two lists as below, with the word “real” written to the side. Left-hand-side list] Other likely responses *Here’s why you’re wrong: * Stop pulling the race card! *I don’t like (unrelated trivial thing) but you don’t see me complaining! *There’s no proof that these bad things happen. *Freedom of speech.

[Right-hand-side list] *If (PoC [people of colour]) did this, it wouldn’t be racist, so. *I’m tired of this White hate! *You’re not special. *Let’s focus on “real” issues instead. *You’re an idiot race baiter.

[Bottom diagram with “A” and “B” drawn as a forked line leading to “C” and a hashed line to “D”]

D is the rare chance someone listens to protest.

So if both being nice and being angry towards ignorance end up in the same spot, what does that mean?

Panel 6: [Top – person talking to audience] It means ignorance will stay ignorant regardess of the delivery, Duh! But it also means, if your comfort is more important in equality than the lives and experiences of the oppressed, then –

[Bottom – writing against red background for emphasis] You’re part of the problem. The end.

Allyship and Intersectionality

Intersectionality is a term describing how gender inequality is impacted by racism and other forms of exclusion, leading to real-world consequences, such as multiple forms of discrimination in the workplace. Intersectionality is a framework for critical thinking; that means we use this as a lens to understand how individual experiences of disadvantage are impacted by social policies, social institutions, and other structural forces.

White women, including those who belong to minority groups, often leave out the race dimension from their use of intersectionality, and do not turn that critical thinking on themselves. For intersectionality to achieve change, all of us must be willing to be self-reflexive about the interconnections and impact of gender, race and other identities. 

A White woman colleague responded to my tweets during the Women’s March which were critiquing White feminism. She said White women who see themselves as allies were being put off by women of colour’s critiques of the Women’s March. She said White women were feeling “cut down” because of the “tone” in the discussions by women of colour. She said that allies are just learning and needed patience and education from women of colour if they are to remain engaged on intersectionality.

I’ve previously discussed how tone policing was used before, during and after the Women’s March to undermine women of colour’s contributions and insights.

Women’s rights are limited by exclusionary forms of feminism. The gains of intersectionality can make gender equity a reality. For this to happen, White women need to keep showing up and doing their self-reflection on White privilege and structural inequalities.

Here are my responses to my Twitter conversation, with some editing for continuity. 

After the Women’s March weekend, critical reflection and action is needed: how do we end White supremacist patriarchy? After this reflection, we do the work to end it.

The impact and solutions to racism have been publicly discussed by women of colour for many decades. Most recently in America, by Black Lives Matter activists and also by women of colour who critiqued the way they were alienated from Pantsuit Nation and from the Women’s March. The frustration expressed by women of colour is that there have been many opportunities for White women to have gotten involved earlier, and yet White people have pushed back repeatedly.

Allyship can seem tough to “newbies” without the full history of anti-racism issues, but being an ally means embracing the uncomfortable feeling that goes along with re-education about White supremacy.

The way women of colour’s frustration is expressed, especially by those with less power, is not the cause of White women’s discomfort. The discomfort is about confronting the reality about having privilege and how it benefits White women. White privilege includes not being aware of how racism works at the everyday level.

The ability to retreat from anti-racism issues, or to think that rescinding allyship is an option, is another sign of White privilege. People who belong to minority groups can’t retreat or stay unaware of biases and discrimination because inequity is part of everyday life.

There’s no nice or polite way to express justified anger, frustration or distrust in face of multiple oppression. Whatever discomfort an ally feels is nothing compared to the very real consequences of facing sexism on top of racism on top of homophobia and other injustices.

Being an ally is supposed to be hard. That’s why these discussions on intersectionality and being late to support women of colour need critical engagement if the Women’s March is to have continued positive impact.

[Photo: Crowd at the Women’s March Sydney. A White woman holds a sign with an Audre Lorde quote that reads: “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” Another sign reads: Girl power vs Trump tower]

Source: The Other Sociologist.

Now on my blog! Intersectionality and the Women’s March. I provide a background on the anti-racism and inclusive aims of the March and how these objectives were derailed by White women’s tone policing of women of colour.

[Image: the four organisers of the Women’s March in Washington with a quote from their mission statement: “We support the advocacy and resistance movements that reflect our multiple and intersecting identities. We call on all defenders of human rights to join us.”]

Source: The Other Sociologist.

Intersectionality and the Women’s March

This is the first of a two-part reflection on the global Women’s March that occurred on 21 January 2017. This discussion expands on a post first published on 10 January, eleven days prior to the global protests. It reflects the tensions between the initial goal of the Women’s March in Washington, which aimed to be inclusive of intersectionality, and the White women who wanted to attend the March, but objected to this aim.

Despite many positive outcomes, the issues discussed here that centre on Whiteness continued to affect the attendance, experience and discussions of the marches after the event. This post examines the attitudes of White women as discussed in an article by The New York Times, which reflect the broader dissent expressed by White women who continue to oppose intersectional conversations about the Women’s March.

The issues here remain relevant not simply as women around the world reflect on the racism and exclusion they faced at the marches, but also because one of the co-organisers, Linda Sarsour, is currently facing racist backlash only days after the event.

The second part to this discussion is forthcoming and it will be a visual reflection of my attendance at the Sydney March.

We support the advocacy and resistance movements that reflect our multiple and intersecting identities. We call on all defenders of human rights to join us
Women’s March organisers: Tamika Mallory; Linda Sarsour; Bob Bland [holding a baby]; and Carmen Perez
Continue reading Intersectionality and the Women’s March

Oppressed groups are frequently placed in the situation of being listened to only if we frame our ideas in the language that is familiar to and comfortable for a dominant group. This requirement often changes the meaning of our ideas and works to elevate the ideas of dominant groups.

Patricia Hill Collins  (via queerintersectional)

Language Police


This is a systematically encouraged way to stop engaging in a conversation when you know you are going to lose the argument. Once you have started your policing, you can then blame the other person for being “Angry” or “Not nice.” If your entire point of contention is that of a kind word, you should never engage with anyone, anywhere, at any time. 

Language policing is a trick used by the weak minded. Nothing more. Nothing less.

This is easily provable. Keep an eye on discussions that cross your dash. Note the next time someone does some form of Language Policing. Did they do it near the beginning of the conversation and make their rules of engagement clear? No, it’s far more likely that they were in the belief that they were correct in whatever their view point. Once it was challenged and on it’s way to being proven false, the policing appeared. 

I see several problems with Language Policing:

  • Who sets these rules?
  • If the rules are not mutually agreed upon by all parties, the rules are null and void.
  • Language policing implies that a person’s point is somehow less valid if said in a tone or in a phrase that someone else deems unacceptable. 
  • Anger does not stop truth from being true. Nor do angry words, loud voices or the Caps Lock key. 

Language Policing implies that one person is on a higher level than another based solely on wording. You can not claim to want to engage in discourse while announcing that you are better than those that oppose you. You can not have a conversation, one that you deem “Civil” or otherwise, while also believing that you somehow have the intellectual high ground based on nothing more than a turn of phrase.

As a matter of fact, I tend to believe the opposite true.  Language policing seems to encompass one of two justifications. One, that a person will somehow be more willing to accept what you are saying if you say it with a smile. Two, that anger is a sign of a lessor being and because of this, that person no longer deserves your “Time.”

An actual intellectual can make their point. Period. No matter your word usage, no matter your kindness or anger. A person that has an actual point, can make it no matter their opposition or the tone their opposition uses. Facts, opinions and even judgments are no more or less valid or invalid if said with a “Fuck you” attached. 

If you were to smile and kindly tell me that I am pretty while also hitting me in the face with a wooden bat, my nose wouldn’t be any less broken. Any pain caused, wouldn’t be lessened and my anger wouldn’t be any less valid because you were “Nice” while you did it. 

Kindness does not eliminate truth. Anger does not eliminate truth.

If you find that you need a person to speak to you in a specific way in order to converse with them at all, you should make that known before you get into any discourse. That way, when the person reminds you that you do not get to dictate actions or emotions, you will know that this person is not someone you can control and you can move on to someone who will fall for your act.

That is what it’s about after all. Control. Your need to “Police” language is an effort to make your opposition seem “Less than” while setting yourself up as the “All knowing” director of the conversation. You are trying to force your way into having the upper hand. If your point is a valid one, you won’t need to police anyone, ever.

No one person get’s this power over another. If you feel you deserve this, you should remove yourself from all verbal/written human contact.