I was in an ARLA meeting a while back. We were talking about tone policing and I said this:
“Black women get tone policed by EVERYONE: white men, white women, Black men, other Global Majority men and women. It's how I experience the world and I know many can relate.”
For me, tone policing of Black folx, and Black women, is racism and it's anti-Blackness. It's also misogynoir and it exists in both dominating culture spaces and Global Majority spaces.
As a woman, and especially as a Black woman, I'm expected to make myself smaller and more palatable to people from the dominating classes, no matter what my own feelings are. When I don't, there is ALWAYS someone ready with a version of "if you had said it more nicely, maybe people would listen".
I keep wondering why I have to be nice for others to hear and act on my words about inequity and injustice. And why is this more the case for Black women than for anyone else. I have lost count of the times when my tone or approach has been used as an excuse to discount my words or the validity of my point.
The thing is that just because something is hard to hear, it doesn't invalidate its truth. Just because a plain statement of facts makes you uncomfortable it doesn't make those facts any less true.
If I say something that makes you uncomfortable, sit with yourself, as Future Cain says, and think about whether it's really my words or your own shame, guilt or lack of knowledge that's the true issue here. Then reflect before you respond, advice I give often, and consider those facts rather than how the message was delivered. And do the same for every Black woman you know. That will make our lives easier and you might learn something too.
And now for action: would-be allies, think about how you can support your Black women colleagues who are being tone policed. Then act on it the next time you see it happening.
Thanks for reading,
© Sharon Hurley Hall, 2023. All Rights Reserved.
I am an anti-racism writer, educator and activist, Co-Founder of Mission Equality the author of “I’m Tired of Racism”, and co-host of The Introvert Sisters podcast.
Last time someone tried tone-policing me, I pointed out that if my use of the "f-word" bothered them more than racism, police brutality, migrant children separated from their parents, rape, or forced birth, then we had no point conversing at all.
That said, I do know that people turn off their ears if the speaker comes across as hostile or attacking them personally. You know as well as I do what constitutes "effective rhetoric." Profanity generally isn't effective. But to tone-police anyone is to dismiss their feelings and say, indirectly, "You're not worth listening to until you can get your emotions under control," when we ALL ought to be angry and outraged over some things. Repressed emotion and dismissing others' emotions and pain leads to frustration and violence. It's no excuse for the violence, but does make us all a little bit complicit in it.
Thank you for this excellent piece. It remains quite telling. And one that I, as someone of Indian (Asian Indian) origin (parents from India) have noticed in general with Black and Brown people being tone policed. Your noting that other Global majority people do this to Black women had been something that had been known, unconsciously, with your writing placing it front and center. Much appreciate that.
Your work has been, and remains not only brilliant, but unfortunately, absolutely necessary.