Me and White Supremacy Day 3: Tone Policing

All my #MeAndWhiteSupremacy posts are in response to the prompts in Layla Saad’s book of the same name. I recommend it wholeheartedly to white educators and learners as a way to really dig deep into the ways that our white supremacy has permeated our behaviours and patterning. The first step to disrupting these is to be aware of them. I haven’t copied the prompts here, because Layla deserves to be paid for her work. If you have the means, consider purchasing a copy for your local library! If you’d like to read the book but your library doesn’t carry it and it is cost-prohibitive to you, please message me and I will send you a copy or pay for a digital copy for you.

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Tone policing is “a tactic used by those who have privilege to silence those who do not by focusing on the tone of what is being said rather than the actual content” (Saad 47). When white folks criticise BIPOC speakers for sounding angry or praise BIPOC for catering to the white gaze, this is tone policing. This can be publicly, in conversations, or even just in thoughts.

I struggled with this one at first because I thought I did not do it, which means I’ve been avoiding acknowledging it more than I realise and clinging to that yearning to be “one of the good ones.” 🙄 🙄 At times I have heard BIPOC speak and wondered briefly if they could not present the message in a more diplomatic way. I have witnessed conversations in which a black woman called out a white woman on her unintentionally racist words and thought “oh, that’s not fair.” I have projected my own white fragility onto another person and worried about how the message would be received by others (white gaze?), rather than focusing on understanding the message myself, confronting my own privilege and fragility, doing my own work, and respecting and supporting the women of colour who are doing emotional labour to educate white people. After years of actively educating myself about tone policing, I now tend to be more aware of these thoughts when they pop up and am able to challenge them, but this takes admitting to myself what was happening in order to begin making those changes. It’s a continuous process.

I used to not share posts by BIPOC that I thought were too angry or confrontational for my feed, even if I agreed wholeheartedly with them 🤢 Now I try to lean into and explore that discomfort, and I make sure that especially if I am made uncomfortable by a post, I share it, because it is something that folks like me need to read.

Though I thought that at least I’ve never done this out loud or to someone’s face, I realised after reading the comments on Layla’s Tone Policing post that I may well have done it explicitly and not even realised the implications of what I’d said. Implicit bias is strong and something I need to continue a lifelong fight to dismantle; this means that our actions may often be swayed by racist ideas even if we are not consciously aware of them. I even caught myself for a second tone policing in my head while watching the Day 3 video, as I felt myself start feeling defensive or wondering if Layla was generalising. I have caught myself expecting cookies for myself or other white folks just for “trying” or for understanding something about our privilege 😠

White friends, how have you noticed yourself tone policing, and what are you doing to change these patterns?

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