Tone Policing is a Silencing Tactic
August 26, 2020 6:00 PM   Subscribe

What is Tone policing? This web comic "No We Won't Calm Down" explains the basics, but there is so much more to understand.

What it isn't:

The difference between boundary setting and tone policing
Arguing passionately ≠ an Appeal to Emotion Fallacy

How it works:

The act of tone-policing does not disrupt the power structure or status quo. It preserves it.

The diverse experiences of Tone Policing:

Johnny Silvercloud - Black people are not ever in their lives allowed to be angry
Ashleigh Shackelford - I'm always scripted as the angry Black bitch.
Archanaa Seker - We’ve all been there, saying or being told to ‘calm down’ in the middle of a conversation.
Ashlea McKay - Autistic people are not the enemy
Robin Tran - Stop telling me that I’m not allowed to honestly respond when people treat me like human garbage.

Who is called angry, who is allowed to be angry:

Even when calm, Black women are called angry when they stand up for themselves,
Black kids are assumed to be angry
Isaac Bailey - I’m Finally an Angry Black Man
Professor Davin Phoenix - America has very different standards for who gets the privilege of expressing anger and defiance, without fear of grave consequence.
Michael Harriot - While white protests are a sign of courage and patriotism, black protests are usually demonized as riots and “unrest.”

How to Stop Tone Policing in the Workplace and Online:

Janice Gassam Asare - Tone policing is used as a tool to silence women — particularly Black women — who express any sort of emotion or passion.
Naomi Day - Tone policing is as rampant online as it is in person.


White Centering from the People's School of DC
posted by Chrysopoeia (13 comments total) 98 users marked this as a favorite
Have only read the comic so far and it was excellent - am looking forward to exploring the rest. This is something I have experienced both when I was a vegan and active in the animal rights movement, and now when I try to be active in other ways. And it's infuriating. Thankfully, the "tone police" will never by convinced of anything, so it's easy enough to skip over them and make progress elsewhere.
posted by turbid dahlia at 6:24 PM on August 26, 2020 [2 favorites]

THANK YOU very much for this post!!!!!!!!!
posted by katra at 6:37 PM on August 26, 2020

Excellent post, thank you. I love Robot Hugs's work, and I'm looking forward to reading the other links.
posted by Lexica at 7:13 PM on August 26, 2020

Thank you for pointing me towards some language I can use when people frustrate the fuck out of me then tell me I'm in the wrong for getting upset.
posted by krisjohn at 8:07 PM on August 26, 2020 [3 favorites]

While white protests are a sign of courage and patriotism, black protests are usually demonized as riots and “unrest.”

caveat: White people protesting on the same side as Black people are violent gangs from elsewhere who are just there for the chance to destroy something, or unemployed liberal kids who don't understand what they're protesting.
posted by bashing rocks together at 11:46 PM on August 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

I’m all over this post. I like the use of comic format. It gets the point across and keep the message from becoming too elevated. Makes the message less a psychological and more common sense understanding of argument of personal and emotional issues.
posted by xtian at 4:51 AM on August 27, 2020

Wow, a lot to digest here. Thanks for putting the FPP together!
posted by Harald74 at 5:37 AM on August 27, 2020

This is good.

I think decision-makers and gatekeepers are even more indoctrinated than anyone in these anti-emotional views.

For instance, I was helping a person negotiate reasonable accommodations in light of a recent death in their family. The accommodation was something that we used to give out freely but a recent policy memo had gone out to prevent abuse. Nevertheless, this was an extraordinary situation where giving the accommodation made sense but it had been a bureaucratic pain to get to this point.

I worked with the decision-maker and the grieving individual to reach agreement and we had reached a verbal agreement over the phone. Everyone was going to get what they needed. That’s when the person who I was advocating for started crying and asking, “why was this so hard?”

Immediately, in real time, I could hear that the decision-maker was uncomfortable and they started taking back the agreement that we had just made. I was nearly speechless because of the inability for the decision-maker to understand why someone grieving a days-old death would cry about navigating bullshit bureaucracy during that time.

My advocacy for this person was seen as bias and I was removed from the line of communication despite me being the person with the highest role on-site to handle these things. I gather that they thought that my private coworker-to-coworker concern about how we were treating this person meant that I was communicating improperly with the grieving individual.

When they bypassed me for communication on this issue, I talked to the coworker who was put in my place and they agreed with me about the whole mess. We eventually worked something out but it was a waste of everyone’s time and a total failure of emotional intelligence.

The problem is that decision-makers and gatekeepers aren’t reading these kinds of comics. The workaround when negotiating with closed-minded people is to code-switch into their neutered language. Unfortunately, that means that activists and advocates don’t always have a choice about self-policing when big stakes are on the line and it means that patriarchal neutered language is a skill that activists and advocates need to be versed in and sometimes practice.
posted by Skwirl at 8:48 AM on August 27, 2020 [22 favorites]

A-fucking-men to this post.
posted by Lyme Drop at 8:58 AM on August 27, 2020

I have a tone-cop in my head that instructs me to be uncomfortable with emotion even concerning issues I entirely support. Silencing the cop is difficult, but it's a process of reason - recognizing the fallacy - and emotion - recognizing emotion as a legitimate precipitate of pain and frustration. I think im succeeding but I need to be reminded.

Thanks for the post.
posted by klanawa at 11:21 AM on August 27, 2020 [3 favorites]

Ohh, that last link on white-centering is great, and I'm going be sharing that all over the place. At my smallish and fairly tight-knit office, we're finally doing some constructive DEI work, but a couple of my coworkers are having a really difficult time recognizing white centering and the extent of its harm. My folks are, too.

They are making an effort, and they are on board to learn new things about forms of active prejudice and passive-aggressive prejudice, but they just...lose the plot at the ways in which racism is institutionalized and passed down in the expectation of whiteness being neutral, normal, the default, the decider, the definer. (And moreover, that an accurate term for this is white supremacy, yes really.)

But hey, I'm a white person and I'm real certain that I'm not done feeling scales fall from my eyes, even though I've been at it for awhile. It's a really a lifelong job to keep chipping away at the web of assumptions.
posted by desuetude at 2:50 PM on August 27, 2020 [2 favorites]

This is a terrific resource, thank you for taking the time to assemble and post. Much resonance.
posted by winesong at 3:31 PM on August 27, 2020

Waaugh, this is really hard for me to sit with because I was raised to self-police my tone, and taught that I would lose my audience if I didn't temper it. I'm literally sitting here squirming because it's true that we do respond to messages better when the tone is calmer, don't we? Thanks for posting this is what I think I'm trying to say.
posted by Rora at 5:19 PM on August 27, 2020 [4 favorites]

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