I was reminded today that one of the things we have to deal with as activists is the Tone Police. This is a little different than people who send hatemail, these are people who want to draw the focus from the point of our activism to the way that we do the activism – the words we use, the emotion we have etc.
People might tone police to purposefully derail the conversation (taking the focus off the oppressive behavior and putting it onto the activist for not responding to the oppressive behavior “correctly.”) Some people tone police because they aren’t personally comfortable with the strong emotions that an activist is expressing. or because they think that we should do things the way they think things should be done, or because they genuinely think they are helping, or for some other reason. It doesn’t matter why they do it, as always, we each get to choose how to deal with this.
This morning I posted an article to my personal Facebook wall about how FOX news “reporters” had made fun of the new gender options available on FB. I have absolutely no patience for that kind of trans* and intersex phobia and I posted the article with the commentary “Fuck You Fox News Hosts. Fuck. You.” Soon this was posted on my wall, a textbook example of tone policing:
Hating on others for what you think is an incorrect opinion or narrow mindedness doesn’t make you any better than them. I’m disappointed you’re encouraging and participating in this type of behavior. It doesn’t help sway anyone to your side. Frankly lately your posts have been less than uplifting and positive. No one says they have to be. But you are trying to reach people and open minds. FUing folks is tasteless and tends to do the opposite of this.
I’ve seen this happen to activists over and over again, it’s certainly happened to me plenty of times before. Let’s break it down:
Hating on others for what you think is an incorrect opinion or narrow mindedness doesn’t make you any better than them.
We don’t have to try to be better than anyone, it’s ok to just express our feelings in our spaces about behavior that we find abhorrent.
I’m disappointed you’re encouraging and participating in this type of behavior.
This is a really common way that people attempt to punctuate tone policing. They are disappointed in you, or surprised at you – they are hoping to make you feel ashamed of the way that you’ve expressed yourself. I’m disappointed that those people bully, stigmatize, and oppress other people, I have no shame about my reaction to it.
It doesn’t help sway anyone to your side.
This person has decided what the goal of my activism should be, and is letting me know that, in their expert opinion, I’m not getting it done. In truth the goal of that post wasn’t persuasive – it was demonstrative. It’s ok to express our anger and not take responsibility for other people’s feelings or reactions.
Frankly lately your posts have been less than uplifting and positive. No one says they have to be. But you are trying to reach people and open minds. FUing folks is tasteless and tends to do the opposite of this.
Once again, this person has decided what I’m trying to do, and that they are the judge of whether or not I’m successfully doing it, as well as being an expert in human behavior as it related to saying fuck you. Guess what? I didn’t ask, and I’m not looking to them for advice. When people suggest that we should meet oppression and marginalization only by being positive and uplifting, however well intentioned they may be, it is just another way to take our power away and derail the discussion. When fucked up things happen we’re allowed to get pissed off about them. We’re allowed to swear.
If people want to be uplifting and positive all the time they are welcome to do that – it doesn’t work for me. I don’t think it’s realistic or healthy to suggest that we should be disappointed in anyone who doesn’t meet marginalization, discrimination, and disenfranchisement with uplifted politeness – acting like it’s all fluffy bunnies and rainbows. You are allowed to do that, but you are not obligated, no matter what the tone police say. If you look at the oppression that goes on in the world and it makes you angry, I don’t think that’s surprising and I don’t think it’s a bad thing. The more we step out as activists, the more we call out the behavior around us that is seriously messed up, the more we express our anger about it, the more people will become uncomfortable. We are not responsible for other people’s feelings or for being activists on other people’s terms.
We have a right to all of our emotions, including being pissed off. We have a right to all the vocabulary, including swear words. We have a right to all of the types of activism, which includes using anger as a tool. We are not responsible for other people’s feelings and we don’t have to let the tone police dictate the way that we react to, live in, or work to change a messed up world.
Fuck you tone police. Fuck. You.
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