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...my problem with the entire question of tone and courtesy is that it's typically only applied one way: people of color/non-white people who are angry about racism are told to watch their tone and be more polite.

It reminds me of how women angry about sexism are told that they're being shrill and strident, and men would listen to them if they were more polite and phrased it better. I say that not to compare oppressions, but to say that the mechanisms of socialization work in some eerily similar ways to maintain oppressive power structures: Speaking up for your rights is rude. Telling people who are being kicked from corner to post that it's their own fault nobody's listening, because they're not saying it right, is normal and polite.

The question of "personal attacks" is also applied and seen in a similarly skewed manner. When a person of color says, "Hey, so-and-so said a racist thing," they're seen as making a personal attack. When a white person says, "You're not smart enough for your opinion to count," they're seen as arguing the issues.

The burden of being polite and impersonal - in a matter that affects people's everyday lives on a profoundly personal level - is placed on the backs of the people who have to cope with the oppression in real life. And the people who are at the top of the power structure are the ones who get to be perceived as being polite and nice, when the substance of what they're actually saying - your opinions don't count, you're not educated enough to have a valid opinion, you're too educated to have a valid opinion, we don't want you - is neither nice nor polite.

These are not my original ideas, just my phrasing. I have seen this argument made many, many times by people of color. And also by white women. And also by GLBT people. A much more detailed explanation here, including the point that no tone is ever good enough.


Mar. 7th, 2009 04:03 am (UTC)
Politeness (under which requests for the "right" "tone" seems to fall: it's not specifically a soft tone or a pleading tone or whatever that's requested, but something more abstract, especially in written discourse) is a product of cultural conventions that grow out of historical and political dynamics. It's a product of society: it reflects the order established in that society. Discourse that upsets the dynamics of society fails to comform to that order. (Sometimes it's on a micro scale, sometimes it's on a macro scale.) There is no way that anti-oppression talk can come off as polite, because it upsets the established order of a society based on oppression. And the rudeness of the oppressors toward the oppressed is invisible as such because it doesn't upset that order (as well as because the people at the top have the material means of getting away with it).
Mar. 7th, 2009 05:46 pm (UTC)
Yes, this exactly.
Mar. 7th, 2009 05:55 pm (UTC)
If you don't mind, I'd like to take this and add it to my discussion of the tone argument.
Mar. 7th, 2009 06:24 pm (UTC)
Sure: go ahead.
Mar. 8th, 2009 04:50 am (UTC)
Thank you.
Mar. 7th, 2009 09:53 pm (UTC)
I think you're dead right.
Mar. 8th, 2009 01:54 am (UTC)
Oh, this is so true. *So true.*


Rachel M Brown

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