Tone Policing.

Tone policing is the act of shaming someone for their often legitimate anger regarding oppression or saying that it’s counterproductive to respond in such an emotional way. It’s the suggestion that if people were nicer and less emotional about oppression, there would be more allies to the cause or that the conversation would be more “comfortable”. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein wrote about tone policing, writing that those who partake in it are really only thinking about their own discomfort rather than the actual message and really just communicating that: “I don’t care about your experience with oppression or how it makes you feel. I only care about how it is discomfiting for me to hear about it.”

All that anger and emotion that people express regarding oppression is incredibly valid and being emotional does not make any point less true. Because being constantly faced with oppression and microaggressions every single day is exhausting and draining at the very least. More than that, it’s something to be angry about in the first place. tooyoungforthelivingdead over on tumblr has a post about tone policing, particularly saying that:

But anger is valid. Anger is valid, anger is important, anger brings social change, anger makes people listen, anger is threatening, and anger is passion. Anger is NOT counterproductive; being “nice” is counterproductive. Nobody was ever given rights by politely asking for them. Politeness is nothing but a set of behavioral expectations that is enforced upon marginalized people.

The thing about all of this is that any conversation around oppression of any kind is more than likely going to make those in power and with privilege uncomfortable. And tone policing does nothing other than focus on our feelings in the conversation and protects privilege. But as those with privilege, we should not be making the conversation about us or our feelings – rather we should set our own personal feelings aside and realize how complicit we might be in systematic and personal oppression and work for an equal and just society.


One thought on “Tone Policing.

  1. Wow, I just finished reading Herbert Marcuse’s The One Dimensional Man written in 1964. He doesn’t call it tone policing, but he talks about the way systematic indoctrination and false conscious create only one acceptable way (positive) to talk about contemporary society. People who dissent from this point of view (especially if they display negative emotions) are portrayed as dangerous, insane and wasting their time.


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