Tone Policing 101: The white Privilege of “Free” Speech

There’s no denying that it takes a shit load of white privilege to safely say everything that is said on this blog. There’s also no denying that PoC do not have the same freedom from harassment and ridicule when they discuss white supremacy as openly as it is discussed on this blog. Folks with white skin can say racist things or participate in racism without much backlash from other white folks, and the ACLU can protect the “free speech” of the KKK without similar controversy. But when PoC speak critically of these practices, there’s a big fucking problem. When white folks patronize PoC by instructing them on how they should discuss racism, this is tone policing, which only serves to reinforce racism.

So who is it exactly that truly has and enjoys “free” speech? Who has the freedom to find racist attitudes acceptable and criticism of these attitudes unacceptable? Who has the freedom to speak without being policed? White anti-racists can talk about white supremacy and be largely received with praise and nobility; we can speak candidly and profanely without being dismissed as “emotional” or “extreme.” White folks will not turn around and police our tone by telling us to be “nicer” when we talk about racism. Most importantly, when we educate or speak out when it comes to racism, we still benefit from the system and maintain our white privilege.

Self-criticism, self-refection, and the willingness to accept criticism from PoC are crucial to the process of understanding white privilege. If we read something that makes us uncomfortable, if we hear something that makes us uncomfortable, the best reaction is to question our discomfort, not the speaker. Historical precedent, lived experience, social violence, and systemic injustice are enough supporting evidence for what PoC have to say; our “hurt feelings” are not enough supporting evidence to reject or attack what PoC have to say. Since we benefit from racism, it doesn’t make any sense to find ourselves hurt when racism is called out.

Discourses on race are not meant to comfort us, they are meant to challenge us. We do not contend with racism, so it is not our job nor our responsibility to prescribe the “right” approach to dealing with it or discussing it. It’s important to understand that when those of us with white skin speak critically of racism and white supremacy, we will receive more credibility and praise even though we do not deserve it. White privilege allows us to speak freely no matter what we are saying, which means going against the “status quo” is relatively safe—not extremely dangerous.

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One thought on “Tone Policing 101: The white Privilege of “Free” Speech

  1. Eric Shupps says:

    Excellent post. Very helpful. Thanks for the info.

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