Abolish the Tone Police
Updated: Dec 17, 2021
White allies, we need to talk.
Take the word “aggressive” out of your vocabulary.
There is never a good time for white presenting allies to be using this word when referring to members of minority groups. There is never a good time for white presenting allies to “correct” or otherwise police the tone of those you are supposed to be serving as an ally. There is never a good time for white presenting allies to attempt to assert editorial control over the voices of people fighting for their lives and futures.
There has been an enormous amount of good that has come out of the Central Oregon Black Lives Matter movement, but there is a great deal of work yet to be done. In order to do that work, white allies are going to have to be willing to constantly learn, grow, and be humble. Start from a place of assuming you are going to make mistakes, and stand ready to be corrected so you can learn and grow.
Let’s get specific.
Yesterday (9/19/2020) in Redmond, a protest rally and donation drive took place. While the event was largely a success, there was something lurking in the background of the event that cannot continue. More than once, BIPOC leaders were subjected to tone policing for being too emotional, for using language that made people uncomfortable, and for...you guessed it...being too “aggressive”. White allies used their voices to chastise and editorialize the very people they are supposed to be there in support of. People of color (particularly women of color) were subjected to attempts to silence and edit them.
In June, a Black woman named Kimberly Jones gave an impromptu and passionate speech about the early George Floyd protests. In this video that went viral, Ms. Jones discussed the centuries long history of the oppression of Black people in America. Four hundred years of slavery followed by decades of systemic oppression that has been every bit as harmful. She spoke of how Black people were bombed in Tulsa and massacred in Rosewood. She spoke about how every time Black people have fought to achieve wealth or equality in this country, the majority have responded by beating, killing, or even dropping bombs on them. If you haven’t watched this remarkable video yet, then stop reading this and go do that now. It’s important.
Kimberly Jones concluded her speech by saying “And they are lucky that what Black people are looking for is equality and not revenge.”
It is possible for a white person to attend a protest event in a small town in Oregon and see police officers trying their best and working hard to do what’s right. In Redmond yesterday, white people saw the RPD engaged with protesters, asking questions, and intervening when the counter protesters inevitably tried to insert violence into our peaceful protest.
But just because that’s what the most privileged people present saw doesn’t mean that’s all there was. Several of the BIPOCs for whom that event was ostensibly supposed to be happening saw the 450 year history of oppression standing behind those friendly officers. They saw their own experiences with small town cops here in Central Oregon. They saw the experiences of their friend’s and families with these local officers when there wasn't the attention of a major event. In ways that white allies can never comprehend, BIPOCs know that there really are no good cops in a racist system.
The Peacekeepers genuinely appreciated how much better the Redmond police handled the event yesterday than, for example, the Prineville Police have ever handled anything. RPD was trying, and members of our team told them that we saw it and appreciated it. And while all of that is true, there were also a couple officers who had to listen to hard truths from People of Color about their experience living in this community. A stand out moment was when a woman of color pointed out to an officer that a white woman was clearly drunk, carrying a firearm, and acting extremely aggressively toward people. It would require ignoring 450 years of history to not realize that had that drunk and armed woman been Black...she would have left in handcuffs. But instead of focusing on the drunk white woman with the gun, the officer turned his attention to the “aggressiveness” of the Woman of Color telling him to do his job.
Worse...allies did as well.
During this incident and at several other times yesterday, WOC were told to “calm down” and to “be peaceful” and otherwise subjected to microagressions that silence rather than support. We at Peacekeepers are very familiar with this form of “peace policing”. We get it all the time. We are intimately familiar with how anything other than total pacifism and submission is painted as being “unpeaceful”.
There is nothing wrong with emotion.
There is nothing inherently wrong with anger.
There is certainly nothing wrong with people living under the weight of 450 years of systemic oppression expressing anger in the name of fighting for their lives and futures.
Stop confusing peace with passivity, and remember...
If there is no JUSTICE...there can be no PEACE.