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The "tone" argument
Illuminati
andrewducker
Edit:Thank you to everyone for the comments left on this piece. I've learned a lot from a variety of you. I am trying to engage with people who are trying to educate me, and I appreciate you taking the time and effort to do so. I do appreciate that this is a large and complex issue, and if I'd known that it was going to be spread over half of LJ I'd probably have thought about it for more than 30 seconds before writing it.

I've now had it pointed out to me by several people that there's no point asking people to be polite when they're discussing things on the internet - because the tone they take doesn't actually affect how people's views are taken.

The most recent time I was linked to this post, which is well written, amusing, and completely failed to make its point to me.  Their point was that speaking politely doesn't work.  That people have tried speaking politely, and got nowhere.

My point is that they offer absolutely no evidence that shouting _does_ work.  And in my experience, shouting pushes people away more than anything else.

I don't have a racism example, because I've not been accused of racism.  However, I have been accused of sexism.  And I'm fairly sure that I have been sexist - but the way that I was approached managed to both shut off any chance that I was going to listen to what the person was saying, but also caused a few other people to feel disgusted at what they were saying.  It caused people to speak negatively of "feminists" - something I had to then try and correct (what with being one myself).

If someone has evidence that shouting at bigots actually achieves any good then I would be very happy to hear it.  Provided that it's presented to me in a reasonable, non-offensive manner.  I may even change my mind :->

Their point isn't quite that "speaking politely doesn't work". It's more like this:

Let's say you're an expert on Fooage. You and a bunch of other experts on fooage (You and your friends haven't always been experts on Foo. You had to work hard to get where you are, it took years of study)are at Foo09 and discussing all things foo-related, including the Great Foo Paradox, which continues to be a fascinating topic of discussion. Actually, it's a big deal - people are suffering every day because this topic isn't solved. If it could just be resolved, there would be a lot less human suffering.

Unfortunately, there's a constant stream of people wandering in from another conference next door. They don't know jack about the complex world of Fooery, but every damn one of them has an opinion on the Great Foo Paradox. Those opinions range from, "Ahh, that paradox doesn't really exist", or, "You're wasting your time debating the Great Foo Paradox. Why didn't you donate the money it cost you to attend this conference to charity instead, or do something useful with your life?".

And every damn one of them is really rude about it! They walk into the room and act like they know all about Fooery, that it's obvious, and you're just some idiot ivory-tower acadamic whose opinion isn't even worth listening to.

You "speak politely" to the first few. Well, you do. A few of your friends are understandably pissed off; but you take the clueless newbies aside and explain why Foo's a big deal. Mostly, they ignore you and keep on arguing, but a couple do get it. You're encouraged.

Maybe you even put a FAQ together. "Some of your basic Foo questions answered, and why the Foo Paradox is a big deal." You give it to each of the newbies.

Let's say they don't read it. In fact, they hang around during the conference, and keep interrupting with questions which derail the conference. It gets to the point where most of the discussions end up getting nowhere, because you spend most of your time answering the same questions, or trying to calm down your colleagues and get them not to respond, or you don't even take part in the discussions because you're too busy handing out FAQs in the foyer.

Eventually, you're going to stop "speaking politely", I'd hope, and tell them to PISS OFF.

Or, put another way: People don't shout at bigots because they think "it will work".

They shout at bigots because they are offended, insulted and tired of being trolled by bigots. It's a cumulative annoyance, and it has built up over decades. It's tricky to understand unless you're on the unprivileged side of one of the Big Privilege Issues.

your wrong, your wrong, your wrong, your wrong, your wrong, your wrong, your wrong, your wrong, your wrong, your wrong

Your's Scinserely,


Shouting doesn't work at all. But it can be quite fun...

More seriously, I think shouting is actually detrimental to rational argument. If you have to shout to put your point across, what you have to say can't be very strong.

I think there might be cause to differentiate between dealing with individuals and dealing with organizations. Because while I've gotten the occasional good response to being Miss Merry Sunshine polite and sweet when there's a problem, I've gotten immediate and satisfactory response the few times I've lost it and let someone know how angry I am when it comes to dealing with corporations and doctors and establishment-type things. Squeaky wheel, and all that.

I think it's much better to just say that tone is really hard to get across on the internet.

Shouting only works as a way of replying to idiots in one of two cases:
Case 1: You are speaking through a microphone which is plugged into the Disaster Area PA system, or:
Case 2: You are Brian Blessed.
In both of these cases, the offending idiot will be blasted into component atoms by the sheer force of soundwaves. However, the effectiveness of these is limited by the non-presence of a Disaster Area PA system as it breaches non-proliferation treaties, and by the fact that there is only one Brian Blessed and he can only shout at so many people during the course of one day.

By and large, *facepalm* is generally a much more successful way of dealing with the stupid.

I think there is no one true path with this stuff, though. And adding the "you must be polite" burden to someone already hurting in a situation, for whatever reason, is kind of.... Well, it's kind of selfish.

So, while I try to advocate in polite terms when I'm in a situation that calls for it, sometimes that burden is just a bit much. When some jerk that doesn't know me is saying I am a liar because I'm not thin, why am I obligated to swallow that? I'm not.

I would say that both sides need to exercise a little understanding but I'm also super leery of telling people they need to make fighting against oppression more palatable to me. Like, ugh. That's not.... That's just not okay.

And, really, when standing up to institutions of any certain -ism, it really IS the loud voices that bring change. Asking politely doesn't work.

SHOUTING MAKES YOU FEEL BETTER. JUST TRY IT. AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH.

Actually I felt quite bad typing "shut up" in caps as the title of a post, even though it was in jest.

I'm going to say something that may be tragically missing the point and be facilely obvious, but I'd prefer to keeping thinking about this sort of issue than not try.

Suppose Alan wanders into a discussion, and [uses the word "nigger"] for less than an overwhelming reason to do so. Bob quite naturally says "That's racist!", implicitly saying Alan should avoid doing so. However, Alan says "What the hell? I'm not racist, I have black friends, I don't discriminate, etc, etc" and completely fails to hear the criticism.

If Bob had explained carefully, and said "Alan, I'm not saying anything against you personally, but you should know [using the word "nigger"] is SO offensive to just about everyone that even if you didn't deliberately mean to insult people, you should know in advance that you can't do that without hurting people. Please avoid it for my sake, and the sake of other people who are offended to hear it," then Alan might have listened.

However, it's an unreasonable burden to expect Bob to go to all that effort, when if Alan had made the slightest effort to pay attention to ANYTHING in the last thirty years, he'd know this perfectly well, and his ignorance can only be due to wilful stubborn ignorance, which when he ought to know will hurt everyone, rises to the level of malicious wilful ignorance.

(OTOH, if Alan came from some other culture entirely, completely cut off from Western culture and media, he might genuinely not know, and be hurt, confused and probably react by being angry and refusing to listen to the justice in Bob's comment, concentrating solely on the fact that Bob judged him so harshly.)

I understood the letter about tone not to be saying that shouting works better than being polite, but that "When asshole #5819 makes another racist comment it's unreasonable to expect me to go on trying to educate them, and explain that what they said was offensive, but carefully be sympathetic to them personally, when none of the other first #5818 assholes listened. The best I can hope for is to make them go away and persuade the audience that that behaviour is unnacceptable."

However, I think everyone round here is likely to agree that "[using the word 'nigger']" is offensive. However, they're much more likely to disagree that "[firefly isn't racist because X, Y, Z]" is offensive. And so Bob legitimately can't put up with explaining the basics to one more fucking Alan, and will restrict his response to "Stop being racist", whereas Alan, even if he admits he might be mistaken on this instance, still sees his comment as relevant, and say things like "Come on, dude, be polite, even if you disagree, there's no point throwing around accusations of racism".

I understood the letter about tone not to be saying that shouting works better than being polite, but that "When asshole #5819 makes another racist comment it's unreasonable to expect me to go on trying to educate them, and explain that what they said was offensive, but carefully be sympathetic to them personally, when none of the other first #5818 assholes listened. The best I can hope for is to make them go away and persuade the audience that that behaviour is unnacceptable."

I especially agree with this.

Just a quick "Agreed" here. There have been several times in the recent past where the tone of discussions on the Internet and the manner in which other people have been treated have caused me to lose respect for a cause, or at least the self-proclaimed representatives of said cause, which normally I would heartily support. It might also cause me to avoid talking about the cause where I'd normally verbally support it, or stop identifying myself with that cause to avoid hassle. That's not a good way to help your side to Achieve Stuff.

(BTW, good on you for identifying yourself as a feminist. That's one of the causes I'm a little more jumpy about self-identifying these days, since it's rather easy for it to lead into a cross-examination, flat denial or insult from other people indentifying themselves in that way.)

Shouting at bigots may be unproductive in terms of getting them to change their minds. But then, getting people to change their minds is only one sort of fun to have. Catharsis is another sort of fun, as is the approval of one's peers.

I like shouting, and I like people who shout eloquently. Maybe rant would be a better word. I don't necessarily expect to agree but I enjoy the spectacle of a good shouty rant, it's like a firework, it is what it is - a transient thing of beauty. Charlie Brooker is a good example of someone with the knack of letting it rip like that.


I think I actually have research relating to this somewhere kicking about. If the internet is like any other form of human communication then it's a dead cert that tone will likely be more important then content but.

By the way, have you read this article by Pennyred? YMMV but I learned a lot from it.

I'll take a look at it tomorrow when I have a chance - off to bed in a mo!

This has been an interesting discussion to read. Thank you for starting it.

Been here before with the liberals are bad evangelists comment. They could take a leaf from the evangelicals' book.

As I say there, there's also a possible problem of clueless people blundering around forums where the other residents have already established what the community is about: that can apply if the subject is feminism and you need to know the True Meanings of "privilege" and "sexism" before you contribute; or if the subject is Linux and you need to know that Bill is Evil. Not sure what can be done about that: a closed forum will eventually start to want for members.


A lot of people have this problem with the tone argument, but the problem is that they're missing the first half of the conversation.

The conversation usually goes something like this:

person #1: Excuse me, you're standing on my foot. Please don't do that.

person #2: How dare you come into my space and criticize me like that. I would never do such a thing.

person #1: But if you just look down, you'll see you're actually standing on my foot right now. Honestly, it hurts quite a bit. You need to get off my foot, because you're actually causing me pain right now.

person #2: Now you're accusing me of deliberate physical assault! Oh, I know what *your* kind is like, always making false accusations about people like me! Why would anyone make such insane accusations about a good person like me? You're clearly the only one here who enjoys hurting people! Stop trolling me, you crazy troll!

person #1: Look, I'm not asking for much, just stop standing on my foot. STOP IT.

person #2: Well, I would have if you'd only asked nicely! But you stormed in here with your crazy accusations, so of COURSE I got defensive! I have no choice now but to keep standing on your foot. Otherwise I'm giving in to your mean dogpile bullying tactics, you meanies.

person #1: Okay, that is clearly a lie.

That's why you get people saying "don't use the tone argument." Because no matter how politely and calmly and academically the original complaint is expressed, *no tone is nice enough* to keep people from characterizing the argument as "angry," "mean," "shouting," "bullying," etc.

People don't use the tone argument to justify starting out mean. No one is doing that. People use the tone argument to *refute* the people who insist, "if you'd only been nicer, I would have understood your concerns and responded graciously." Because in the context of the conversation we've been having, "I would have listened if you'd been nicer" is almost always, *provably* a lie.

A good example of this is one of the threads on-- I think it's rozk's journal-- where Charles Stross came into the argument, called someone a idiotic fuckwitted troll, then called rydra_wong on her language when she *quoted it back to him* and demanded that she be "civil." That's the kind of people who are saying "be nicer".

Not everyone is doing that. For instance, you're being civil here, and I'm listening and talking to you. I've seen civil, informative debate on this topic. So it is possible. I've seen people with privilege listening to people without it, and learning, without being shouted at.

I've not seen anyone learning from being shouted at.

And the problem I have is that a lot of the conversations I've seen haven't been like the one you're giving above - they jump straight to "For fuck's sake, people like you just _enjoy_ standing on people's feet, don't they? Bastard!"

Now, this is usually because the person has encountered people before who do seem to enjoy standing on other people's feet - but nevertheless, it means that when I stand on people's feet (and I am going to occasionally, I'm clumsy), that the conversation skips the "You've stood on my foot. Get off." stage and leaps straight into someone haranguing me for my policy of deliberate foot-destruction.

I've apologised to people a lot online. It's not that hard to get me to do it. You just have to be polite.

Dealing with defensive fuckwits, on the other hand, requires a different approach, I'll give you.

So, basically, the problem is that people of color just keep getting so angry about racism, and the white people don't like that, so they decide they don't want to fight racism after all, because those people of color were angry about it. And then someone comes along and tries to silence the angry people of color by saying that anger about racism isn't productive. Because fighting racism isn't about oppression, it's about hurting white peoples' feelings.

Do I got that right?


Regretfully, I must decline your invitation

rydra_wong

2009-03-10 12:30 pm (UTC)

Something that definitely doesn't work:

Saying, "I might be willing to listen to what you have to say, but only if your performance is acceptable to me. Obviously, I am the sole arbiter of what is good enough. Now, dance for my amusement!"

Strangely, the tenuous chance that I might possibly be able to enlighten some random stranger who's already ignored plenty of thoughtful arguments is not actually that motivating to me.

P.S. If your reply is along the lines of "But don't you want people to listen?", I will laugh, and laugh, and laugh.

Edited at 2009-03-10 12:33 pm (UTC)

Re: Regretfully, I must decline your invitation

andrewducker

2009-03-10 12:42 pm (UTC)

Strangely, the tenuous chance that I might possibly be able to enlighten some random stranger who's already ignored plenty of thoughtful arguments is not actually that motivating to me.

Absolutely. Nor should you waste your time doing so. I try not to waste my time doing that either. Which is why I stayed the hell out of RaceFail except for posting a couple of links to summaries (Probably one of yours).

Saying, "I might be willing to listen to what you have to say, but only if your performance is acceptable to me. Obviously, I am the sole arbiter of what is good enough. Now, dance for my amusement!"

If you can't see the difference between this and "Stop shouting and swearing at me." then I think I've found the source of the problem.

Here via linkspam.

First note: One of the things I have found helpful in many, many of the posts in this discussion are the hyperlinks. Especially when they jump me back to a previous discussion which is now being analyzed or responded to... It means I can read the original discussion (assuming it hasn't been moved or erased or redirected to malware); and draw my own conclusions while I'm reading. I can read the context for the text.

Those links are missing from this post. I have no context to judge your claim that folks are unreasonably angry, other than my own reading - in which I see folks being reasonably angry. Maybe we're not reading the same posts... but I have no way of knowing, because you're not providing the context of your reading of the situation.

Second note: As mentioned above - not everything is about you. Or me. Or white people in general. Educating ourselves is our job, not the job of every person of colour we run across. Which is why I'm here - educating you is maybe my job as a white ally against racism.

Third: A link to the post I read yesterday that spoke to my heart about why the tone is angry sometimes.

These people are trying to share something with the rest of us. We're trying to talk to you. They're saying, "STOP PUNCHING ME IN THE FACE." We're saying, "THIS HURTS."
And you want that to be said nicely.


Lastly: I think, from comments earlier upthread that you're genuinely interested in some non-angry anti-racist educational links. May I suggest: starting here, especially the links at the bottom: The Great Race Discussion Linkspam and Links for Clueless White People.

ETA - Because I don't generally believe hit and run commenting is constructive - I've used my pre-work time up; and won't be back online until this afternoon or evening



Edited at 2009-03-10 01:18 pm (UTC)

There are no hyperlinks, because this is categorically not about any one particular argument.

And I know _why_ the tone is angry.

I've read a fair bit of deepad's writing. They're very good.

If I'm reading you right, you are basically saying "If you(generic) are nice to me then I will be nice to you."

If that is correct, then I think the important point to consider here is not so much whether or not someone talking to you is being nice, but whether or not you are being nice, first.

A very great deal of RaceFail09 is attempt by many people to show that the basic presumptions from which many white, US citizens (since this conversation is mostly American-centric) use are not nice. We think we are. Some of us do it better than others. We may even be under the impression that we are succeeding in being nice.

We aren't.

If that is the case (and you and I do not get to evaluate the veracity of that statement since someone is claiming hurt), why should we require the people we are being rude, dismissive, and insulting to be so careful and considerate in their handling of someone who is rude, dismissive, and insulting?

Sometimes shouting (and I agree with others in that you have frequently changed what 'shouting' really means in this post alone: please see your comments with liviapenn for examples) is the only way to make us realize that we are not holding up our end of the bargain. We are not being nice. We are not being polite. We are wrong and we have perfected ways in which to delude ourselves into thinking we aren't.

That doesn't change the fact that we're wrong. We've been told so many, many times.

Being shouted at is hard. It hurts. It's incredibly difficult to figure out where the rudeness is, let alone learn how to confront it. It's hard to control the instinctive response we all feel when we're shouted at, which is to shout back even louder WELL WHY ARE YOU SHOUTING AT ME?

We all do it. It's human. It's also irrelevant, because you need to take your basic premise, "if you are nice to me, then I will be nice to you" and follow it to the logical conclusion:

If someone is shouting at you, then it stands to reason that you are doing something that is considered not nice.

If that is correct, then I think the important point to consider here is not so much whether or not someone talking to you is being nice, but whether or not you are being nice, first.

Absolutely. And there has been a general presumption _on both sides_ that people on the other side are not nice.

And this is very understandable, considering the general cluelessness and unpleasantness of the vast majority of people. (Including me, of course)

That doesn't change the fact that we're wrong. We've been told so many, many times.
Some of us have, some of us haven't. Not all of us are American. Not all of us have race drummed into us on a daily basis.

follow it to the logical conclusion:
If someone is shouting at you, then it stands to reason that you are doing something that is considered not nice.

_Or_ the person doing the shouting has been so conditioned to expect _everyone_ to be not nice that they are assuming large levels of not-nice-ness lie behind something that is, in itelf, not so large, because in their previous experience, the small amount of not-niceness is a symptom of deep unpleasantness.

I've run into both. And I've been both - and had to be conditioned, having spent a long time leaping to conclusions, that I should ask first before assuming the worst. Nowadays I try to remember to ask people if they meant to hurt me, rather than assume that they did. Most of the time it turns out that they didn't mean to, and all is well. All I'm wishing for (and I'm aware that it's merely a wish) is that people would extend the same courtesy to me.

I'm also aware (due to a large amount of people pounding it into my head) that my post above is less clear than I'd like, and while people that know me reasonably well would interpret it in a reasonable way, people that don't know me are reading it otherwise. This is, of course, my fault. But changing it now, or taking it down, would be cowardly, and I'd rather have the opportunity to talk to people that come by and try to educate me.

1) "shouting" is a perception.
2) as someone accused of "shouting" quite often, i will say that being snarky, forthright, and direct works - in that i know of more than a few people who have come back to me months later to say i was right.

Thanks for the info. I do appreciate it.

I am, usually, not in favor of sharing the story of How I Became Slightly Less of a Jackass, but because you asked:

1) In high school, sparked by a Martin Luther King Jr Day assembly, the whole school went through an extremely painful, weeks-long RaceFail of its own. (Complete with bulletin board commenting. We are tech savvy people.) I was furious that the 'racist' PoC were insisting that because I was white, I wasn't capable of understanding their pain; I was particularly furious that they were forcing me to acknowledge that people had different races, because, omg, wasn't being colorblind the best possible option?

Until I expressed this opinion to a Latina friend, who snapped back, very angry, "I want you to see my fucking race. It's a big part of me. Don't tell me you'd rather not have to look at it."

2) Reading about the -- you know, I don't even actually remember which imbroglio it was, but it was the one that sparked Zvi's seminal post on the tone argument not working. Oh! It was the "Ronon in Midway" one, I think! About how Ronon (and other characters of color) are underrepresented and under-written. Anyway, I was dismayed at what I perceived to be the rudeness of people I mostly agreed with, and anyway wasn't this all kind of false outrage at an issue on the internet, for God's sake?

Until I saw Zvi's post, and delux_vivens's (since locked) post in which she was clearly, clearly furious, and not faking it. She ripped someone a new one for the mistake I was about to make. It stopped me from wedging my foot so far in my mouth it never would have come out; it also made me twig to the fact that I was missing something about this that made people so genuinely angry.

The reason I have trouble remembering what, exactly, this was about is that the anger sparked me to go and do some 101 reading and I spent most of February and March reading everything on Rydra's not quite but close to comprehensive race/fandom links list.

In both cases, the anger was not the argument. The argument was the argument, and it had been made many times, but to believe it, to struggle through the mass of prejudices I had become (and still am) I needed to recognize that someone was being hurt, in front of me. Someone was pissed off, and something was badly wrong, and I needed to know what before I made any other decisions.

I will add that while this is my anecdata, I agree with the other commenters that you are misunderstanding the substance of the tone argument, and that you think "being polite doesn't help, either" = "being angry DOES help MORE", which is not what anyone is saying, including me. I'm just saying being angry can help in different ways.

Thanks for the anecdatum :->

This sounds like what you went through:
http://dolphin--girl.livejournal.com/153506.html
I am hoping it is similarly useful for fandom.

The thing is, when people use the tone argument in race discussions (in any discussion between one group and another, more powerful group, really)--well, mostly, I think, they're using it because they don't want to have the conversation. It's a distraction, a way of not dealing with uncomfortable topics, and talking about word choice and punctuation, instead. There is no tone that would be polite enough, because then the racism would actually have to be discussed. Dude, even just calling someone a racist is apparently rude, because it's such an offensive word for a white person to hear. If people of colour hear the tone argument time and again, it's hardly surprising that they are sick of it, and think it's just another way of asking them to go stand quietly and not talk about the things that have hurt them.

But even if that weren't true, I still think your analysis would be wrong. You present this as simply a case of the best way to educate or convince. It's all about the effectiveness of the argument, and...yeah, I absolutely agree. In most situations, being nice and polite and rational will appeal to your audience. But for one thing, education isn't necessarily what all these conversations are about. Sometimes, poc are just angry. It's not their responsibility to educate you, or make you feel better--even if that's how you'd like to be treated. Sometimes, what they're saying is that they've been hurt. If someone physically hurts me--intentionally or otherwise--I can't guarantee that my reaction is always a model of politeness. I think this is the same argument, only in this instance, many of the people have been hurt over and over again, by the same thoughtless behaviour.

Let's really assume that the tone could have been nicer: is that really the point? Isn't it incredible privilege to assume that your hurt feelings, or your irritation that you weren't addressed in a way exactly pleasing to you, should outweigh that racism? I'm still trying to learn about this stuff, but I think that when people say, "don't bring up the tone," what they mean is, "focus on the content, instead." Yes, maybe that's hard because you do feel you've been treated badly, but, if truly learning how to avoid causing hurt in the future is important to you, you should work to see what's really being said, because it's not about you. Most people of colour aren't yelling at you because you were the first person to hurt them. They're shouting at you because so many people have hurt them before. Maybe you find that unfair--maybe it is unfair--but that doesn't mean you shouldn't listen, or that you should respond by suggesting that you would, if only they'd ask nicely.

(for the record, I mostly mean you generically in the above paragraph. I'm not presuming to know what your history is in online debates.)

I think, they're using it because they don't want to have the conversation.

I'm not. I hope that counts as a tiny piece of evidence. I'm here, having the conversation, and glad that 98% of the commenters here haven't been rude at all, and wishing that more people were this polite when debating online.

But for one thing, education isn't necessarily what all these conversations are about.
That's fine. I was only engaging with the "tone" argument, which, as I have encountered it, says that politeness is ineffective. I wasn't trying to say that people shouldn't vent, or shout at bigots for other reasons.

Nor was I saying that people _shouldn't_ listen. I merely said they were likely to be pushed away, in my experience. And I stand by that.

Here via linkspam. Read through because interesting.

Adding to an obliquely-made point: granted not everyone is susceptible to being shouted at. You yourself, for instance. But you also demonstrate beautifully that people remember butthurt a lot more than they remember cookies. They resent the butthurt and they complain about the butthurt and other people hear them complaining about the butthurt.

Good cop/bad cop is instructive here. One feminist may cause butthurt. The owner of the hurt butt complains. Then another feminist - hopefully - comes along and gently points out that perhaps they got their butt hurt because they hurt the other person first, possibly in ways they weren't aware of. If the owner of the butt listens and understands, that's progress. But the conversation with the butt-comforter would probably never have happened if the butt-hurter hadn't caused butthurt in the first place, because butthurt is what gets people's attention.

1/2 OMG, I have never gone over the character limit before!

brown_betty

2009-03-11 05:24 am (UTC)

Okay, I've been reading through these comments and your responses, and I may be repeating some things, but to me the main issues are:

1. It's nearly impossible to be "polite" while talking about race. The deck is stacked. It's not a conversation "polite" people have. There is a conception of what "polite" is, and it doesn't involve confronting people on their racism. Merely bring up racism is sufficient to make the conversation "impolite." Now I put those in scare quotes because I acknowledge that that version of "polite" is different from attempting to show respect to fellow human beings, but it's there, and quite often appeals to politeness are in fact demands to shut up.

1.1. It's even harder if you're a POC. POC are routinely *perceived* as being rude where a white person would not. In this thread, (and I'm omitting the meat of their comments, although they did occur in this sequence, please go here for full context.)
Stross: You're asking too much of EBear, and you're giving too much credit to someone who is either culturally ignorant (of the celtic mythology they were commenting on) or a malignant fuckwitted troll (I cannot distinguish without more data).

Rydra Wong: [Offers counterargument.] Do feel free to call me a "malignant fuckwitted troll", though.

Stross: No need, because you're not. But do you have to escallate to a combative tone? Can we try and be civil this time round? I'm going to try and be civil. I hope other people will do likewise.
And while Stross could have forgotten those were his exact words (there's about six hours between when he first says it, and when he calls Rydra on the exact language) he clearly feels at least that when he says it he is not lowering the tone, and when she says it, she is. Rydra is white, but her username doesn't give that impression, and while I doubt Stross intends to use a double standard, I think the fact that he literally applies one set of standards to himself and another to Rydra is fairly obvious here.

For another example of a similar phenomenon, here's a search on the phrase, Michelle Obama looks angry. I was trying to find a specific instance I remembered where a woman claimed she could tell that Michelle was angry, but the number of hits returned made me want to vomit, so if you would like, I invite you to look through those links, and if you don't have the stomach, I don't blame you, because neither do I. Suffice it to say, Black women are often accused of being 'angry' when they are doing anything but smiling and nodding. This means both that they are particularly unreceptive to being told they need to be less angry, and that they are likely to be perceived as angrier than they are. I'm not saying this is the case here (I doubt you know which of the participants are Black women) but it is a reason why they are unreceptive. It may be helpful to think of it as telling a woman, "Smile!" It's not bad advice in general, but it is very bad advice to certain people, from certain people.

2. Relatedly, many people have pointed out that you're getting the fall-out from the fact that there is a long history of people using this argument in bad-faith. Comparisons are odious, but think of it like a woman's fear of a man who stands in the only doorway while she's alone in the office. Probably that man is not a rapist. Treating him like a rapist is rude. But if he demands that she stop cringing, because he's not going to rape her, dammit, and he doesn't appreciate being treated like a rapist? He's part of the problem.

In case that is too abstract: when you are treated like J. Random Annoying White Guy, it is because you have not yet proved you are not J. Random Annoying White Guy, and giving you the benefit opens people up to pain. Sometimes one is not able to take on the possibility of more pain.

2.1 It is probably the case that some of the rudeness you're experiencing is from people who consider themselves white allies (Oh, despite the name, I am also white, in case I have been misleading you) is because they see you doing things that they themselves were doing before they came to a painful realization about how their actions and words were hurting those they cared about. They see you saying something thoughtless, and get angry at themselves, and take it out on you. This is unfair to you. I did it myself, and will likely do it again, and since I cannot apologize to the people I was rude to, I will apologize to you.

3. As you say, rudeness is (probably) not as effective a teaching tool as patience, understanding, and forgiveness, and if our goal were to teach, then the rudeness would be counterproductive, and frankly sort of inexcusable. But while it is everyone's responsibility to learn, (well, I would argue, but let us say for a moment it is) it is not anyone's responsibility to help you learn, unless they're your spiritual guide, or mom, or something.

3.1 That said, you're still dragging in all this energy, and oh my fucking god person-hours, trying to convince you that racism makes people angry and it is allowed to be angry at injustice. Which is sort of annoying.

I think my numbers may have hurt more than they helped, but they give my comment a spurious look of organization, and I like the effect, so I will leave them and I hope you do not mind.

I know this is rather late to the discussion, but having read all the comments on this and the follow-up post, one important point appears not to have been made explicitly made (although you, yourself, appear to have picked up on it implicitly.)

The fact that you have access to a text, because it is published on the Internet, does not necessarily imply that you are the audience for a text. It is entirely possible that a discussion of race and racism on the Internet is not at the elementary level of discussion, but rather, is written for people who have some experience in discussing race and racism already, and share some base assumptions, like that the tone argument is, generally speaking, a lie.

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