Do You Believe in Justice and Equality?

[W]hen people say that they don't like my tone, or when they say they can't support the "militancy" of Black Lives Matter, or when they say that it would be easier if we just didn't talk about race all the time—I ask one question:

Do you believe in justice and equality?

Because if you believe in justice and equality you believe in it all of the time, for all people....

When people of color speak out about systemic racism, they are opening up all of that pain and fear and anger to you. They are not doing this because they enjoy it; it is an incredibly painful and vulnerable experience. We do this because we have to, because systemic racism is killing us. And yes, that pain and fear and anger will sometimes show in our words and our actions. But to see all of that pain, and how we fight still after entire lifetimes of struggle—and then to tell us to be more polite is just plain cruel.

To refuse to listen to someone's cries for justice and equality until the request comes in a language you feel comfortable with is a way of asserting your dominance over them in the situation. The oppressed person reaching out to you is already disadvantaged by the oppression they are trying to address. By tone policing, you are increasing that disadvantage by insisting that you get to determine if their grievances are valid and will only decide they are so if, on top of everything they are already enduring, they make the effort to prioritize your comfort. Whether you are consciously meaning to do this or not, this is the effect tone policing has on people of color.

—from So You Want to Talk About Race, pages 204, 207-8.

About the Author

Ijeoma Oluo

Ijeoma Oluo is a writer, speaker and internet yeller. She is the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller So You Want to Talk About Race and most recently, Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America. Her work on race has been featured in The Guardian, The New York Times and The...

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