I have made my fair share of sarcastic commentary regarding "tone," but I feel that it is important to seriously address it. On more than one occasion in the comment section some
privilege denying overly concerned reader has felt that it is necessary to remind me that it is possible to catch more flies with honey than vinegar. Of course this advice is offered with the best of intentions (vicious eye roll)
This quaint little phrase is an exercise in discipline. It tells the speaker that they do no have the right to raise an issue, and that they do not have the right to their anger. Is it really possible to see an injustice or a systemic inequality without feeling some kind of anger, especially if you are the person who is existing as the marginalized body?
This stay sweet language, reminds blacks of the time when all of our language had to be deferential to our white masters. It only serves to inform us that despite all of our so-called advances, we still do not live in a world where our expression can be validated.
To challenge white hegemony is a threat to ruling forces and this why we are continually reminded about our tone. In truth, no matter how the message is conveyed it will be subject to discipline; while the rantings and ravings of racists are considered completely acceptable.
The reminders to watch our tone tells people of colour that we do not have a right to our expression. It also reminds us that we are not equal beings; and therefore should not challenge whiteness or its right to rule. It says that we must beg for the recognition that white bodies are encoded with from birth.
Black anger is threatening because it seeks to upset the racial hierarchy that has been in place since the first slave stepped foot on this continent. We are constructed as savages, or as beasts without rationale thought to maintain the idea that our subjugation is natural.
The high levels of poverty, the lack of access to good education, the violent assaults of black women, the invisibility in the media and our over representation in the prison population are not social phenomenon that could inspire anything but misery and contempt, yet we are still expected to shuck and jive to make whites comfortable with their actions. Some people simply do not want to know the truth. Acknowledging the second class citizenship of blacks would mean acknowledging the current power differential. It would mean owning white privilege.
There is a power differential in western society and that cannot be denied by any thinking person. When someone feels that they have a right to tell a person of colour that they should watch their tone, what they are doing is exercising that power. Discourse is part of the way we understand and order our world; therefore when one can control how an idea is expressed, one can control the idea.
We are not taught to see white rage in its various forms as threatening. White rage is always deemed an expression of justice despite the fact that for people of colour it has meant slavery, beatings, murder and lynchings. Whites claim that their rage is an expression of fear of the darker, menacing aspects of society, but this is ridiculous when we consider who has historically had the ability to inflict harm. It is only black rage that has no place because it seeks to redress past wrongs.
The fear of the dark invading hordes is a fallacy that has been perpetuated to reinforce the idea that white rule is not only natural but good for all. This is in part why black liberation speech is so threatening. On some level it is understood that we have a right to our anger. On some level there is a distinct fear of retribution and reprisal.
Imagine if justice meant not only making things equal today, but redressing past wrongs. Imagine if blacks suddenly became entitled to all of the results of their labour.... reparations. Imagine if blacks decided on payment in kind for all of the blood that has been shed in the name of white hegemony. Imagine if black women suddenly became entitled to inflict the same kind of pain that has come with our rapes and forced sterilization. This is at the heart of white fear; not that we should achieve equality, but that we would seek retribution. It is seen as better to quash any kind of liberation philosophy than to admit the barbarity that POC have been subjected too in fear that these same sins would be visited upon whites. Black anger is threatening because white people do not want to be subject to the same kind of hatred and marginalization that POC have withstood for generations.
Though I understand this fear, I will not sweeten my words or pretend that my indignation is not justified. The racist, patriarchal, white supremacist state needs to be brought to its knees. Though whiteness fears the consequences of its decline, my ability to be recognized as human depends on it. No amount of honey or sweet talk can cover the ugliness that racism leads to in society. White rule is ugly and it is time that this is recognized.