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Taking on the Tone Police

Reverse Racism Isn't a Thing, Even in Speech

By Haybitch AbersnatchyPublished 7 years ago 4 min read
Even Peaceful Protest is Violent Against the SystemPhoto courtesy of Spenser H CC

Every now and then a prominent Black celebrity will be banned from Twitter or some other platform for saying something incendiary about white privilege. In the wake of such, my liberal friends often speak up, proclaiming "I can't support hate, on any side, in any form;" or "it is never okay to stereotype an entire race;" or even "they can't expect to be taken seriously when they act like that."

I think the reason why it is so hard to explain why that attitude is problematic, is because on the surface, everything they are saying is true. Society survives in large part from the efforts of everyone to be polite. Fairness demands that we have the same expectations for everyone.

Of course, our world is more complicated than that. Consideration for circumstance is an important part of our structure of civility and justice. It is under the pretense of consideration for circumstance that the judicial system doesn't have standard sentencing rules. The idea is that mitigating factors change the severity of crimes. Of course, that's not exactly how it has worked in practice, but the idea is nice, all the same.

Of course, consideration of circumstance of words has the same bias as with sentencing. While in the abstract idea remains, the truth of the matter is that it is much easier to understand the context of people like us. That means that when Uncle Donny makes an idle comment about killing all the whores, everyone excuses it because he is in the middle of a rocky divorce. But when Donny the Black internet comedian makes the same comment, we lack that context.

This is especially exaggerated in disadvantaged communities. It is very hard for people to see their own privilege, which means that it is hard to understand the context of minority life. There is no way to fully comprehend the pain and suffering that fueled any angry comment, and without a sense of the context, we are not in a place to judge.

However. There is an additional issue with white people criticizing black or minority speech that has nothing to do with politeness. That is inherent power.

As a poor white LGBT girl, I wouldn't say that I have a lot of privilege or power. But my voice will still always be taken more seriously than that of my black contemporaries. It has nothing to do with the words that I am speaking, but the simple fact that I am white adds weight to those words. No matter what intersectionality you experience, western culture has always valued white voices over the voices of people of color. This power structure is inherent in our society. As a person coming from a historically colonialist demographic, I cannot escape this power dynamic.

As white allies, our role is not to police black statements. Ever. They get enough of that from bigots and social norms already. Our role is to acknowledge their pain. Sometimes that is hard when they are speaking from a place of pain and anger, but the only role we can morally take is to accept the victim's story as valid. If their words were out of line, their own community will censure them. But when we, as white people, take the role of censuring their behavior we are stepping into the role of white plantation owners — telling the lesser humans how to behave in polite society.

It isn't intentional. But that is the cultural implications of morally policing disadvantaged groups. Our ancestors have ensured that we simply cannot do it anymore. We cannot escape the historical power structure any more than people of color can escape it. Which means that, no matter how pure your intentions, how clear your insight into the evils of hate, how sincere your well-wishes, by criticizing black speech you hurt the speaker.

While in the abstract, it rings of empathy and fairness to talk about limiting racist talk on all sides, such dialogue almost always serves to support and reinforce current racial dynamics. It silences the people who are suffering from systemic oppression - because our standards of fairness are meant to reinforce our systems. Even bad ones. In discussions of racism this has resulted in people of color being trapped in a Catch-22. If they speak politely and clearly about racism, then people often disregard their comments. After all, if it was really an issue, they would make a bigger deal about it. But, if they speak violently against racism, then they are called out for misbehaving.

I am not excusing bad behavior. Society works much better if we work together. But polite discussion has not historically worked to end discrimination. The powers that be (which usually means rich white dudes, but also corporations and other large entities) like the system to stay how it is. Any act to change or upturn that system is inherently misbehaving. It will always be rude to point out when someone is being racist or discriminatory, because our social systems support racism and discrimination.

Sometimes it takes a little bit of verbal violence to change the system. As allies, our role is not to police minority speech, no matter how inflammatory. Instead, put that energy to stopping the violence that led to the outburst in the first place.

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About the Creator

Haybitch Abersnatchy

I'm just a poor girl, from a poor family; spare me this life of millennial absurdity. I also sometimes write steamy romances under the pen name Michaela Kay such as "To Wake A Walker."

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    Haybitch AbersnatchyWritten by Haybitch Abersnatchy

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