Inclusive Language Series: Tone Policing

Many people are unaware of tone policing and may not recognize how it can be expressed. So, what is tone policing? According to Oxford Dictionary, tone policing is “the action or practice of criticizing the angry or emotional manner in which a person has expressed a point of view, rather than addressing the substance of the point itself.” In other words, tone policing is a tactic to dismiss the ideas being communicated and is aimed at the tone of a disagreement, instead of looking at the facts or logic of the content.

Marginalized groups, especially Black women, are often found victims of tone policing when their voices are silenced. Tone policing can undermine the efforts of anti-racism, as it allows for doubts on the legitimacy of statements of oppression, discrimination, and racism. It can imply that the statement holds no weight if any type of emotion is expressed along side it. How would you feel if you were told that your statement would be better received if you would “calm down” or “there’s no need to be upset?” It is important for people to be allowed to express their emotion in different ways and to normalize the expression of all emotions, even the ones that are considered negative.

Here are a few things to keep in mind to avoid tone policing.

  • You need to recognize the indicators of tone policing, such as telling someone to calm down or to lower their tone for their message to be better received.
  • Understand that various levels of emotions will often be expressed, especially during political or hot topic conversations.
  • To refrain from invalidating other people’s feelings, try self-reflecting on your desire to invalidate their emotions and think about if this is due to your own discomfort.
  • Tone policing must stop, especially when engaging in conversations regarding experiences with discrimination, oppression, and racism.

Resources to learn more:

Upcoming Holidays & Observances:

  • December 8: Immaculate Conception of Mary, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception celebrates the solemn celebration by various Christian denominations of belief in the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
  • December 8: Bodhi Day, a Buddhist holiday that commemorates the day the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama (Shakyamuni), experienced enlightenment; also known as Bodhi in Sanskrit and Pali.
  • December 10: International Human Rights Day, established by the United Nations in 1948 to commemorate the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights