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 the 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 alongside 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 emotions 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 and Observances:

December 3–24 ADVENT

A Christian season of celebration leading up to the birth of Christ.

December 7-15 CHANUKAH • Jewish

Eight-day “Festival of Lights”, also known as Hanukkah, celebrating the rededication of the Temple to the service of God in 164 BCE. Commemorates the victory of the Maccabees over the Greek King, Antiochus, who sought to suppress freedom of worship.


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Also known as Rohatsu, commemorates the day that the Buddha, Siddharta Gautama, experienced enlightenment or spiritual awakening (bodhi). Celebrated on the eighth day either of December or the 12th month of the lunar calendar.


On this day in 1948 the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.