A thought about tone and comfort

If you speak about injustice and privileged people get offended, people will condescendingly explain to you that things are easier to hear if you are nice, and that you are more likely to convince people if you speak to them respectfully.

This is true, and often important to keep in mind – but people who say that to you in a conversation about injustice are usually missing the point.

They’re ignoring something fundamentally important about addressing injustice: Sometimes, the goal is not to convince privileged people to treat others better. Sometimes, the goal is to convince marginalized people that the way they are being treated is unjust and that it’s possible to resist.

There can be a tradeoff between saying things in a way it is easy for victims to hear and saying things in a way that it is easy for privileged people to hear. Sometimes, no matter which way you say it, upsetting one group or the other is inevitable. 

When you choose to say things in a way that is easy and comfortable for marginalized people to hear, you are likely to upset privileged people who are used to being addressed deferentially in these matters. And they will make their displeasure known, and other people will lecture you about being kind and building bridges.

When you choose to say things in a way that is easy and comfortable for privileged people to hear, you are likely to hurt marginalized people who are accustomed to having their feelings disregarded. They are unlikely to complain, because complaining rarely helps and often invites retaliation. When you choose to make your words comfortable for privileged people at the expense of marginalized people, no one will lecture you about kindness, tone, or saying things in a way people can hear. It will not occur to them that it matters how the victims of injustice feel in conversations about injustice.

This dynamic will be invisible to those who lecture about tone and kindness, but it should not be invisible to you. Do not let others pressure you into disregarding the feelings of marginalized people for the sake of the powerful.