One of the strongest messages a white baby boomer received growing up was the need to behave well. “Pretty is as pretty does,” was one such admonition, particularly tailored for girls. “Fools’ names and fools’ faces are often seen in public places,” was another.
This conditioning must be overcome in order to raise a dissenting voice.
The changing of monarchs in the United Kingdom produced an outburst of fawning over crowned heads as well as an outburst of truth telling and its inevitable companion, tone policing.
Scots were arrested protesting the ascension of the rather unpopular Charles III. Some with signs were put in handcuffs, while others who boo’d appear to have gotten away with it.
The quintessential tone policing remark was predictable. As reported in The National:
Donald Maclaren, 64, of Livingston, said: “It’s very disrespectful, there is a time and a place if you want to protest, but this isn’t it.”
See, his mother just died, so it’s not the time and place to protest a man who just inherited a vast fortune and is exempt from the 40% inheritance tax others must pay.
No matter how rich you are, you are likely to be totally clueless about how bad tone policing makes you look. Billionaire labor nemesis Jeff Bezos chastised a Black academic on Twitter who wrote: “I heard the chief monarch of a thieving raping genocidal empire is finally dying. May her pain be excruciating.”
His criticism and the pushback to it greatly elevated her original tweet (which now appears to have been censored by Twitter). More tone policing came from Carnegie Mellon University where she is employed. They said her remarks did not reflect their values despite Dr. Uju Anya’s explanation to a journalist:
“I am the child and sibling of survivors of genocide.
From 1967-1970, more than 3 million civilians were massacred when the Igbo people of Nigeria tried to form the independent nation of Biafra..
this genocide was directly supported and facilitated by the British government..
weapons, bombs, planes, military vehicles, and supplies were sent to kill us and protect their interests in the oil reserves on our land.”
If you’re white and live in a racist country like the U.S., you’ve probably been in lots of situations where you were hearing white supremacist rhetoric while wondering what to say in response.
That’s if you could find the courage to speak up at all.
You might have been at a family holiday dinner.
You might have been in a hair salon where the person you angered might be holding scissors next to your face.
Is it a coincidence that the part of the U.S. where many still revere the Confederacy has the reputation of being especially polite?
No matter where you live in the U.S., you were probably raised to be conflict averse in a society where “conflict” is a euphemism for war.
So there’s likely an element of fear of violence involved in the calculus about what to say or whether to say anything.
Doris Lessing, one of my favorite authors, grew up white in apartheid colonial Africa, the part that is now Zimbabwe. Her penchant for telling the truth about British colonialism among other things did not always make her popular. She died in 2013 but I’ll give her the last word: