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January 2013
22

The Dangerous Line Between Compliments and Racial Tone Policing

I don’t like when White readers of Gradient Lair post "well-written, well-researched and informative post!" as a comment or comment upon reblog. They aren’t my high school English teachers or past undergrad/grad professors. They aren’t my parents. They don’t add that kind of comment to White writers’ blogs, especially male ones. I have NEVER, EVER seen this comment posted on a White writer’s blog, especially if he is male, and I am an avid article and blog reader in addition to being an avid book reader.

I’m assuming they don’t visit a Black writer’s blog to “check” if the post was written well, though of course the actual writing style (which can vary) helps to convey the message that any writer writes. Either address the topic in the post with agreement, dissent or questions (and not "can you teach me about racism?" ), or simply click “like.” Or, do nothing. If the writing style is their focus over content, explain why; what sentences or paragraphs illustrate their liking?

These structure-related comments are patronizing, especially considering the history of (and present-day) racism in this country as it pertains to reading, writing and education. They may have meant well. I don’t think every White person who comments this way is trying to be a spiteful jackass.* However, meaning well is irrelevant. IRRELEVANT.

Sometimes I delete comments like this. Sometimes I try to be nice about it and say "thanks," but I won’t do this anymore as it implies a bad message; and most of all, I simply don’t like it, thus I am not required to indulge it.

I don’t need structure critiques on my writing, especially from Whites who assume they’re smarter solely because of how White privilege shapes their thinking. The reality is many Black writers have more formal education and/or engage in more self-taught/organic education, are well-read (and this often includes everything the average White person reads AND a plethora of genius in print/online from Black and other writers of colour; writing that many Whites are never exposed to or purposely ignore) and are intellectually superior to the Whites applauding their writing as if Black writers are babies who made their first potty run.

Think about the level of respect they apply to White writers and why that alters when they read from Black writers. I know that for many White readers, they can’t fathom or intellectually/emotionally process the experiences that Black writers write about so they nervously applaud syntax and diction instead. The thing is…Black writers are NOT trying to create the “perfect” essay to be submitted to some imaginary White teacher. They are writing in whatever way they choose, for their intended audience, which may or may not include White readers.

* As far as jackasses go, I am not even addressing racists who engage in ad hominem attacks, are cultural voyeurs who are “stunned” that Black writers have complex thoughts and feelings and are human too, or “allies” who plagiarize because they know that White and/or male privilege means a Black woman’s thoughts and words in their mouths could mean more attention, fame, money or a career boost. I am talking about Whites (who STILL OF COURSE benefit from White privilege, and culturally, White supremacist thoughts may guide their reactions to Black writers) who are making an effort to connect. If this effort is genuine, they need start by actually reading the post instead of being afraid and ending up choosing to focus on sentence structure or the presence of a thesis sentence or paragraphs.

Focus on the message, not “grading papers,” because honestly, this falls under tone policing, with the implication that if one writes well, then one has the right to talk about race (in the same way that a racist suggests that a “nice” tone will “help our cause” more [as if racism is solely about Black people and has no White involvement] as if MLK didn’t have a nice tone and still ended up assassinated…so spare me…). And this…I do not accept. EVERY Black person has the right to speak of their experiences in any tone, at any educational level, at any time they choose to.