Tuesday, September 21, 2010

on "fail" and "the tone argument"

I first ran into "the tone argument" at The Privilege of Politeness. Wikia's summary for feminists is as good as any: "A tone argument is an argument used in discussions, sometimes by Concern trolls and sometimes as a Derailment, in which it is suggested that feminists would be more successful if only they expressed themselves in a more pleasant tone."

The tone argument has been referenced by people of all hues and genders who think their righteous issue, racism or sexism or ableism, gives them a right to speak any way they wish.

I started thinking about it after yesterday's tweeting:

Every time I see someone use the "fail" construct in what's supposed to be a serious, adult conversation, I lose respect for them.
It only happened once, and I am thoroughly ashamed. It was failfail. Oops.
While I agree the fail clanks, "people who talk like me" ain't got a monopoly on serious or adult or respect.

(For all values of "me," mind.)
Full agreement. Though I'll add that failfans aren't big on respect. They call it the "tone argument."
From what I've seen, those two transactions typically occur in differing though yes sometimes overlapping contexts.

Being told to display respect with appropriately limited markers in order to be taken seriously is frustrating, yes.

(But what I've seen hasn't been much at all.)
Frustrating, sure, but you can't complain about not getting respect when you're not giving respect.

Malcolm X: “Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone; but if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery.”

I tried adopting "tone argument" logic to give up my "privilege of politeness." Didn't help a bit.
I will grant that matters are frequently taken far too personally in these disputes.
Me, too. Separating what matters to you from your sense of identity is tough.
I was called on my tone this morning. I thought about defending it, then realized that dwelling on it in any way would distract from the issue we were discussing. So I wrote, "sorry about the tone" and continued with the subject.

So far as I can tell, the people who bring up "the tone argument" are middle and upper-class. Which may be why they haven't noticed that there's something astonishingly classist about the idea that "some people" can't mind their tone.

Frankly, I think few working class people of any race would buy "the tone argument." Their response would more likely be, "Didn't your mama teach you any manners?"