The tone argument is where you object to someone else’s argument based on its tone: it is too angry, too hateful, not calm enough, not nice enough, etc. It is a logical fallacy because none of those things has anything to do with whether the truth was spoken. It is used to derail and silence.
The privileged use it against the marginalized. This post looks at one case of that: white racists in America using it against blacks when talking about racism.
- “I am offended.”
- “We would listen to you if you said it more nicely.”
- “You are so full of hate.”
- Blacks are angry, uppity, whining, etc.
Some things to keep in mind if they use it on you:
The whites who use it have no interest whatsoever in what you have to say – no matter what your tone. The tone thing is just to shut you up and dismiss you as an unreasonable person. What you said made them feel uncomfortable and tone is an excuse not to deal with it seriously.
No matter how nicely and calmly and reasonably you make your points some will still say you are whining or angry or full of hate. In their heads whites are so wonderful that to say anything bad about them can only come from hatred – no matter how many facts back you up. So a bad tone can get read into your words whether it is there or not.
If it were as simple as having the right tone then racism would have died out ages ago.
So screw tone. No reasonable person is going to fault you for being angry about racism. Those who do, those who expect you to be not only sweet and calm but to value their feelings over your own are closed-minded jerks. You might want to give them a piece of your mind, but do not fool yourself into thinking you can reason with them: they have already placed themselves beyond reason.
I used to think that whites were brainwashed and just did not know any better. They certainly act as if they are clueless innocents, most of them. But the tone argument shows that many are not.
When a clueless innocent hurts you and you tell him, he wants to know what went wrong so he can stop it and make it right. He apologizes and means it. Because he never meant to hurt you in the first place.
But a person who uses the tone argument does the opposite: he refuses to face up to the wrong he has done or do anything about it, much less apologize. Instead he turns it on you, making it not about what you said but how you said it.
Those are the actions of someone who knows he did wrong – or does not care whether he did wrong – and refuses to do anything about it. Those are the actions of a cold-hearted bastard, not a clueless innocent.