White Americans often derail an argument about race by making it about their feelings. The feelings of white people, for some strange reason, matter more than the truth. White women’s tears are a good example.
Sometimes they make it about your feelings as a person of colour: you are oversensitive, angry, hateful, whining, etc.
Either way the argument is shifted away from facts and reasons, rights and wrongs – to what? Feelings. Feelings which only they can know – even if they are yours! (Try telling them you are not hateful, for example.) That puts them in control of the now-derailed argument.
In the most common case they get angry because they think you are calling them a racist. That they might in fact be racist does not matter – just their hurt feelings.
But while their feelings are the centre of the known universe, they use your feelings to belittle your experience, to assume you are unreasonable, the kind who imagines things or blows them out of proportion.
Sometimes they use their feelings as a kind of blackmail. As Renee of Womanist Musings put it:
We are routinely told if we spoke in nicer terms we would be less alienating, as though whiteness has any real interest in divesting itself of its power. Gee, if only we had realized that the key to ending white hegemony was speaking in respectful terms, it never would have been necessary to go through the heartache and strife of a civil rights movement.
Some call this the tone argument. Nezua the Unapologetic Mexican calls it the Drowning Maestro. Some of his examples:
- “We’d admit about your point if you presented it nicer.”
- “People would listen to your complaint if you weren’t so loud.”
- “If you want people to care about this, you should learn to be smoother.”
… what really bothers them is that a brown person has the nerve to speak with such self-confidence and passion. This, in fact, scares them. … what is really desired is for the brown person to admit the desired hierarchy, to get “back in place.”
He agrees with Renee that they have no interest in hearing people of colour – not even the nicest, smoothest and most respectful ones.
How we know: if you stepped on my foot, say, I might be angry, I might be loud, I might seem “oversensitive” or like I am whining (after all it is my foot that is in pain, not yours), I might not be smooth, I might seem hateful, etc. But then for you to say stuff like this:
- “I’d admit I stepped on your foot if you said it nicer.”
- “I would listen to your complaint if you weren’t so loud.”
- “If you want me to care about your foot, you should learn to be smoother.”
only proves that you do not care at all, that you are a jerk who just wants me to shut up and “move on”.
– Abagond, 2009.