This post is from Ross Raffin, who I felt could better speak to this issue than I could.
In the first decade of the 21st century, non-violent revolutions by popular mobilization have overthrown dictatorial governments in Serbia, Georgia, Ukraine, Tunisia, Egypt, Kyrgyztan. In that same decade, Occupy Wallstreet managed to do little more than become a national joke. When American mass mobilization has worked in recent times, it was because the goal itself was spreading awareness. But beyond minor, short term victories by animal activist groups an others who target the funding of private organizations, nearly all of the grassroots, non-astroturf liberal movements in America’s newest century have been an embarrassment.
While the causes of this can be argued, a surprising impediment to the solution exists: a knee-jerk reaction to any advice given to an excluded group by “allies” not from that group. While Serbians gladly took notes from American operatives, while Tunisians and Egyptians were tutored by Georgians, and while Kyrgyztan’s grassroots movement were trained by what are commonly known as “white boys,” liberal movements in America shunned the very idea of tactical advice from an “outsider.”
Now, the roots of this grip are quite understandable. Tone policing and respectability politics have long been used to force oppressed minorities to behave in a way that comforts the masses at the expense of the oppressed group. But if a 1 percenter walked up to Occupy and said “hey guys, did you know that are nearly 200 other non-violent tactics you could be using that don’t involve sitting in the middle of the street assuming bankers will call for new laws if you make their commute too long?” then this “ally” has violated his duty to stand silently by and watch the movement burn itself to the ground.
In this model, the “good” ally waits for the entire Occupy Movement campaign to collapse
rather than suggest a change which could accomplish it’s goals. It is strange, then, that this role of “good ally” is only slightly less harmful than active sabotage by an agent provocateur.
So, as a “ally” and “cracker,” I am going to do what a REAL ally does: weigh the costs of inserting myself into a dialogue whose issues primarily impact an excluded group with the costs of sitting back and watching that representatives of the group engage in harmful tactics.
The immediate response of “non-crackers don’t need saving” is absolutely correct. However, it is just as wrong to say “as part of the cracker culture, even if I know a way to help out excluded minorities, I’m going to keep my mouth shut so non-crackers like me better.” If a non-cracker stumbles and trips, it’s not racism to hold a hand out if he wants to be be pulled back up. Especially if the cracker and non-cracker’s next move is to bean the nearest Klan leader in the face.
But if all “allies” care about are how they’re perceived, they’ll let the non-cracker stumble and fall. Let him or her run up against the Klan with no backup because to give any help would make you look “oppressive.” Or perhaps, the ally thinks the best to help is to do whatever the non-cracker says, and if the ally sees a Klansmen about to stab the non-cracker in the back, the ally should simply stay silent and hope the non-crackers requests help before its too late.
Unless the civil rights leaders are to be accused of tone policing, then it is time to make crystal clear the difference between oppressive tone policing and effective strategy and tactics. Nothing Yale students have encountered even remotely resembles the physical and spiritual harassment of civil rights protestors. The mere fact that they weren’t able to hit back when hit, shoot back when shot, and spit at when spit on is an exponentially greater “tone policing” than saying “Don’t spit on teachers because they say something that may be racist.”
There is a litmus test for when something said should be disregarded as “tone policing” versus “effective strategy and tactic.” If the following questions are answered with “yes” then feel free to rage on a cracker.
1. Is the intent of the advice primarily to increase comfort levels of members outside the excluded group?
2. Implementing the advice either will not effect the prospects of achieving an ideal outcome or the advice will hurt those prospects.
3. If a civil rights leader used these words, you’d suspect they were alien impersonators. (Real-life example: “When you talk about poverty, it makes your privileged classmates feel uncomfortable like they don’t know as much as you.”)
4. The advice has no empirical evidence or argument for why it will achieve the goals of the protest.
If the answers to all four of the above questions are “no,” then it is irresponsible for a cracker to keep to him or herself simply because he/she wants to seen as “politically correct” at the expense of social progress.
Here are some real-life examples of when advice was tone policing or not.
Tone Policing: After responding to classmates who say “All Lives are Equal” you are told “you were aggressive with your classmates in the way you questioned them.”
Effective Strategy: When raising awareness of institutional racism, it is suggested you keep media attention on the fundamental problem instead of creating an over-reaction guaranteed to suck the media narrative into entitled rich kids and race wars.
Tone Policing: When a woman suggests lysistratic protest (“if men don’t support planned parenthood, don’t fuck ’em), and is given the response of “well, that’s heteronormativity.”
Effective Tactics: If you’re bringing attention to multi-faceted aspects of racism through a list of “demands,” alumni and donors who put pressure on universities will ignore pay discrimination between minority and non-minority faculty when framed as “give all minority facultly a raise.” A simple rephrasing of “stop pay inequality between minority and non-minority staff” would lead to investigations into pay rates. Instead, the news gets to run stories about race-based special preference.
Tone Policing: After responding to a professor, in class, about his comment that “students should learn the dominant language because they can only do higher order thinking in it” the professor says “this isn’t the appropriate place for that debate.”
Effective Strategy: Instead of focusing on less-than-symbolic tactical overreach as an end unto itself (such as firing a professor for a comment), follow in the footsteps of greatness and plan civil rights campaigns around a series of tactics with an ultimate goal which will impact core institutional problems regarding racism. Forcing unreasonable resignations over ambiguous comments wins an insignificant battle while leading to lost ground in the greater war.
Tone Policing: “Every time you talk about your childhood and high school it makes me sad, why do you do it? It really alienates people.”
Effective tactics: If you’ve got to give your movement a hashtag, lean away from self-evident racial puns that border of resembling the subtitle of a Daily Show segment.
Tone Policing: “The fact that you talk so much and are so passionate, it’s really sort of too masculine