Tone policing is a little-known microaggression that’s common in the workplace — here’s how to identify it

posted on August 28, 2020

August 27, 2020

By , Business Insider

The angry black woman trope is a harmful stereotype that allows racism against Black women to continue. Based on this stereotype, Black women are often painted as aggressive, hostile, and threatening. Black women who share their experiences of racial microaggressions and being labeled as “the angry black woman” are often met with advice that their message would be better received, if only they said it in a “nicer tone.”

This is a phenomenon known as tone policing, and it can be extremely problematic for anti-racism efforts. 

Tone policing is defined as “a conversational tactic that dismisses the ideas being communicated when they are perceived to be delivered in an angry, frustrated, sad, fearful, or otherwise emotionally charged manner.” Managers striving to create a workplace based on equity and inclusion must understand how tone policing silences members of marginalized groups and allows discrimination to persist.

I am no stranger to tone policing — I have countless experiences of being tone policed. 

I’ve experienced tone policing in every domain of my life, but instances of tone policing are increasingly apparent online. I’ve received numerous DMs on social media from very well-meaning people sharing with me why a post I wrote or shared was offensive.

The general consensus with these messages is that if I had only conveyed the message in a different way, I would have done a more effective job at “getting my message across.”


The underlying tone in many of these well-meaning messages is that, even in speaking about my experiences with racism, microaggressions, and discrimination, there is a right way and a wrong way to share. I am told that if I modify my message to be more palatable to the masses, my message will be better received. This demonstrates that people will dismiss your experiences unless it fits in the box of how they want to receive it.

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