You Can’t Educate With Us (On Tone-Policing When Silent)

Jose Vilson Education, Jose, Race


I called someone a racist this past weekend. And a sexist for good measure.

I don’t have much authoritative experience with the latter as I do the former, and I don’t go throwing around such a title lightly.

I won’t go into the incident, but it was a long string of events that triggered me using the word, and, soon thereafter, people started opening up about some of the latent racist comments said person made. It was revelatory in that I had this hunch for a long time, but, because he’s respected in some of our common circles, I decided to let everything play out, letting karma mete out justice accordingly.

That moment never came, so I handled it myself.

Time and again, I’m faced with having to bring up conversations that made people’s collars tight around their necks. It’s not the happy-go-ISTE convo, the hipster affectations, the “standardized testing” is the devil conversation, or the “new progressives don’t believe in unions” nonsense. It’s the conversation around why we we’re still in the mentality of “saving the children.”

Every time we simultaneously say that we “speak for our children of color” but neither give voice to those children or don’t respect the very adults of color who were in the same seats, we set the foundation for angst, anger, and rage. The thing about discussions about race, sex, and class is that, if you’re the only person of the group most marginalized by the -ism, you almost feel like it’s your job to speak up UNTIL someone else gets the gumption to do so.

Especially in a field like education, where people want to believe everything is either hunky dory or everyone is working against them, people rarely speak up in a way that matters. When someone says something racist, they wait for me or one of my friends to handle it. When someone sexist comes up, they always wait for an out-and-out feminist to address it (and then the rest of us loud ones).

With the plethora of resources available to us (see here and here for some of mine), it’s wild that many folks still rather sit on the sidelines while the same folks have to bring up these harsh topics. Some will be brave, and, even just a nod or a “thank you” goes a long way in making the marginalized supported.

Sitting there, hoping for the vocal person of color to handle it just won’t do any more. Don’t wait to speak up with the marginalized, the ism’ed. Because, if you do, then you can’t complain how, after tireless battles and wearisome incidents, the tone isn’t to your liking.

Our voices got raspy, our souls depleted from the beating back of zombie stereotypes and slurs. If your voice has no intention of alleviating the voice, tone isn’t your angle for entry. You never spoke. Please. Have this whole row of seats.


photo c/o