Here’s Why I’m Not About to Tone-Police Rashida Tlaib

Here’s Why I’m Not About to Tone-Police Rashida Tlaib January 7, 2019

As someone whose mother-tongue is Jersey Snark, I’m the first to acknowledge my own salty vocabulary. I confess I don’t try very hard — usually — to check myself, because I have found that whenever I try, it just gets worse. Within minutes of promising I’ll never curse again a torrent of curse words will be elicited from my mouth seemingly of their own accord.

Of course, I’m a professional, and I recognize when it’s not in my best interest to curse. Certain speaking engagements, the pulpit, tea with old ladies (unless they curse more than I do, which in New Jersey, is highly likely).

But really, that’s just me working the system when I have to for self-preservation. It’s not me being my authentic self. I have come to kind of believe that there are some of us here on earth who are meant to be gentle and kind. These are the angels here on earth, they are the balms to so many souls and they are so very needed here in this crazy world.

But I am no such angel.

I’m probably a little more akin to a crusty old sailor. I just drink wine instead of…whatever crusty old sailors drink.

But even this affinity for creative vocabulary that I apparently have with Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib is not why I refuse to call her out for calling the man who lives in the White House a certain descriptive word. In fact, it’s not even my intense dislike of the man who lives in the White House that makes me stay silent (as if I would have a leg to stand on, anyway).

It’s because I’ve been the victim of tone policing more times than I can count, and it’s freaking exhausting, and I’m not going to do it to anyone else. 

Especially not a person who is from any number of groups who have been marginalized. Especially not a person who has a right to be pissed.

Look, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I’m a straight, cis-gendered, able-bodied Christian middle class American woman and as such, I’m one step away from the top of the privilege heap. I have very little to complain about in my life. My racial, sexual and religious identity combined with my class privilege offer me a ton of opportunities that other people simply don’t have. And still, because I am a woman, my words, my tone, and my self-expression are policed by other people to a point that is not only exhausting, but it’s been detrimental to my physical, emotional and spiritual health.

When I spoke up about sexual assault, I was made to believe it was my fault, and efforts from both the legal system and my family system were more concerned with preserving the comfort of the abuser rather than me. Because this happened in my late twenties, I had already been well socialized to go ahead with this status quo. This led to a huge amount of anxiety and guilt and tongue-drying fear, not to mention depression.

When I speak about racial injustice, SO. MANY. PEOPLE. tell me I should be quiet. They tell me I’m a white woman and therefore should not speak about these things. And if I do speak about them, I better be nice about it.  I should not pepper my words with any of my authentic Jersey spice; the mother tongue is not allowed. And I definitely shouldn’t make people feel all uncomfortable or anything. That’s not going to change hearts, they tell me.

Back during the 2016 election, a guy commented on my personal Facebook page that I should stop posting about politics. He said, and I quote, “I’d much rather see stuff about your [martial arts] training or your travels.”

Yeah, dude. Because I’m all about catering my Facebook page to exactly what you’d like to see. Just call me Concierge Kerry. 

When I told him to steel himself and gird his loins for the shock of it all but my Facebook page was not about him, he got himself all in a tizzy and unfriended me with the ever biting, “Bye, Felicia.

When I was on staff at a church, the biggest praise I got was for being silent. The only review on my Facebook page says something along the lines of, “Her views are intriguing but I don’t know why she has to curse so much.”

I can’t even curse in this post, because if I do, Facebook won’t let me promote it.

Many of the same people who criticize Tlaib for her choice of words are the same people who excuse it when the president utters similar, if not worse language. But I’ve seen a lot of progressive people like myself express disdain for the language too.

And the thing I have to say to those people is: stop being part of the motherf***ing problem.

You are participating in the policing of the marginalized, the silencing of women all for a show of pearl clutching and a pointless call for higher ground. Stop it.

We’re down in the muck and the mud. We’re in the trenches fighting over life and death here, people. We’re fighting for lives at the border, for black and brown bodies, for women and girls, for the LGBTQ community. This is no time for niceties. We can officially tell etiquette to get screwed. This is the time for blood and guts and yeah, maybe a couple of well-placed F-bombs. I’m no longer going to participate in the moderate progressive machine that for years has been telling people who are dying to slow down about being angry about it.

I’m not about to police the way Rashida Tlaib expresses herself. I’m not going to wish for civility, or insist on “higher language”. I’m not going to insist she treat Donald Trump better than Donald Trump treats other people for the sake of niceness.

Congresswoman Tlaib is a Palestinian Mulsim Woman. Her people — in all the intersectionality she represents — have been marginalized, oppressed, othered and demonized over and over by this administration. The policies of this administration have targeted and directly impacted the people she represents. That is, no doubt, how she got elected in the first place.

I’m so tired of people who act like they are language virgins, so pure of heart, soul and mind that they can’t stand a little extra salt in the soup. Especially when that salt has a really good reason to be so damn salty.

Rashinda Tlaib’s got a right to be pissed, and I’m not about to tell her she’s got to be nice about it.

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