I’ve written about this sort of thing before, on my own blog and here, and I will continue to hammer this point home until the day I die. They may carve it on my tombstone so I’ll have a way to communicate it after I’m gone:
Not all advice is good and not all intentions are pure. Look out for polite poison.
“Polite poison” is one of the most deadly forms of undermining and gas-lighting. Because unless you really think critically about what is being said to/written at you, you may miss it. You may even take the advice to heart and act on it. And it can harm you. It’s not like overt insults aimed at black women are hard to miss. When some fool acts up and calls dark-skinned black women “subpar” or makes jokes. Or when someone shows up to inform you of your “mental disease” regarding your choice to consider interracial dating. That’s obvious (or should be) and is immediately called out.
But the polite poisoner comes in the form of “the voice of reason” with a civil manner, a person that offers an “alternate point of view” or in the role of “devil’s advocate”. They do not call you a b*tch or a wh*re or threaten you outright. But if you read between the lines, not only are they insulting your intelligence, it’s very clear that their goal is to use, manipulate, and undermine you. In fact, the polite poisoner may want “cookies” for NOT treating you like the misogynists that overtly abuse you (Note: This expectation of respect solely because they aren’t cussing you out is a MAJOR give-away a lot of the time. Decency is the standard; if you expect to be rewarded for being decent to other people, something is wrong….).
Here is an example of what I mean:
Subject: “What should be done about OOW births among black women?”
First POV: Black women should simply not have sex until married. End of story. If we close our wombs to those men who will not marry us, it both cuts down on OOW births and gives a woman a chance to protect her honor.
Second POV: Why should it be on black women? Why can’t the men use a condom? Safe sex prevents pregnancies and STIs. Besides, this is not the 1800s (and I’m sure it was going on anyway behind closed doors). Men need to be held accountable for irresponsible behavior, too!
Third POV: Why is it on me to care? I’m not having babies. Besides, it’s their life. If they want to make it harder on themselves… *shrug*
Polite Poisoner: To be honest, I feel like these type of topics are judgmental. So a woman had a baby or two out of wedlock. Who are we to judge? For all we know, the baby turned out just fine and will go on to live a normal life. There are more important things in the black community for me and you be concerned with…like racism.
Polite Poisoner and Level Z troll: I think a better question is, what should be done about OOW births across the board? I actually was reading about this the other day and it seems that OOW births are a problem for white women as much as black women. I mean even seeing shows about it now makes me feel like everyone thinks it’s normal. I don’t know, maybe that’s just the way things are now.
All POVs were different and not everyone was necessarily on the same page, but the first three responses were clearly (1) all addressing the topic (2) either offering solutions or reasons why they didn’t feel obligated to offer one and (3) were open and honest. It is possible to disagree and be open and honest with one another.
Polite poisoners have no such inclinations. Let’s break these comments down:
“To be honest, I feel like these type of topics are judgmental. So a woman had a baby or two out of wedlock. Who are we to judge? For all we know, the baby turned out just fine and will go on to live a normal life. There are more important things in the black community for me and you be concerned with…like racism.”
The topic of the post isn’t “How can we judge women who have OOW births?”; the topic is “What should be done about OOW births among black women?” Treating OOW births as a problem and seeking a solution isn’t judgment; it’s attempting to be proactive. The person then makes grandiose assumptions about ALL OOW births and how “we don’t know” the end results. Many of the poorest and most hard-pressed women in America today are single mothers, and especially mothers having children out of wedlock. Despite this, we are meant to put faith in a silver lining that doesn’t match up to reality (Note: the polite poisoner bucks conventional wisdom and even fact. But they hope their wording and “tone” make this go unnoticed). And should the first two derailment tactics fail, this person pulls out the ever reliable trump card: Race.
I think a better question is, what should be done about OOW births across the board? I actually was reading about this the other day and it seems that OOW births are a problem for white women as much as black women. I mean even seeing shows about it now makes me feel like everyone thinks it’s normal. I don’t know, maybe that’s just the way things are now.
At first glance, this actually seems like a rather decent and sensible opinion. You might find yourself nodding along. Re-read it a few times. A couple of things should stick out. First, the topic is about OOW births among black women, not white women or all women. The truly experienced subtle troll and polite poisoner knows that obvious derailment might send up too many red flags. They may make it appear that they really care about and are contributing to the topic. But in reality, they’re actually steering the discussion away from the specific topic and to a more general version of the topic that’s easier to manipulate and control. They can then use examples that support the exact opposite of what the point of the post is: That OOW births are a problem for a number of black women. To do this, they may use generalized examples (popular television shows) or statistics (that focus on a broad study that does not address your SPECIFIC concerns) to back up their point. But the whammy comes in the end, where they innocently imply that this discussion and strive for change is pointless because “that’s just the way things are now.”
In closing, the polite poisoner is not overtly rude, crass, or abusive. They may even seem friendly or wise. But if you don’t read or listen carefully to what they say, you may find that their poison makes perfect sense. You should always be thinking and questioning. It doesn’t matter where the information is coming from. Before you take anything to heart, roll it around in your head a few times and try and think about whether or not it’s something that is helpful or harmful to you.