The Problem With Politeness

Stop thanking me for being polite when I’m angry about injustice and focus on the injustice instead

Bridgette L. Hylton
Published in
8 min readApr 12, 2021


So there is this “compliment” that well-meaning people lob at me when I write conscientiously about social ills that infuriate me. I write about something deeply painful, troubling and/or problematic in our society in my own fairly measured way that feels innate to me and is not in any way meant to say anything about the deservedness of my politeness as it relates to thing that is problematic or people supporting or engaging in problematic behaviors and without fail someone, sometimes many someones, will thank me for being, “so polite.”

Instead of sharing my outrage at the initial and underlying offense — at the racism, sexism, xenophobia, transphobia and other ills that permeate our society and deserve our immediate attention, certain readers focus primarily on how polite I am and how kind in my address. I get frustrated and angry because I never quite feel like people who get hung up on the way I present my message versus its content are with me in the cause — not really.

This type of veiled “compliment,” is tone policing on steroids and if you ever feel inclined to direct it at someone speaking out against injustice, know that most of us don’t ever take it as a compliment. The buried lede is that if “other people,” usually other Black women or Black people, were as polite as me then, you, we, society would listen to them more and believe them more. The implication itself springs forth new harm and new anger because this is one of the biggest lies we are told to excuse social problems: “you’d do better if you were, “nicer,” “kinder,” “more polite,” or “more respectable,”,” even when the arsenal of respectability has been outright denied to us.

I worry sometimes that my perceived eloquence has become an instrument against the causes I care passionately about — against the things that I and other like minded people burn up inside about in rage and anger and then somehow manage to turn into digestible sentences that somehow make people feel good about and on the right side these issues and the real and tangible harm they inflict on me and/or my child and/or my loved ones and/or my fellow unknown to me human beings.