We've all been counseled to avoid the passive voice because it lacks specificity and isn't "good writing". But the using passive voice is also a way to avoid accountability. The most famous example may be "mistakes were made", a term that leaders have been using as far back as Ulysses S. Grant.

While most famously used to eschew culpability for scandals (looking at you, Richard Nixon) it's deployed by anyone who wants to gloss over uncomfortable decisions and actions -- and legit criminal actions -- including white settlers, colonists and leaders throughout history.

How often we discuss the consequences of racism in passive voice, never saying who did what to whom. This is a powerful dodge, allowing white people to avoid the contentious process of assigning responsibility, to gradually erase difficult truths -- even from history books."

Pam Kelly, Money Rock - A Family’s Story of Cocaine, Race, and Ambition in the New South

I bring this up in the wake of more non-apology apologies that include "if offense was taken", which completely ignores the person doing the offending and low-key blames the offended for their feelings. And some states' decisions to not teach Black history in public schools.

I'm not too strict about passive voice in most cases, but when responsibility needs to be taken (see what I did there?) you should freaking take it. When we fall back on the passive voice in these situations, we not only erode trust but we continue the white-washing, no-accountability tactics that dominant culture has imposed on others for centuries.

In certain contexts, the passive voice isn't just unclear, it's unjust.

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