the bastardization of anger

i’ve been having lots of the chicken or the egg conversations about anger lately.  my theory is that the demonization of anger in white, middle class culture has become so ingrained in our society that we cannot even see through that veil.  hell, we dont even know its there.  in addition to being demonized in dominant white culture, anger has been coupled with guilt.  anger means we’re blaming someone else, you cannot express anger without someone else taking on guilt.  and we know how much white people hate their guilt.

growing up in the thick of that middle class white socialization, this meant that my experiences with anger were almost always passive aggressive or explosive.  we so undermined our ability to feel and express anger honestly that, after trying to stuff it through our constricted little passive aggressive pathways, we exploded and over-responded to our anger.  no wonder i’ve always been so afraid of the stuff.

but in the last month i have been getting angrier and angrier.  and who knew, but there are a lot of things to get hot and angry about. that’s another layer of the white listing of anger (lets be honest, when somethings being “black” listed it’s usually the white hands scribbling it into the ledger): the things people get angry about usually implicate the comfort of our privilege.  and who wants to face that?  better to make anyone expressing anger a stereotype and undermine the expression than to look underneath the anger at what someone is reacting to.  that’s just asking for trouble.  that means we have to take responsibility for something we’d rather ignore.

saturday night i spent several hours with two women who are wildly important to me trying to coax anger out of one of them.  she’d had her trust violated, she’d been lied to, manipulated, silenced.  and still she was stuck in her compassion, stuck in her self messaging that this is just what she’s worth.  the two of us coaxing her were angry enough for all of us and we growled and reflected back the shittiness of what had been done to her until she found her anger, too.  and her anger was not an expression of blame towards the person who’d done this to her, but an ecstatically waved flag of her own self-respect.  she is worth defending, she is worth getting angry over, she is worth so much more.  then i was entrusted with that fury and that pain and that self recognition, as i prepared to go see the person who’d hurt her.

and this is where my recent conversations have gotten hairy.  i went out into the night and prepared myself to express that anger to someone who might be inclined to take on guilt associated.  this is where i try to make an argument for clean anger, for an expression of honest anger that doesnt supersede compassion, but coexists with it.  i wanted to communicate that one of the impacts of what he’d done was anger, that there was definitely something to be angry about in this whole mess, but that i also was there sitting with him because i care about him and wanted to hear him.  i think it went well.  though i think i could have been even a little angrier.

what happens in a society that silences anger?  we undercut the validity of the expression, we bastardize anger and turn it into something ugly and mean, we deny there is anything to be angry about, we take away the power of those expressing it, we prioritize comfort over taking responsibility and being honest with ourselves and each other, we vilify all cultures that dont share our aversion to anger.

one of my favorite experiences with anger comes out of a disastrous burning man adventure.  the morning after a harrowing night in which two of our camp members were arrested, the lover of one of the men arrested, the only black woman in our camp, walked into the main tent clearly agitated and scared and started calling everyone in camp a racist.  she was furious and refusing anything that looked like white people trying to take care of her by calming her down, shutting down that voice.  nobody really knew how to respond.  i went outside the main tent with her and let her yell at me for nearly 20 minutes straight.  it was directed at me but i didnt take it on, instead i searched her anger for all of the puzzle pieces that made it up:  her fear, her pain, her genuine upset.  and i received that anger.  i let it course through me and heat up the blood in my veins.  afterwards we hugged and made plans to get her to her fiancee.

anger is not scary.  or rather, it does not have to be.  i want to start creating safe spaces for the expression of anger.  when used honestly, anger can be such a powerful tool for healing.  it can remind us that we are worth defending, it can reclaim a voice that was silenced when someone hurt us, it can shine light onto injustice and tease apart the structures of comfort bulwarked by our privilege.  anger can do lots of incredible things for us if we let it burn through us and be expressed.  i want to challenge our culture to examine it’s bastardization of anger and reclaim anger as a real, honest, valuable expression.


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. donnagg
    Feb 08, 2012 @ 22:24:04

    Thank you, sara, for validating this ill-used but very necessary emotion. As you know, I have been struggling with my own anger the last few days, not in my inability to feel it and express it coherently or with appropriate passion, but in the difficulty I have had to make room for compassion along-side the anger. (Or, so I thought, until I was forced by a series of unexpected circumstances to confront the subject of my anger the other night. Then, my anger and sadness and love for this person who had betrayed me poured out as like sand through a sieve… there was nothing I could do to stop it.)

    Concurrently, I have been in the midst of an ongoing conversation on a friend’s wall about race, criminal (in)justice, dominant white liberal culture locally, and the mass media with two white men with whom I am unacquainted. Several times during the conversation, I have been challenged to behave with more “civility”, to check my “ad hominem attack(s)” at the door, to learn how to discern “well-meaning criticism” “for [my] own good”, and then finally to accept what essentially was a back-handed offering to “end hostilities”. Throughout this conversation, white women observing the exchange offered (for instance) glowing character references of both men as well as other kinds of encouragement for them which read to me like the kind of guilt-avoidance you address in this post. I mean, those women– both of whom I consider bosom friends– were encouraging to me, too, but I have no reason to feel guilt for voicing objections to responses heavily tainted by white male privilege… especially when those responses are directed at women of color for their actions in relation to concerns of our communities in regard to the above-named issues (race, criminal [in]justice, dominant white liberal culture, and the mass media). The conversation is a week-and-a-half old and 91 comments-long now and I have only just noticed that I missed a previous post in which I was directed by one of the men to a link to the other man’s charity as reproof of my objections to their places of privilege and power within the context of the conversation– shit, within the context of my whole life, goddammit.

    Honestly, at this point I am just tired. Having to spell these things out all of the time and fend off ill-conceived rebuttals to my objections of white privilege every. single. time. makes me more tired than angry these days.

    Thank you for everything you do, sara.


  2. joyce
    Feb 09, 2012 @ 18:05:03

    Beautifully articulated! The last paragraph is particularly powerful. I agree it is true that by allowing ourselves to be angry, others often interrupt this as blaming someone else for our feelings. And often that someone is them. Perhaps this is a bit of projection; they see a little of themselves (something they don’t like about themselves) in the angry person…and then take on guilt. Fact is it is easier to take on guilt than it is look into yourself and identify your own anger, discomfort or whatever. Much easier to project your feelings about yourself off onto someone else. Accepting and being responsible for ourselves, our feelings and emotions isn’t always easy. Consequently everyone deals in projection at one time or another. To exasperate things…we also have a tendency to take things personally. So when someone else gets angry or withdrawn or shows any emotions, we often say “what did I do?” We have this ingrained tendency/inability to see beyond ourselves and become a witness and support to others and their emotions and feelings. Me thinks we fear ourselves and hence we hide/bury our feelings and move through life in a bubble, easier not to rock the boat right? In doing so we commit the greatest “sin”, we do not validate ourselves or each other. Validation is a basic need, food and water for our soul, for our higher self.

    My perspective; genuine, raw emotions are the building blocks for growing and becoming who we chose to become in this life time. Learning to be fearless in expressing all emotions, anger “bad” ones included, learning to accept responsibility for our actions and be honest with one another is what will and does unite us. Once folks are comfortable with themselves, all of their parts; spiritual, physical, emotional we can come together. How can we be comfortable, love, co-exist and unite with others if we first don’t love, accept, co-exist and unite with ourselves? After 60 years I am still learning these lessons. And to this day am forever grateful for The Four Agreements, a simple little book with worlds of wisdom and insight for our lives.
    Much love, aunt Joyce… and keep blogging!


  3. veronicahaunanifitzhugh
    Feb 20, 2012 @ 06:55:44

    Congratulations, you’ve won the Sexy Blog Award! 🙂


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