Anger as a Site of Struggle
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Do you remember a time you were critiqued for being angry?
I’m guessing it isn’t hard to conjure up a recent memory.
Because we know how racism particularly exploits white fear of black anger.
Historically, black anger is the “ultimate” nightmare. And, it’s from this which ‘we’ “protect” white innocence.
The expression of emotions, particularly ones such as fear, anger or sadness, have always disproportionately affected women but women in minority groups remain particularly vulnerable. Socially, western society categorically associates these emotions with unreliability, flightiness, weakness and poor leadership.
It’s the masculinity box concept all over again. But this time with a racist edge. Consider characteristics associated with masculinity. In a (problematic) workshop I attended last Spring by Bryan Hurt, I found myself intrigued by the idea that society socializes men to portray characteristics within a certain masculinity box.
And, if a male displayed characteristics which were not in the box, society would socialize/punish him back into the correct box by utilizing language like
“Man up” “Don’t be a sissy/baby/girl” “Don’t be gay”
It is constructive to also think about femininity in similar ways. Certain characteristics are “acceptable” and even expected for women. I don’t have to think very hard about ways in which my behavior is often ‘critiqued’ and sexualized by my peers. Not only do I, like other black women, remain vulnerable to critiques about femininity but because of our inherent intersection, critiques rely on racist tropes as well.
For example, in a recent display of frustration with a colleague, I said “I feel frustrated because…” before my early 30’s, white male colleague abruptly cut me off with the following humiliating
*quick 3 finger snap* “Oh no you didn’t,” and “Tell me how you really feel”
My emotions were being critiqued vis-à-vis overt racist tropes of stereotyped “ghetto” black anger. And, these tropes were utilized in order to
1) Inherently devalue me as a black woman
2) Invalidate my anger
3) Humiliate and degrade me as a black woman
4) Reduce my own (and black female) emotions as irrational and unregulated
If I could be reduced to a simple stereotype than it was easier for him to “validate” his inherent “white innocence” because I was being emotional/hysterical/unreasonable.
If I could be reduced to a stereotype than I could be dismissed.
If I could be reduced to a stereotype than I didn’t matter.
This logic remains inherently problematic but often goes without challenge primarily because the realm of emotional validity remains firmly fixed within that yet murky and tense site of colonization, struggle and political resistance. It is important to situate the ‘validity of black anger’ in clear juxtaposition with white colonization since historically and contemporarily political actors ultimately create and perpetuate policies and practices which further devalue, decenter and denigrate black and brown communities. In a hark to bell hooks’ Choosing the Margin as a Space of Radical Oppression, I offer this overt leitmotif: anger is also a place of struggle.
The use of anger as a site of emotional colonization and political resistance is not inherently unique. I am familiar with the experience of emotional colonization, with the friendly white modifiers, the reminders to ‘behave like a lady,’ to ‘smile more,’ to ‘behave like a young lady,’ to ‘not let anger cloud my judgement.’ Anger is also a place of struggle.
I have been working to change the way in which I allow my anger to travel through me. Anger in the western world often smacks of individualism rather than corporate, communal, remembering. Often the radical one utilizes the act of anger as a practice of holistic historical remembering rather than as an act of individualistic reaction. For is it not radical to consider location of voice, place of struggle as a historical act of remembering rather than to struggle alone? It is no easy task to incorporate or even always locate multiple voices within the struggle, but this task remains critical towards intersectional liberation.
My anger as a woman and my anger as a black person are consequently vulnerable to critique because of my inherent intersectionality. But indeed, my anger as a black female is also critically intersectional with the experiences of other black and brown women. As I think about my own experiences navigating racist emotional inequities, I also remain acutely aware of the dog whistle politics embedded within the recent racist caricature of Serena Williams by Mark Knight. The caricature in itself does not employ any new strategies. Instead, the caricature relies on historic Jim-Crow era overtures vis-à-vis the animalization of the “big scary black woman,” the reliance on the trope of white innocence and the debase, inhumane, bestial locality of black and brown women. Anger is also a place of struggle.
James Baldwin offers this particularly powerful insight:
“To be black and conscious in America is to be in a constant state of rage”
|Photo obtained from The Herald
In an excerpt from The Root, “When Australia’s [right wing] cartoonist, Mark Knight, tweeted an image of Serena Williams disagreement with Umpire Carlos Ramos in the finals of the US Open, he responded to public criticisms of racism by asserting that ‘it has nothing to do with gender or race,’ according to Melbourne Australia’s Herald Sun.”
Anger is also a place of struggle for black and brown communities precisely because it remains a site of present day aggressive white colonialization practices.
When speaking about the difficulties of expressing oneself in the language of oppression, bell hooks offers this awareness in her essay, Choosing the Margins as a Space of Radical Openness.
Often when the radical voices speaks about domination we are speaking to those who dominate. Their presence changes the nature and direction of our words. Language is also a place of struggle. I was just a girl coming slowly into womanhood when I read Adreinne Rich’s words, ‘This is the oppressor’s language, yet I need it to talk to you.’ This language that enabled me to attend graduate school, to write a dissertation, to speak at job interviews, carries the scent of oppression. Language is also a place of struggle. The Australian aborigines say ‘that smell of the white man is killing us.’ I remember the smells of my childhood, hot water corn bread, turnip greens, fried pies. I remember the way we talked to one another, our words thickly accented black southern speech. Language is also a place of struggle. We are wedded in language, have our being in words. Language is also a place of struggle. Dare I speak to oppressed and oppressor in the same voice? Dare I speak to you in a language that will move beyond the boundaries of domination – a language that will not bind you, fence you in, or hold you? Language is also a place of struggle. The oppressed struggle in language to recover ourselves, to reconcile, to reunite, to renew. Our words are not without meaning, they are an action, a resistance. Language is also part of struggle.
It was particularly powerful for me to consider this passage rewritten in the context of anger. Consider this reworked passage: Dare I show anger to the oppressed and the oppressor in the same voice? Dare I rage to you in a language that will move beyond the boundaries of domination – a rage that will not bind you, fence you in, or hold you? Rage is also a place of struggle. The oppressed struggle in anger to recover ourselves, to reconcile, to reunite, to renew. Our rage is not without meaning, it is an action, a resistance. Rage is also part of struggle.
Part of my practice as a Jesus follower relies on considering the politics and interconnectedness of faith as the practice of resistance and liberation. My experiences of anger and faith, while not exclusive to only these characteristics, are also inherently connected to my experience with location and space. As a part of this practice and as a part of my own self-critical process, I have considered and reconsidered my own life choices, space and location in a practice of remembering. Or, as bell hooks so aptly states, “our struggle is also a struggle of memory against forgetting.” For too often we remain complicit with a system of that easy yet persistent practice of forgetfulness.
I have often found myself rethinking my own journey from small, rural, Pennsylvania Mennonite-town to Waldorf and Mennonite education to small churches to a small, ‘sheltered’ college in Kansas to a large, public, state university in Pennsylvania. From places in which I was called all sorts of racist words to places and spaces in which I was first introduced to liberation theology, critical theory, womanist and feminist scholars like bell hooks, Lorde and Harris-Perry, to spaces in which I now educate and am educated.
I vividly recall efforts to quell my blossoming racial awareness as well as tone deaf efforts at best, racist at worst, efforts to appeal to my sense of ‘white practicality.’ This practice of remembering remains critical to the practice of cultivating space for a more holistic and strategic plan for liberation. And, this practice of remembering also invites other voices and memories into a space where healing can occur.
For me, the art of remembering is inherently interconnected with my faith as well as connected with the practice of allowing space for and validation of my own anger and rage. When I remember, I can also name and notice. When I remember, I find space to give voice to truth. When I remember, I find space to heal. Remembering is also a site of struggle.
Historically, who’s memories do we remember?
This practice of remembering also compels difficult personal truths as I consider my own political evolution. Not all of which are easy to name or to notice. And yet, I have found that it is wise to consider how various modes effect Faith practice particularly in regard to archetypes of anger and rage.
The experience of space and location, like the experience of anger and rage are not reliant or exclusive, nor are these experiences identical from one black or brown person to the other. Indeed, postmodern modes as well as statuses color each persons lived experiences. Some folk must continually engage in actual political struggle against and within their communities. Some folk may ‘enter universities or privileged cultural settings, unwilling to surrender every vestige of who [they] were before [they] were there.’ Not all oppression is the same but all oppression is the same. This is logical and right. And yet, all of members of these communities are visible symbols of Otherness. “Our very presence is a disruption.”
It is important to notice and name the reality of this physical disruption when considering how black bodies are located and situated within white frames of location and space.
It is reasonable to suggest that Serena’s physical presence on the tennis court, regardless of her verbal confrontation, was a disruption despite her historical presence as a tennis legend.
It is reasonable to suggest that Serena’s presence was a disruption because of the very nature of her being: black and woman, the same two entities in which was demonized and degraded for in the now infamous Australian cartoon (and, because each of these characteristics have been discussed at length, I will not spend time articulating the inherent racist overtones in the cartoon, nor will I spend time articulating why the cartoon is offensive).
And, it is reasonable to suggest that from the margins, Serena’s insistence, her physical ‘no,’ her cry of wrongdoing came from a deep down place of resistance. Remember, anger also is a site of struggle.
It is this broken cry cast deep into the struggle which I believe holds universal tenants that resonate within black and brown communities of color. And, it is this broken cry that I believe is equally important to link with faith and liberation theology. For Faith is also a site of active resistance and struggle.
And anger can, too, when emboldened by love, be an effective agent of social change, political resistance and liberation. Let me be clear. When an action is completed out of anger rather than love than the offense is committed not only by the offender but also that in which whom is carrying out the offense. For love is the greatest gift in which we have been endowed. Doesn’t the Bible instruct us to love our neighbor? How then can we struggle for liberation if we are still yet shackled? How then can we break the other’s chains if we are still fastening chains of our own created by chain maker? No, I tell you truly, social change will only move into fruition when this comes to pass: when those of you whom are struggling for liberation struggle out of the deepest love that comes when one fully knows that one’s own liberation is interconnected with the other. This, to me, is the love for the neighbor.
I am often reminded of Jesus’ anger in the synagogue. And, I imagine, in present day, what would that look like?
· Are there groups of people in which we anger do we find acceptable?
· Whom do we expect to be angry?
· Are there any specific adjectives we would ascribe to people whom are angry, and why?
While, this deep down cry is one in which often feels lonely and alienating. And yet, I am heartened by Jesus’ reminder that “in this world you may have struggle, but take heart, I have overcome the world.”
While it may seem like a false equivalency to link Serena’s verbal confrontation with the global struggle for racial and social justice (ie: isn’t she an elite black woman with some privilege and white adjacency?), I think that training ourselves to practice noticing the similarities within the struggle for liberation equally liberates and reinvigorates our commitment towards intersectional justice.
Indeed, Jesus calls us to be forces capable of announcing justice. We are transformative beings created for such a time of this: to announce injustice by being intentional radical agents of healing and transformative change.
When I intentionally adhere to noticing and naming problematic patterns of my own Racial Justice praxis, I find myself inherently convicted that the work of Jesus happened predominately from the margins. Situating the work of racial justice then into a marginal frame, I find myself able to then ask a new set of questions. Instead of wondering what is the risk, I find myself asking a ubiquitous Lorde phrase: what is the worst thing that could happen to me if I tell this truth? Today, when my boss pulled my extensions, I found that I could respond to her from a place of love rather than a place of anger situated in resentment.
By owning my own marginal status, I liberate myself to do the work without the shackles of disillusionment. When I step into my own anger and my own rage at ‘the system,’ with love not only do I validate my own experiences and truth but I also empower myself do to the Jesus work of the radical struggle.
And yet, for far too many, this work often feels isolating and lonely. When we live at the margins, one may be quick to consider the risk. To assess whom will be lost. For, there will be losses. And, the risk is great. And sometimes the losses are great. This is accurate. And yet, I have found that if we continue to center fear as the way, then we have already lost our way. We have already lost the struggle. For there will be risks. In fact, the ways in which we locate ourselves and in whom we locate ourselves will change. To borrow from bell hooks:
Indeed, the very meaning of ‘home’ changes with experience of decolonization, of radicalization. At times, home is nowhere. At times, one knows only extreme estrangement and alienation. Then home is no longer just one place. It is locations. Home is that place which enables and promotes varied and ever-changing perspectives, a place where one discovers new ways of seeing reality, frontiers of difference. One confronts and accepts dispersal and fragmentation as part of the construction of a new world order that reveals more fully where we are, who we can become, an order that does not demand forgetting.
This experience of living on the margins effects the way in which we anger and rage. And, this does not effect a person or a community universally or equally or identically, although there may be similar themes. Anger and rage are unique qualities in which may affect one but may equally silence another. And yet, anger and rage are often indicators of deeper truths and sadness’s. Anger too is a site of struggle.
I am speaking to you from a place of anger and love. I am speaking to you from the margins. I am asking you to consider what it means to be angry and to love. I am asking you to consider what it means to be black and woman. I am wondering if you can hear me.
There are those whom speak but do not listen, and those whom will ask you to tell you your pain so that they can rewrite your pain, bestialize your pain, debase and degrade you until you will not recognize your story but it will be called your history. It will be your story, but only if you let it, they will tell you. They will tell you that you can choose your calm. I am telling you that it is okay to be angry. I am telling you that it is okay to love. I asking you to locate both.
It is okay to be angry in love. You can hold this duality. You can see both ways of being.
This is an intervention. This is a call to anger and love and to awareness.
This is a call to do the human work of loving one another.