There’s so much in this world to be enraged about. Everyday there’s another video, another story, another harmful policy, another tweet, another lived experience, another injustice …
What are we supposed to do with all of it? Where are we supposed to put it? How do we breathe with all of it in our chest?
This constant state of rage can leave folk feeling powerless, lost in it. But as Audre Lorde writes in her essay, The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism, “anger is loaded with information and energy.”
We have to re/orient ourselves around anger.
In this sociopolitical climate, it feels especially important for us to develop a productive relationship with our rage, to learn how to listen to it, to trust it, to harness it, to see it as a resource instead of a wholly negative entity. This is particularly true for marginalized folks whose anger has historically been dismissed or used against us.
Everybody’s anger isn’t treated the same. Not all identities are allowed equal access to express or experience rage or anger. This fact is both a tool and result of oppressive forces.
For instance, Black women’s anger is consistently monitored and policed. Black women from Serena Williams to Michelle Obama have had to deal with being called overly aggressive or angry. Having to navigate this stereotype of ‘the angry Black woman” can dramatically constrict the range of emotions Black women feel they are able to express in their public and daily lives.
This sense of restriction transcends the individual/interpersonal realm. On a collective level, Black women’s anger has been framed as counterproductive or unnecessarily divisive to ‘more important’ movements or social goals, such as mainstream white feminism or certain Black activist stances rooted in patriarchy. Black women are told to put aside their ‘angry’ demands for the pursuit of the greater good. As Brittney Cooper writes, “The truth is that Angry Black Women are looked upon as entities to be contained, as inconvenient citizens who keep on talking about their rights while refusing to do their duty and smile at everyone.”
More Radical Reads: How Honoring “Negative” Emotions Can Help Us Heal
Accusing marginalized folks of being angry or dismissing their anger as being extreme, irrational, or disruptive works to silence their dissent. This can be seen in the dismissive responses to Black Lives Matter protests, queer people of color disrupting Pride parades, folks with disability demanding better accessibility, and so much more.
Invalidating someone’s anger strips them of an important source of power ie. “We don’t have to listen to them, they’re always angry about everything.” Claiming and trusting our anger is a way to push back on these dismissive forces that prioritize the status quo.
It’s also so important to pay attention to whose rage is seen as natural or justified. In the media it’s clear that there is certain folks’ anger deemed acceptable, not just acceptable, celebrated. How many movies are there where certain characters are shown to be driven by a sense of righteous rage?
Like in one of the multiple Takens, the father with those infamous lines – “I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want … If you let my daughter go now, that will be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don’t, I will look for you and I will kill you.” The rage of this white straight man protecting his white straight wife and girl child – that’s understandable, that’s laudable, that’s something the audience can get behind, that’s as it should be. Once that formula starts deviating outside of those identities, then things start becoming less clear. You can see this when people accept a riot after a sports event as ‘normal,’ but a protest against a certain policy or societal condition as ‘extreme.’
Who is allowed to embody rage and frustration? Who is pressured to instantly forgive? Who is expected to suffer without anger as a response?
We must unlearn being fearful of our own anger. We must be able to see it as a part of us.
In that same essay, Audre Lorde also writes, “I have seen situations where white women hear a racist remark, resent what has been said, become filled with fury, and remain silent because they are afraid.” Because the anger of certain identities is naturalized or demonized depending on what identity someone might have, there are plenty of people who because of their socialization don’t necessarily know what to do or how to express anger. This can result in this pent up silence Lorde is referencing. Again, it is another way to strip power away from marginalized voices and perspectives.
Seeing Rage as a Re/Source
Marginalized folks’ rage in response to injustice opens up radical potential.
Rage can be a force
Rage can be a source of energy
Rage doesn’t have to be the only response, but it is a valid one
Rage “expressed and translated into action in the service of our vision and our future is a liberation and strengthening act.” (Lorde)
[Featured Image: An upclose photo of a person’s face framed with dark hair. Their chin is resting on their hands. Source: pexels.com]