“Anger is a grief of distortions between peers, and its object is change…I cannot hide my anger to spare your guilt, nor hurt feelings, nor answering anger; for to do so insults and trivializes all our efforts. Guilt is not a response to anger; it is a response to one’s own action or lack of action. If it leads to change then it can be useful, since it is then no longer guilt, but the beginning of knowledge. Yet all too often, guilt is just another name for impotence.” Audre Lorde
In conversations with friends lately, I have been discussing the idea of anger. How anger is understood, the potential anger has to be a hindrance, and ultimately the necessity for anger. As a child I always grew up being afraid of the troupe that was “the angry black man.” However, I have found that through creating a resistance charged and fueled by anger, we can consolidate personal feelings into social movements that forge socio-political change. Long live anger for it is in fact—necessary.
I always thought that through a bright smile and soft tone we could sink into the hearts of the cynics and minds of the optimists to create a means to achieve (if not revolution) at least some substantive amount of social progress—perhaps, even change. I have often been in rooms where white saviorism and helping syndrome have been used as cloaks to cover up feelings that are far too uncomfortable to express. Instead of confronting these insecurities, inadequacies, and ineptitudes that we have about the “other”…we (the marginalized) far too often repress the anger which makes us honest, and allow privileged groups to resort to a more cozy and consoling reality. Unfortunately it is a reality where progress is absent.
My youthful abhorrence towards anger was also rooted in seeing my older sibling often let anger lead to uncontrolled rage. Around my house growing up, we quickly learned how to repair broken doors and holes punched into the walls, because of my brother’s anger. Growing up in the hood, I quickly discovered the destructive nature of anger, and I saw no use for it in any movement that sought to bring people together to fight back on one accord—especially if we expected to fight against a system of patriarchy that far often puts poor families in chokeholds while they lay prostrate on the margins. Fighting a monster like this would take coalition building between a diverse group of agitators, and I only saw anger as a mechanism to destroy coalition. Anger was often like a wildfire, spreading closer to the homes and lives of those who had no insurance, no time, no buffer between bi-weekly pay checks and bills that were due by the end of the month. Only I was wrong it such a serendipitous way.
The very thing that I saw as destructive is actually a tool that can be equipped to unite people. As Ms. Lorde said, “Anger is a grief distortion between peers and its object is change.” There are many nicer ways to build movements. You can invite people over for tea and crumpets, give a nice slide show presentation on the history of urban poverty, and even get elite college students to teach in black and brown communities for 3 minutes at a time. The “object” of these various notions can be made into a litany of things that “make a difference” but don’t bring substantive and progressive change. They can also be seen as a means to make the privileged feel better about inequalities that lead to their success, they can be a means of appeasing guilt, they can even be a means of bringing multiple groups into the same space, but these are not a means to change.
Ultimately, the honesty and bluntness of anger provides an opportunity to confront the aspects of our history and of ourselves that make us most uncomfortable and most susceptible for change. It is this anger I hope to harness and use towards a more equal populous.