Nov. 07, 2012 - Issue #890: GWAR
Why do the angry get labelled as irrational?
I am guided by anger in many ways. My activism and writing is often motivated by anger. I have been cautioned about letting anger provoke my activism and set the tone of my writing. Anger is often dismissed as irrational and uncivilized.
Two-spirit poet, author and activist Chrystos spoke at the University of Alberta's Faculty of Native Studies' Born This Way: Two Spirit Voices Conference on November 2 – 3. Among the many themes, ideas and emotions that Chrystos addressed, anger was central. In response to an audience question about anger in her writing, Chrystos recounted: "In a book called Fugitive Colors, I wrote a 12-page poem about anger and just went off. All the reviewers who have ever reviewed my work, the first thing they say about me is that I am angry. And I think that that's actually a racist ploy to avoid listening to what I have to say. I don't actually feel like I am that angry of a person." As Chrystos argues, those sitting at the top will attempt to undermine the uniting and motivating nature of anger by claiming that anger runs counter to reason, rationality and civility. In so doing, voices are silenced, and the needs and demands of the oppressed are trivialized and delegitimized.
Chrystos' words reminded me of Ani DiFranco's song "Not a Pretty Girl" in which she sings: "I am not an angry girl/ But it seems like I've got everyone fooled/ Every time I say something they find hard to hear/ They chalk it up to my anger/ And never to their own fear." Chrystos and Ani are both making the distinction between being an angry person and being politically motivated by anger. If someone is by nature an angry person, it is thought that they will react in anger no matter how grave the situation. If, however, someone reacts in anger to particularly egregious situations, their anger is seen as a temporary state that can and should be surmounted by reason. In both cases, anger is understood to be an unproductive overreaction.
Historically and currently, particular members of society have been cast as irrationally angry including racial minorities, women, queers, mentally ill people, disabled people and poor people. Although their concerns are absolutely justified, they are deemed irrational, uncivilized and even juvenile expressions of anger.
Anger is dismissed and downplayed so vehemently because it is powerful. Chrystos further argued: "Anger is a very sacred emotion. In the colonizer culture, anger is counter to what colonizers want. Colonization is the process of turning people into willing slaves." When anger is shared among the oppressed masses, existing social order and power relations can be threatened. In the past year, we have seen many examples of how shared anger over certain political and social issues has led to various kinds of political action, including mass protests and occupy movements. To varying degrees of success, these efforts have channeled anger and frustration toward political and social change.
While anger motivates and energizes my writing and activism, it is difficult to properly channel this emotion. Yet left unattended and ignored, anger can depress and exhaust any activist. How do we use anger to motivate us? How do we embrace it? How do we move beyond the frustration of being ignored, delegitimized and silenced when we show emotion?
Audre Lorde offers this reflection in the book Sister Outsider: "My response to racism is anger. I have lived with that anger, ignoring it, feeding upon it, learning to use it before it laid my visions to waste, for most of my life. Once I did it in silence, afraid of the weight. My fear of anger taught me nothing. Your fear of anger will teach you nothing, also." V
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