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Politics of Anger: Why White Men Don’t Get Angry

January 23, 2012

“Rage is an appropriate response to oppression” — bell hooks

One way in which structural violence operates is by thrusting reductive narratives upon marginalized communities. Whether those narratives speak about inherent stupidity, uselessness, laziness or violence — they work to perpetuate an absence of humanity — a useful piece of imagination when we wish to do nothing about an unequal, unjust system that benefits the status quo, nonetheless.

In our world, we have developed a dauntingly effective way to silence someone — make them angry and use their rage to invalidate their voices.

There are at least two ways in which anger is used to dis-empower people and dim their stories.

1. De-legitimizing what someone is saying because they are, in fact angry.

A few months ago, INCITE wrote a detailed post about [their] friend’s personal experience that seems like a fairly complicated and specific incident of violence. Without going into the context (you can read it for yourself) — I wanted to pull out this quote which underscores an important point about violence, in general.

So the question for me here, and where I vehemently disagree with Bynes, is how one defines “provocation” and who judges what then is the socially acceptable response. I tend to agree with Brontez. Too often people who are targeted for violence have to have their motivations and their recollection of all the “facts” or chronology of all the events hyper-scrutinized beyond recognition if they at all do anything other than lay down and take the abuse (or in the case of sexual assault, you’re accused of lying if you don’t have any physical evidence that you fought back, or you choose to try to still (and steel) yourself to try to avoid further violence, or are simply in a state of shock). And what is more true than not, most of us, in some way, respond verbally or physically fight back.

I think Brontez was enraged by the situation and responded accordingly. But rage, as bell hooks once stated, is an appropriate response to oppression.

I think this is an important conversation to be having about communities and people who witness and endure violence routinely. We have a culturally sanctioned script that deserves to be trashed. Mainly, one that expects victims to survive by knowing the unknow-able and controlling what was never in their power.

2. De-legitimizing what someone is saying because they come from a group who are culturally coded as “angry” (ex.,feminists, black women, rap artists, lesbians).

I have not read Jodi Kantar’s book on the Obamas (The Obamas). There’s a lot of back and forth about how Michele Obama may or may not have been stereotyped as the “angry black lady”. I am sure it’s as basically tame as some say it is. But I did read this New York Times article about the book and this is how the article begins.

Michelle Obama was privately fuming, not only at the president’s team, but also at her husband.

And it ends with this:

She [Michele Obama] also thanked him [Barack Obama] for putting up with how hard she had been on him. At that line, a few of the advisers glanced at each other in recognition.

I don’t know Michele Obama — maybe she is a particularly tough political figure to handle. But I do know how she is described in an article that also describes the following incident.

“That’s not right, I’ve been killing myself on this, where’s this coming from?” Mr. Gibbs yelled, adding expletives. He interrogated Ms. Jarrett, whose calm only seemed to frustrate him more. The two went back and forth, Ms. Jarrett unruffled, Mr. Gibbs shaking with rage. Finally, several staff members said, Mr. Gibbs cursed the first lady — colleagues stared down at the table, shocked — and stormed out.

Mr. Gibbs later acknowledged the outburst but said he had misdirected his rage and accused Ms. Jarrett of making up the complaint.

In an article that is devoted almost entirely to the difficulty of working with Michele Obama (and her own misgivings about being the first lady) — it is striking that the one actual incident of inappropriate anger never comes from Michele Obama. Her characterization as someone who is suspicious and cunningly manipulative is sanitized, but the message is clear — she’s trouble.

Recently, Margaret Cho, the actress and comedian, got really angry and let out a primal scream because of some negative internet comments.

It was great.

[…] Some outside facebook observer said that my “language” was too much and told me that I had “lost a fan” because she couldn’t condone my “language”. I am sorry for that, as I love my fans, and it sucks to lose one, but obviously she doesn’t understand that when you grow up the way that I did, with kids at school throwing rocks at my face because they hated it because it was so ugly to them and they wanted the blood from my wounds to cover it so it wouldn’t have to be seen and at summer camps stuffed dog shit in my sleeping bag because I was told time and again that I looked like shit – and that I had to empty myself in the dark forest and still sleep in smelling that shit all that night and for weeks after because my family was too poor to afford a new one, my “language” is on the strong side. I apologize for offending the former fan, but I am only myself. That is all I can be, and if I must apologize for that, I don’t mind. All I am trying to say is that no young girl should be told she is ugly. If she is, you kill her spirit, and she may grow up like me, and lose a fan.

[…] Things I could say should be left unheard and unsaid because I am not willing to be the bigger person. I do not take the high road. I take the low road and blows below the belt are my absolute favorite. The best revenge is not living well. The best revenge is revenge. My mouth and mind and typing fingers are weapons of mass destruction and I pity those ignorant idiots who would leave insults about mine or any women’s bodies in comment boxes because there’s ways of hunting people down.

Go read the whole thing.

Get angry.

Don’t believe the lie that our emotions, our rage springs from our gender, race, class, or caste. It comes from our need to see the world change.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Dominique Millette permalink
    January 29, 2012 8:26 pm


    Defusing, hiding away, punishing or ridiculing anger is a tactic to prevent the loss of power by the powerful.

    Legitimizing anger changes the world.


  1. International Women’s Day Linkspamming « A life unexamined

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