Anger is one of the most visceral, empowering and authentic emotions there is. It’s also one of the most important. Yet it’s the most demonized… sometimes.
In America, who gets to wear rage and who must bottle it up is a matter of privilege. In presidential elections, we see that women who get angry during debates get laughed at and then it gets called into question whether they can maintain a sense of poise; men who get angry are praised for their passion. In 1773, Bostonians became so enraged with how the British were taxing them that they destroyed tons of property. We call them revolutionaries. In 2020, Black Americans became so enraged with how often the police were killing us that we destroyed a bunch of property. They call us mad.
Just as assertiveness is considered leadership for men and b*tchiness for women, anger is one of those garments that’s called a new thing depending on the model. But a beautiful dress is a beautiful dress is a beautiful dress. Anger is a beautiful dress.
Rage, fury, frustration are all voices of your intuition; rage is a messenger emotion that urges: “there’s something very wrong here. You know it. You feel it. Pay attention.” But for much of my life I chose to ignore and minimize it. I hated Anger because Anger usually begs “do something about it,” often in a situation where it feels like it would be easier to do nothing.
Plus, my womanhood and my Blackness are both identities I have that further demonize anger when I wear it.
A few days ago I set an intention to allow myself to be angry when a situation warrants it. It’s terrifying for me because I’m very aware how easy it is for my existence to be reduced to the archetype entitled: “angry Black girl.” But I’ve decided I can’t rely on oppressive ideologies to narrate my story.
When you’re wronged there’s often a way to channel your anger into a more peaceful, “productive” means of communicating your anger, but finding it is the privilege of people who aren’t deeply emotionally impacted by the wrongdoing. The oppressor may fixate on the means of delivering the truth when they have no useful response to the truth itself.
Our society has invested so much into messaging that tells us to ignore what our anger tells us, for the sake of safety — as opposed to investing in telling people to stop harming others and causing the resulting rage. When women are disrespected we’re taught to just minimize the situation, for the sake of our own safety. When I’m wronged in a professional setting in a way that makes me question if it’s race-related, I’m taught to evade bringing up race or expressing any of the valid outrage that comes with being wronged and discriminated against.
But there’s nothing more human than an outpouring of an honest, natural emotion — even when that emotion is wailing, shouting or stomping in anger. When a baby cries and screams, it’s recognized that their frustration is indicative of an issue that must be fixed in order for them to stop crying. The way babies are treated is a great example of what it means to look for the root issue instead of demonizing the symptoms of that issue. Tears usually mean there’s a situation that must be addressed, not that there’s a person who must be demonized. But it’s unsettling that after infancy, our culture seems to hate anger more than it hates the injustices that cause it.
Allowing myself to be angry when a situation warrants it is a decision to break the bounds of a structure of femininity and decorum that tells women to minimize our experiences until what we have to say is palatable for all. A woman can get grabbed, shoved, harassed and is supposed to say, “sorry” and move away because lesson one in what our culture tells women about how to avoid danger is to minimize things and keep the peace, as if being harmed was ever peaceful.
Minimizing one’s emotions for the sake of peace is deeply psychologically ingrained.
It’s so psychologically ingrained that recently a sweaty man put his hands on my waist and I forced a smile and said, “Oops, I’m just trying to find my boyfriend over there,” and walked in the direction of my imaginary boyfriend, even though the right response was something more along the lines of “get your sweaty hands off me.”
Women are told a smile is safer than a shout. We’re told speaking up is unsafe — as if being harassed isn’t even more unsafe.
It’s so psychologically ingrained that I know a Black man who consistently speaks at about an octave lower than what a comfortable volume would be whenever he’s in public. Imagine that. A wise man with so much to say, who won’t speak loud enough for people to hear him. “I’m making sure I’m never feeding into the stereotype of the loud Black people,” he always says.
The challenges within womanhood and the obstacles within Blackness are all America’s mazes that each person in them must choose their own strategy for. I respect all of them, but recently I’ve decided to refuse to become a contorted version of myself or to ever present a contorted version of my emotions in the hopes that systems of oppression will let up if I shift into what they want me to be.
Assertiveness. Fury. Loud, passionate rage. These are life-saving forces. Oppressive systems in our culture will tell you they can be life-ending — and they truly can be — but they tell us this because they know that if the collective were to be loud enough, angry enough, furious off enough, the system would be disrupted.
Any person of color who speaks up for themselves at the risk of confirming a stereotype about their race, or woman who does so at the risk of anything seeming too emotional, or person who speaks up about something that harmed them at the risk of being called a hyper sensitive snowflake, or any of the above who speaks up at the risk of direct violence because of it, are all hyper aware of the potential repercussions of speaking up authentically.
But we do it anyway to hold our humanity and make sure we never die silenced.