In brief reply to Melissa McEwan’s assertion that anger is understandable – and even necessary for change. (It probably isn’t directed at me, but I’m sure someone could think it so, and it very well could be, so let me act as if it is.)
Melissa is absolutely right. Anger is an absolutely understandable and rational response for minorities – or any oppressed group. All members of all oppressed groups have every reason to be angry. Anger is even necessary. But rational anger will help.
And anger – rational or not – is not always effective.
The choice all oppressed people – and especially leaders of oppressed people – face is: Are you going to use your anger, or are you going to let it use you? How will you direct that anger? Will you use it to get vengance, or to effect change? To vent or to make a difference? To convince and persuade or to alienate?
Sometimes anger – especially unexpected anger – can be enough to shock someone into questioning the systems of privilege that surround us. Sometimes that anger – especially if it’s used to label – causes the other to embrace that label. A few months ago, I saw the documentary Farmingville. It’s an excellent film, showing the turmoil in a Long Island town as it copes with a sudden influx of immigrants. One woman sticks out in my memory; she became a full-time activist against the immigrants. At first, she was shocked as people labeled her racist for her (obvious to me) racist views. That did not fit with her self-image. But as the labeling and anger continued, she grew to embrace that label. “If what I am is racist, then I don’t mind being a racist” (paraphrase).
I have to believe that perhaps, just perhaps, that initial anger and labeling was tempered instead of continued, she might have changed her views. Now, though, she is beyond reach. Sometimes anger works – and sometimes it makes the problems worse. I would call myself a feminist – but would you let me, because I sometimes disagree with your style?
I know that restraint isn’t fair. I can know it’s not easy.
But sometimes unexpected restraint can create as much change as unexpected anger.
Required listening: Stephanie Summerville’s story from the Moth podcast. (link leads to an MP3)
Edit: Dutchmarbel says it better than I in the comments thread.
Edit #2: Ironically, this wonderful Jon Stewart clip against divisiveness is reposted at Shakespeare’s Sister today.