On “White Anger”, Anger in General, and a Call for Respectful Dialogues

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I recently read an article about White Anger and why it doesn’t do anybody any good (feel free to read it here: http://jhameia.tumblr.com/post/46131612549/on-white-anger#_=) and it brought up a lot of good points. Some of the main points were that White Anger is like a mirror, it is meant to reflect upon the person who is shouting rather than create change, and that White Anger is another way of exercising White privilege because White voices are often listened to more than voices of non-White folks (i.e. they take up more “space”). True, true, but the way the post this article was reflecting on to support its argument just fueled an entirely different argument, an argument about when it is ok (IF EVER) to respond to White Anger with racism and name calling (or belligerent backlash, as I like to refer to it). I can totally understand where this post is coming from. No names, but I know a person in one of my classes who is always preaching about White privilege, and taking up space, and how we all need to check our privilege – now, this is coming from a White person and is being directed at a class almost entirely full of people of color, aside from the two or three White students (this person included). Ironic? It sometimes feels as if this person is saying “Look guys, I’m one of you, and I’m so angry about this stuff on your behalf, lets be angry together!” (this person once stated to a person of color in our class “you’re a person of color and this is super racist so I wanted to show you so we can be angry together about this” when referencing a racist ad, almost entirely verbatim). What is wrong with this is that these statements and words stop being about making change and creating awareness and instead become a means to an ends, the ends being a sense of belonging/acceptance and, I theorize, a way to abet the guilt that comes with privilege (I could say White guilt, but come on, this is about SO much more than race, this applies to class, gender, sex/uality, everything really). It almost feels like tokenizing, in a way that I can’t fully articulate at the moment, that’s just how it feels to me.

White Anger, or Privileged Anger, doesn’t get us anywhere, but neither does belligerent backlash. I think too often we let totally asenine behavior slide because of the person’s identity. When a person of color says something racist they are less likely to be called out on it, and that isn’t helping anyone. When a woman says something sexist, they are less likely to be called out on it, and that isn’t helping anyone either. Ok, story time:

One time I tried to compliment my friend’s roommate on her hair cut. She had just gotten it trimmed by my friend, and I said it looked nice, and she said “How does it look nice?” and I was kind of taken off guard because usually when you compliment someone you don’t get questioned on your compliment, so I didn’t really know what to say. I said “I don’t know, it just looks nice, tidy” seriously, when someone gets a trim, what are you supposed to say! It looks nicer! It doesn’t look creative or stunning, there’s no good way to describe it, it just looks nicer. Well instead of taking them compliment for what it was (a compliment, nothing more nothing less) she changed the subject, and later I overheard her ranting in her bedroom to her friend on the phone about how “dumb little white girls try to say shit about black hair and they don’t know what they’re talking about”. This is messed up for a couple of reasons. Reason 1) I’m not white. She was well aware of that, we had a big discussion about how I hated being lumped into a racial category where I didn’t fit, or belong 2) I wasn’t talking about black hair, or race at all, I said her hair looked nice 3)When someone gives you a well-intended compliment, don’t be an asshole! If it bugs you, talk about it, discuss it, but don’t just attack, accuse, and act like an asshole.

Another example would be how CASH, the student group here on campus for Athesits, Skeptics, and Humanists, responded to the violence regarding a drawing of Muhammed, by starting a “Draw Muhammed Day”. Responding to violence with offensive behavior, and misrepresentation? I was actually really mad about this, because as an Agnostic/leaning-Atheist person, I feel like I am constantly fighting this stereotype that atheists/agnostics have no principles, no morals, are rude and make fun of religious people, and then the only group on campus that represents my faith just totally misrepresented me and upheld the stereotype that Atheists (etc) are offensive and don’t care about anyone else. I’m also annoyed because now it feels like I can’t take my Muslim or Christian friends to this group to learn about my beliefs because I’m afraid the group would say something super offensive, which is just as bad as being worried about taking your atheist girlfriend home to meet your family and being worried that they will say something rude or offensive. Seeing my friends on Facebook post about how Easter is a “Zombie Jesus Day” was also incredibly disappointing because if anyone made fun of a holiday that my friends cared about, they’d be up in arms, saying how narrow minded it is to make fun of someone’s beliefs, but there they were, doing exactly that. My point is that we wouldn’t accept this kind of behavior towards us or our communities so why are we projecting it towards others?

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I discussed this with a couple of former classmates and a few friends of theirs once, and, while I was trying to emphasize the need for respect in arguments surrounding race and other forms of identity politics, the discussion snowballed into a name calling match, to the point where I just gave up and left. It is so ironic to sit there and try to tell people that the point an article made could have been made better if the person talking about it had been more respectful and less hostile in tone and voice, and then have those people tell me I am ridiculous and that I am “tone policing”, and using “derailing tactics”. I wasn’t de-railing anything, I was trying to make a point, a point that apparently no one wanted to see, hence the accusations. I don’t think wanting respectful rhetoric in discussions is upholding White Capitalist Patriarchy, and I don’t think calling people out on rude/offensive behavior is either. Until we can learn to embrace these ideas (respect, and the ability to listen to other points of view besides our own) we are just going to keep holding back change.

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