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In, The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism, Audre Lorde is unapologetic about stating that her response to racism and oppression is anger.
As she proclaimed in 1984, “I am angry, and I have reason to be”. Anger for Lorde was an appropriate response to white supremacist violence and she felt that the emotion needed to be explored and expressed rather than negated, gaslighted, and swallowed.
But when Black women, in particular, raise these more uncomfortable elements that come with conversations of accountability and harm, including our anger, backlash and retaliation are what tend to follow.
In Willfulness and Feminist Subjectivity, Sara Ahmed (2017) quotes Audre Lorde who shared, “when women of color speak out of the anger that laces so many of our contacts with white women, we are often told that we are ‘creating a mood of helplessness', ‘preventing white women from getting past guilt’, or ‘standing in the way of trusting communication and action’” (83). The problem becomes Black and women of color’s objection to being subordinated, rather than the subordination itself (Ahmed, 2017).
Ahmed (2017) goes on to say, “to speak out of anger about racism is to be heard as the one who is standing in the way, who is blocking the flow of communication, who is preventing the forward progression sometimes described as reconciliation” (83). When this occurs, we learn to be silent and swallow negative emotions such as anger.
To repress anger means we simultaneously stifle conversations around oppressions such as racism and white supremacy. For Audre Lorde, this tone policing is strategic in that, “mainstream communication does not want women, particularly white women, responding to racism. It wants racism to be accepted as an immutable given in the fabric of your existence” (128). To resist systems of domination and stand in solidarity with one another more effectively requires that we create space for each other to feel anger and other negative emotions.
I think about myself for instance.
I have been manipulated and made to feel bad about how I express my anger, to the point that I swallow it. I have noticed that when I don’t express my anger and rage, it shows up in my body as pain in my right side, my liver area. I went to the ER to get this checked just last week, and they couldn’t find anything. But the pain was real. It’s happened several times the last year. And because I track my body in pain, I’ve noticed that it shows up when I’m most stressed and unable to express the rage and anger I’m feeling within. It’s my body’s way of signaling discomfort. That I’m holding on to toxicity that I need to move out.
So, I’m learning daily to transmute my anger in ways that are helpful, rather than holding them away, waiting for it to eventually manifest as a disease in my body that the medical field catches when it’s too late.
Audre Lorde (1987) suggests that emotions can be productive in that they carry information, saying, “anger is loaded with information and energy” (127). In this way, those of us with an accumulation of anger and rage, shame, and fear, we also have access to a wealth of knowledge located in data inside of these objects. That's for another blog, and I've talked about it before. Here, I just want to flag that how we ask others to be quiet about their anger and other emotions can be detrimental to their health. Let's stop tone policing one another and instead, allow ourselves and each other to feel what we need to feel, and express what needs to be moved out and through.
Until next time, in solidarity.