I Love the Angry People

This declaration warrants some disclaimers, I know.  But I’m not going to spend a lot of time on what this post isn’t about.  This is a post that celebrates the most socially-devalued kinds of anger as potentially revolutionary, healthy, and brave.  I love angry people — because anger is the emotional manifestation of resistance, because I understand that anger and reason are not mutually exclusive, and because we’ve been taught that angry is the worst thing we can be when it relates to our own oppression.

I come from a culture of stock narratives about anger: the stereotypes of the angry feminist, the angry black man, the angry black woman, angry queers, etc.  The specter of these stereotypes is constructed to haunt the groups they target, pressuring them to swallow their words for fear of being slapped with the label and dismissed as irrational and out of line.  It is a tool of preemptive silencing.  There is no equivalently powerful stereotype in circulation for (angry) white men, for (angry) able-bodied cishets, for (angry) upper-class neurotypicals.  I don’t have to tell you why.

Anger is important to me; anger has always been important to me, and while it’s unpleasant to experience and has to be carefully managed, it’s also underrated as a bonding tool, as a source of energy and motivation, as an index of what’s truly important to you.  I don’t always trust people who are happy about the same things I am (when someone celebrates a victory with me, I cannot always be sure how much their heart is in it; happiness is easily faked) — but when people get angry, you see what they really value.  Anger may be ugly, but because we live in an imperfect, unjust world, anger is important.  Anger can be bad, but anger can also be warranted, necessary, and just.  Anger can be a healthy response to harm.  Anger can be subversive and empowering.  Anger can be protective of the ones you love.

You may have been taught that if you’re angry about it, the credibility of your argument has been ruined — that if your thoughts are prompted by feelings, they’re not actual thoughts at all.  This comes from a gross misunderstanding of mental processing that presumes that the emotional state and the reflective state are mutually exclusive.  Actually, it’s no more mutually exclusive than being able to walk and chew gum.

When the word “angry” is affixed to a marginalized identity label, the insinuation implicit to the phrase is that these specific people should not be angry.  Since my culture does not always place a negative value on anger (ex. the superhero’s anger over the death of his fridged girlfriend, for instance, is culturally accepted; the criticism of the overuse of this trope, not so much), the inference that this anger is invalid is supposed to come from the latter part of the phrase — from blackness, from womanhood, from feminism, from queerness, from “difference”.  You’re supposed to understand that their anger is not worth listening to, that it cannot be based on anything Real (instead merely on perceived slights, incorrectly perceived), and you’re supposed to understand that on the basis of the named identities.  The curious thing, though, is that these very phrases themselves — the implication that the groups characterized by these “angry ______” stereotypes have no reasons to be angry (implying that racism, sexism, and other oppressions do not exist) in combination with the specific address of those groups within the phrases — themselves demonstrate how these traits are the specific targets of scrutiny and disdain.

While some anger stereotypes are more prevalent than others, you can see this mechanism in action with any marginalized identity, to the point where some people will jokingly adopt it as a name for themselves.  The other day, I turned on the radio and caught the tail end of an interview with a man who runs a blog called Angry Asian Man, which made me smile.  After the ugly little tumblr fiasco over Catholicism, asexuality, and nonsexual marriages, fatherangel (the instigator) characterized the response as an overreaction, using the phrase “angry asexuals” in one of his later posts, inspiring the creation of a tumblr named exactly that.

These paradigms of the “angry _______” serve as a powerful cultural tool to cut you off before you even speak — because you don’t want to be seen like that: as “angry”, even if you are angry (because you know, as soon as you’re interpreted that way, people will see you as irrational and not worth listening to) because only privileged people can get away with anger with impunity.

So it takes bravery, in the face of these traps and conventions that want to shut you down and sweep you away out of earshot, for you to show your anger in spite of it all.  I do not wish to praise anger too uncritically here.  Ideally, less anger is desirable, not more.  But I also find it ludicrous for there to be more focus on quelling and hushing and shushing that anger than there is on finding ways of fixing what incites righteous anger in the first place.  When someone is angry, sometimes there is a genuine problem at hand.  And I understand not always having the confidence or the energy or the safety to manage it — I do not mean to admonish its absence — yet when someone is fiercely, unapologetically angry about a problem I agree is a problem, I find it noble, admirable, and endearing — not in the infantalizing sense that makes light of subversive anger as “cute” and non-meaningful, but in the sense of deep empathetic connection.  When I see someone angry about something it takes guts to be angry about, or even address in the first place, I cherish that bravery, and I want to cherish that person, too.

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7 responses to “I Love the Angry People

  • justlosefaith

    I really enjoyed what you had to say here. It makes perfect sense and I’ve heard similar sentiments in the atheist community – of course there is Greta Christina’s FAMOUS “Why Are Atheists So Angry” speech/talk/blog entry (she’s read aloud most of it at many universities and places where she’s been invited to speak) http://gretachristina.typepad.com/greta_christinas_weblog/2007/10/atheists-and-an.html and that’s where I first realized that anger can be a good thing and a valid thing. You, here, helped remind me of that, though, and I appreciate you writing this blog post for that reason. :D

    • acetheist

      That looks like a good post. I think she’d be angry with me too, but good post nonetheless. Thank you for commenting.

      • justlosefaith

        She’d be “angry” with your religious beliefs, perhaps, although I’m not sure… but if she only came across how you feel about asexuality, she might agree or just be enlightened lol.

        She would agree, probably, with what I’d guess you’d have to say on feminism, or racism, or able-ism. :P But it’s hard to say. I don’t know your beliefs nor hers well enough to predict that sort of a thing.

        She, from what I can tell, is very sexual – a lesbian who would not relate at all to those of us who identify as asexual. :P I definitely don’t remember coming across the term asexuality on her blog, but I haven’t really been around there since I started identifying with the community, so maybe I missed it. :P

        I do know that most of the anti-religious atheists I’ve come across, myself included (there’s a reason my username asks people to lose their faith, lol), still appreciate theists such as yourself and are “less” angry about what you believe than the most fundamentalist, intolerant types of beliefs. Also, on an individual level, most of the atheists I’ve come across agree that the good-intentioned people are products of their environment/indoctrination/etc. We all have to go through a journey of figuring out what to believe. We can’t be too “angry” with the people themselves. But we can be angry at the whole of religion and all of the harm done in its name. It gets complicated, and of course people do similar bad things without religion to help, just like the good things accomplished in the name of religion can be accomplished in secular ways as well, but… even if we don’t have clear or easy answers, or even definitive answers at all yet, discussing all of this is healthy and productive, in my opinion.

  • Calum P Cameron

    For a traditionally Christian-shaped country and culture to vilify anger – not the common causes or uses of anger, but the very CONCEPT – seems genuinely nonsensical. I have little doubt that, were Jesus Christ to be bodily present in the modern day, he’d be similarly written off as an “angry Jew” by that logic. Heck, consistent anger at privilege and injustice in all their myriad forms is one of the defining characteristics of God in both Old and New Testaments.

    I mean, obviously it’s ALSO a ridiculous thing to do from the point of view of simple logic. Religious influence doesn’t need to come into it. But it does add a certain extra layer of “are you kidding me?” when it’s done by members of a culture which is theoretically influenced by traditional Christian teachings.

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