Sometimes You Catch More With Vinegar, Actually

In honor of the most recent blog to delete an angry comment of mine*, I want to briefly revisit this topic, specifically in regards to the idea that expressing anger will damage any message you try to get across, even if you have a right to be angry.

*It was quite an eloquent comment, in my humble opinion.  I’m sad to have lost it.

The line of thinking, generally, is that privileged people won’t listen to you if you allow any emotion enter your tone.  All too often, the privileged are just waiting for any excuse to dismiss an argument that makes them uncomfortable, and tone-policing is an easy way for them to do that.  That’s a fact.

But while that’s a phenomena to be aware of, that doesn’t mean the reverse never happens.  Anger has communicative value because sometimes the fact that a real human being has been hurt is part of what needs to be communicated, and sometimes, that’s the only way to get the message across.

This isn’t a blanket endorsement of anger, just a blanket condemnation of its blanket condemnation.

What I’m responding to, and what I have in mind as I write this, is mindsets like this one:

Please don’t be angry with people for not understanding something. Explain to them. Educate them. Inform them. Do not yell and call them names. Because they will still not comprehend. Except now, they are hurt. And you are the asshole.

You can fret about the immorality and inefficacy of name-calling all you want, and I’ll shrug and nod along, but it’s not rude to get angry with people who attack, degrade, and humiliate you, as as one of the replies pointed out:

I have every right to be angry at people for not understanding that I am a human being just as they are.

I don’t have to educate anyone on their racism. Their parents and teachers should’ve taught them that shit. I ain’t getting paid to baby ignorant white people when they fuck up

So you know OP is someone with a lot of fucking privilege

This quote about sums it up:

People often say ‘stop being angry and educate us’, not understanding that the anger is part of the education.

The point of making this post, though, is not just to say — as an oppressed person — that I have a right to be angry sometimes and let people know about it and be heard, but also to say — as a privileged person — that sometimes, it works.  I’ve got qualms about that side of me being given a more authoritative say, but if the idea is that “anger never helps”, then I feel a responsibility to report that seeing people get angry and frustrated has actually contributed to changing my opinions for the better, and I don’t actually know where I’d be without seeing some of that, but my guess is it wouldn’t be anyplace good.  This isn’t to recommend that people vent their unfiltered honest sentiments as much as possible, because anger is exhausting and catches a lot of flak, but is to say, it can be okay, and sometimes, people will hear you.

It is risky, but not immoral or useless, to express anger in reaction to oppression.  For me, seeing some of that has been valuable.  “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar”?  Honey, there have been times when a message being presented with the patient gentleness of guided meditation or in a tone as dry as a textbook would have made me take the message less seriously or think that it wouldn’t have done any damage to argue.  That wouldn’t have excused anything I did, of course, but if the point is being argued on the basis of efficacy, then folks need to know that’s not always true.  There are, actually, times when holding back can be a disservice.  It’s not easy to predict which situation is which.  When it comes to whether to be emotionally forthright or whether to hold back, there’s no one single reliable strategy, and you have to take more into account than adhering to an unwavering rule of “never, ever do anything that could be conceivably misconstrued as aggression”.

If you’re already so far gone as to believe that oppressed people’s right to vent and defend themselves comes second to privileged people’s right to feel comfortable and catered to, then you should at least know that I need to see that sometimes.  I need the reality check.  No one person’s obligated to provide it to me, but for goodness’ sake, don’t shut down the ones who do.  If they’re willing to put themselves out there like that, it’s cruel and inaccurate to tell them that no one will listen.  And if you think that showing anger always has a negative effect on the message, or that it always decreases the likelihood that anyone will listen, then you need to know that you’re wrong.  I wish you would listen to me as an ace, but if you won’t, then I’m asking you to listen to me as a White person, as an abled person, and as a person who has all sorts of privileges that shield me from harm in ways I did nothing to earn.  Oppressed people need to be given space to use their voices, and I need to hear them — and advice that says “bottle your rage and bury it where the offenders will never see” helps neither of us.  I don’t want your protection, and no one deserves to be policed for politeness when grappling with pain.

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4 responses to “Sometimes You Catch More With Vinegar, Actually

  • Calum P Cameron

    Pop culture reference became relevant. You brought this on yourself:
    http://xkcd.com/357/

  • Jo

    I have mixed feelings on this. I believe that our anger can spurn us to act, in instances where we might not otherwise. And in the right circumstances, that anger deserves to be expressed–so that others can understand why the oppressed party feels the way they do.

    However, especially in the online community, what is often perceived as an attack is really a display of ignorance. I certainly never knew there was such a thing as asexuality, or alternative pronouns, or any of that before tumblr. I was raised as a sheltered middle-class white girl–in college, I had only just been exposed to transexuality and got to learn about what that actually meant. Learning about asexuality not only helped me understand myself, but other people.

    But when I look at my family, my friends, people outside of the tumblr community, I see how ignorant most of them are. And while some comments do come from homophobia (and usually the Christian perspective that such things are simply “wrong”) most derive from ignorance.

    I feel that online (and sometimes offline) sometimes we do need to take the higher ground, and ask if getting angry is the proper response to what has been expressed. It’s not fair, but I do think that sometimes we have to stay calm and patiently explain things to those who may have never had someone to do so.

    Is it my responsibility to correct everyone’s racist/homophobic behavior? Is it my job? No. But I feel that I cannot complain about someone misjudging me if I am unwilling to explain to them. Just like I feel I can’t complain about the outcome of an election that I did not vote in. But that’s just my take on it.

    • Spade

      I’m entirely willing to complain about someone misjudging me if I am unwilling to explain to them. Regardless, I’m not saying that getting angry is always justified.

      To clarify: this post is about responding to the “anger never helps anyone to understand” idea with “but it helped me to understand”. It’s less about “is it okay to get angry?” and more about “is it okay to tell people that it’s useless to get angry?”

      Anyway, I don’t think people-not-doing-enough-to-patiently-explain is at all a problem in this community (the post this was written in response to was loosely about asexual people), and I reject the idea that expressing anger is mutually exclusive to providing an explanation. Getting angry is not mutually exclusive from taking the higher ground.

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