Note: This is kind of an old post, but I think it’s still useful.
I’m sure that many of you have heard variations on the following:
“You’re just too angry. Your anger alienates people/potential allies and might make them afraid to associate with you! They won’t want to be on your side because of your anger.”
This statement, or a variation thereof, is often wielded at feminists, people of color (particularly women of color), radical progressives, non-mainstream members of the LGBTIQA community, disabled and chronically ill folks, atheists, fat acceptance activists, and others in order to get them to capitulate to some weird, unseen social standard that requires that they not offend anyone even as they fight to be heard and taken seriously, as well as for social and political justice.
There is a difference between being angry for its own sake, and turning one’s anger into action. For whatever reason, mainstream Western culture has decided that people who have historically been put down, devalued and mistreated by those in the majority should fight for their rights, but they should “be nice” while they do so. The messages that historically devalued groups have to get across, even if said messages are quite radical, should apparently be palatable even to the people who have the most social currency in mainstream society. What’s radical about that?
Anger makes people fundamentally uncomfortable, and I think that this discomfort often discourages constructive work. When those who need to express their anger, somehow, are not allowed to do so, the anger can become toxic. Instead of a catalyst for change, it becomes a symptom of a missed opportunity.
My own anger is something that I’ve just begun to embrace after years of stuffing it down and having it reappear at other times, often to my own detriment. Certainly, I may be too angry. I may indeed alienate people with some of my words. However, do I really want those who cannot “handle” what I have to say as allies, if I have to add, for example, rainbows and unicorns and puppies to my outlook on the world in order to make my outlook more palatable? No.
Anger, if used in a constructive manner, can be a great creative force. Most of the cartoons that I draw and have drawn start or started as brief doodles about things that make me or have made me angry. When I can create something that has been inspired by my own strong feelings, I feel much better and more able to cope with things such as my illness, and the physical pain and fatigue that come with it. When I take the opposite tack–that is, when I hold my anger in and don’t do anything with it–I feel worse.
[Originally posted at HAM.BLOG on August 7, 2008.]