Why it’s okay to be angry

My family is white, working class/poor, and American, specifically Southern, and that creates a variety of cultural issues and applications that have an effect on the way my family interacts.

There are unspoken rules and customs within the South about the appropriateness of certain emotions and it controls what’s said and what’s not said. This creates an environment where people who are violently abusive and who harass others can often get away with what they do because, while their ability to abuse others is left free and unquestioned, a victim complaining about what is happening to them is improper and it’s seen as disruptive.

My mother has taught me to question authority, but at the same time within the South I’m expected to “respect the office” as she says. I’m expected to yield to people older than me without question, and usually in the South, if you’re read as a woman, you’re expected to yield to men. Children are meant to be seen, not heard. Women are meant to be pretty, not angry.

This is a tool that physical, psychological, sexual, and emotional abusers have taken full advantage of for decades. It’s one of the things, among many, I deeply despise about my heritage and history and why I always strive to speak when I can, unless it risks my personal safety.

The appropriateness of anger

The issue of anger and appropriateness comes up a lot for me, even outside of my family. I often wear my heart and emotions on my sleeve and while I do keep to myself, I am an excitable and reactive person. I’ve been told by others that I overreact to things and that I can be aggressive to the point where it intimidates people. The idea of my being intimidating just seems odd to me.

I grew up with three half siblings who constantly bullied me and degraded me. To put it in perspective, these half siblings threw rocks at my mother’s stomach when she was pregnant with me. I was despised before I was born, which I feel has really messed up my own personal barometer on aggression.

Growing up, I had to start aggressively if I bothered to argue or say anything, so I quite often habitually start from an aggressive stance without even realising it. So I am told quite often that I am angry, too angry, for my own good. And as a result of this, my upbringing, my culture, as well as my own struggles with mental illness, I question the validity of all of my emotions, but especially anger.

I’ve always found it interesting to see when Vulcans display an emotion other than stoicism. While Vulcans are often seen as emotionless, the truth is that they have emotions, they just choose to stifle them.

Anger is largely seen as disruptive, challenging, and terrifying. Abusers know this. Oppressors know this. And they use it to their advantage. That’s why in my family, my step-grandfather could wake up my mother and aunts at two in the morning in a drunken rage and hurl misogynistic insults at them without anyone in our family doing anything about it. That’s why members of my family can steal from each other without anyone making a scene. That’s why all of the talking is silent and behind backs, because making a display of anger is inappropriate, no matter how justified it is.

When you’re angry you’re seen as unhinged. Women in particular are stereotyped as vicious harpies should they show any anger. Black and Latina women are seen as angry without even displaying any signs of anger. Although anger is used to silence people and the accusation of calling someone angry can be equally silencing. Even within activism, people who get angry are seen by fellow people in their movements as hurting their cause, as contributing towards a detriment or a bad reputation.

Anger as toxic and illogical

Anger is seen as not logical. Yet, I would argue that there are situations in this world where the only logical response is anger. I do not believe anger is toxic. I do not believe it is something that you need to “let go” of to be a better person. I believe that, for some people who go through oppression and hardship, anger is something that gives you strength and losing that is the equivalent of giving up. Anger will not solve all of our problems. Anger will not stop the pain. Anger will not necessarily heal us and maybe, for some people, peace is something that brings happiness.

But for some people, peace is not an option and it was never an option. When I see people arguing for peace, sometimes I see they are coming from a good place, but other times, I just see an extenuation of my family trying to silence any discussions that might make waves. Peace to me means silence and death. And now when people accuse me of being too reactive, too angry, too aggressive, it doesn’t stop me from expressing myself, it encourages me to do it more.

I think for those of us that use our anger, it’s beneficial to remember that we’re working with a destructive power. When you’re working with fire, you have to learn to avoid burning yourself or others. But that’s not a reason to never use it. There’s a reason abusers utilise anger when they can and those who choose not to use anger can still fall victim to those who do. Expressing your anger can be a powerful but at the same time frightening thing that can leave you vulnerable.

In instances where I have had to temper my anger, to stay silent and not say anything, it’s only honestly made me more angry. Being peaceful didn’t bring me peace, because being peaceful meant being silent. It meant being as good as dead because no one else in the room could see me. Expressing my emotions may, to some people, make me look unhinged or reactive, but I would rather express my feelings for all of the world to see than sit in silence and go unnoticed like furniture.

It also interests me that young Spock’s reaction to bullying and provocation is seen as an emotion worthy of control, whereas the desire to exploit and demean others isn’t.

Although I went to a liberal arts college in the Bay Area and I had a mother who impressed the importance on me of learning about racism, I didn’t understand the concept of white privilege or even begin going down that road until I said something that was ignorant and that sparked an angry reaction from someone who decided to confront me about my ignorance. Was it difficult to deal with someone else’s anger? Yes. It made me upset. It caused a reaction within a community that meant the ban hammer came down hard on the person who dared to create a scene to confront me.

And we could all sit here and postulate all of the ways in which the person who confronted me could have been nicer but to be honest… I don’t know as that being nice would have solved anything. I listened mostly because the person was angry and because I knew how it felt to be angry about something. They passed me reading resources that changed my perspective. And had they chose to be silent, to not express their anger, to temper their response to create peace, I never would have learned what I know now.

If you have the patience or if peace comes naturally to you, brilliant. I’m not trying to say anger is the only way of coping, but rather validate it as a way to handle life and remove the stigma of expressing it. If you’re like me and patience doesn’t come easily, don’t shy away from your anger.

Don’t forbid yourself from expressing it because it’s not appropriate or it isn’t nice. Your contribution of anger is just as valid and can be just as helpful as someone else’s peace. Remember when other people tell you that your anger isn’t logical or devalues your intelligence because of it, sometimes the logical response to a situation is anger.

Anger can be destructive, but sometimes burning down the field enriches the soil. Think about your anger. Learn how to forge it and use it to strengthen yourself. Don’t shame yourself for having it. But most importantly, use it.

Use your anger.

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