Anger and Educating the Privileged

I realize that, lately, I am an angry person.

I read the news, I get angry. I read my blogs – most of which are political in nature – and get angry. I see things in my daily life that make me angry – hateful misogyny, self-serving racism, ruthless economic exploitation, and on and on and on.

On the one hand, I think that’s a good thing – “If you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention” is a truth I live by. While I’m not glad that I’m angry, I’m glad that I have some sort of response to the oppression and mistreatment that goes on every single day in this world. I’m glad I notice at least some of all this, and that I have a visceral response that this world isn’t right. If I can still feel outrage – and thus, a desire to change things – then I know I’m still human, and not totally numb or complacent.

The world pisses me off …

On the other hand – well, constant anger isn’t good. It’s a stressor (and I stress enough already). I feel unhappy about the state of the world, whether that’s from reading about horrific, wide-scale atrocities in the news, or encountering the entrenched yet subtle *ist (sexist, racist, homophobic, etc.) attitudes in people I interact with. I find myself avoiding things that I want to do – I read my blogs irregularly, because the ones I follow most have content that pisses me off, in either the news they share or the fuckwit trolls who comment. I also tend to avoid non-political, high-traffic websites (comic book messageboards, video game news sites, etc.), because the accumulation of people almost guarantees privileged ignorance. I have to tailor my behavior so that I don’t have a negative physical reaction – like raised blood pressure, or just really tense muscles – in the course of pursuing my hobbies.

I don’t like being unhappy on a daily basis. I want to enjoy my life.

… But do I have the right to complain?

Still, I think we all have the obligation to make ourselves at least a little uncomfortable in order to improve the state of the world. At least, I do, if I’m going to complain about it. 😉

But how much? How much should I use the theory I’ve learned and try to change the world around me? How much should I try to educate people and reveal the truths of oppression and privilege? When I’m so tired by reading the latest harangue on how feminists are horrible/man-hating/stupid/mean, or why people of color are just whiners who blame white people for everything, how do I have the energy to extend myself? (And when I can find people who think like this on blogs such as Pandagon and Reappropriate, which are for feminists or people of color, I get very tired.)

“To educate or not to educate” is one of the toughest questions I face in regards to anti-oppression work. I’m an impatient person; in some circumstances, I have an extremely short temper. To be honest, I’m not very good at educating the ignorant. Talking face-to-face, or even keyboard-to-keyboard, to people who refuse to educate themselves on privilege, quickly gets me frustrated and – you guessed it – angry. I’m going to be selfish again and focus on me: I don’t like feeling this way, and I don’t want the responsibility of educating people.

The benefits of diplomacy vs. the right of radicals

But let’s face it: we need to educate. Certainly some men turn to feminism on their own, and some white people turn to anti-racism on their own, and some rich people turn to anti-classism on their own. But not all of the privileged will do this. And no matter how much work we do, we’ll never get rid of privilege without the cooperation of the privileged – so outreach and education are vital.

People need resources to educate themselves, and books won’t cut it. They need people willing to answer their questions and guide them. For those sitting on the fence, they might even need persuasion and patience. Some people will use personal excuses to rid themselves of social responsibility by saying things like, “Some feminists were mean to me so I won’t fight sexism.” In cases like these, diplomacy is necessary to maintain alliances.

Of course, the non-privileged do not owe anything to the privileged. They do not owe patience, ego-stroking, forgiveness. A black woman does not owe patience to ignorant white people who try to touch her hair like she’s an animal in a petting zoo. A woman does not owe a second chance to a man who thinks leering is a compliment. The non-privileged do not even owe the privileged an education. The education is ultimately for the sake of the non-privileged group.

In some cases, we need the unyielding, take-no-prisoners approach of radical theorists. We need people who won’t take sexist or racist bullshit and will call the privileged on their ignorance. It’s true that, without allies, we’ll never get far; but if we spend all of our time coddling and hand-holding, we won’t get any of our actual work done.

It’ll burn some bridges – those who aren’t granted tolerance or pats on the head might turn against the movement in the way I described above. But sometimes it’s necessary for catharsis and sanity. Sometimes, the “rude,” “offensive,” “unattractive” radicals have it right.

But they aren’t the only ones who are right. The Happy Feminist talks about this concept briefly in the latter half of this post, as do some of her commenters. As j0lt puts it, “While it important to have diplomatic missionaries speaking to those who fail to see the benefits of feminism, it is also vital to have people rallying the troops.”

As for me …

I read both Happy and Twisty, depending on my current mood, because I fall somewhere in between. I myself can be both extremely impatient, having no tolerance for *ist stupidity; yet also a borderline apologist who values alliance between the privileged and non-privileged. Luckily, there are places like this blog that seem to match my position on the spectrum pretty well.

I wish I had a more comprehensive answer, a better strategy for avoiding anger while still facing up to my responsibilities. But there’s no way to nicely and neatly tuck this problem away. I guess what I’m trying to say with all of this is: I don’t like being angry like this. I don’t deserve to be made angry like this. But I also have the right to be angry about the way the world is.

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10 thoughts on “Anger and Educating the Privileged

  1. I think you mean
    “And no matter how much work we do, we’ll never get rid of privilege without the cooperation of the privileged – so outreach and education are vital.”

  2. Dora,

    I empathize with your frustrations and even the anger that springs from that agitation. I’ve a personal interest in building communities that bridge large social divides with the intent of fostering constructive discussion and (ultimately) productive action towards breaking down many of the artificial barriers between such factions. I have a sense that the attitudes and habits that feed privilege are inexorably related to the structures that propagate social tribalism; so I feel an onus to tackle these matters together. The problems are daunting.

    On the one hand, I feel there’s value to be had in inclusive forums that encourage any interested parties to participate. The trade-off to the promise of increased mind-share is the reduced signal to noise ratio and the growing likelihood of derailed discussions. The hard-line theorists must exist – both because people should be free to strive for an ideal in their own lives and because they enrich us all by exploring the possibilities that are open to a society that’s worked through these problems. At the same time, I feel a strong desire to foster productive outreach. The unprivileged certainly don’t owe an education to the privileged but (as you said) educating the privileged does improve the world for everyone.

    I’m struggling to conceive of ways a community can be built that balances my desire for inclusion and diplomacy with the need to reduce the “noise” from the trolls and provide idealists with a comfortable space. I don’t labor under the delusion that I’ve got the experience, understanding, or facilities to come up with these innovations in a vacuum, so I’ve been searching for others who’re tackling similar ideas. I’m excited to see the way you’ve summarized many of the challenges that face this sort of effort. I’d be curious to see if anyone has examples of systems or existing communities that’ve had success in balancing some of these conflicts. Perhaps just ideas on the matter?

  3. Sailorman: Yes, that would definitely change my meaning, wouldn’t it? Changed, thanks.

    Perinteger: You’re right on in your description of “noise” from trolls. I used to advocate totally open spaces, thinking that only by listening to every voice could we make progress. However, I’ve since realized that for some people, the purpose (deliberate or not) is to stymie progress, and being overly inclusive can hurt the quality of discussion. Because of that, I’m more relieved than disappointed to see stronger moderation policies on blogs such as this one, or Alas, a blog.

    At the same time, I appreciate the openness of bloggers like The Happy Feminist and Hugo Schwyzer, who put up with a greater amount of antagonism. They are the diplomatic type of feminists, and their blogs reflect that. I would suggest that a single community can’t ever have all the benefits of discourse; some will have to concentrate on open moderation in order to win allies, while others will need to raise their standards in order to focus on the actual work of social improvement.

  4. I can empathise. I don’t have a problem trying to educate people on the internet, because quite frankly the consequences for riling them are significantly less than the consequences of stepping all over someone’s privilege in real life. It pisses me off that I have to do it at all, but then again, it took someone willing to teach me to open my eyes, so I try to have some modicum of patience. I get stressed, sometimes, when the online folks don’t take me seriously (or worse, as has happend recently, refuse to do anything about the problem because it would be a “massive waste of time and effort” to police sexist comments) — but at the end of the day, or even in the middle of it, I can always unplug and go do something to destress. My dog loves it when I argue online because it inevitably means he gets to go on a nice hard run later on.

    But the people I know? I can’t do it. I think back to how my coming out affected them, and although they’ve ‘recovered’ from the shock of having a bi poly daughter/sister/niece/friend, it was still a rather traumatic experience. I’m not sure I want to rock the boat further and risk relationships I’ve had literally all my life. My dad’s the first and foremost person I’m wrestling with right now. When I write to tell him about how much I enjoy my “Psychology of Human Sexuality” class and he writes back that, at the tender raging-hormones age of 20, he wouldn’t have been able to sit that class without feeling the need to leave and “tackle” the first female he encountered — and then passing it off as “boys are just wired that way” — how do I respond to that? How do I make him understand how frightening that kind of thinking is to me, his daughter? I mean, I could call him on it, but I don’t think I could handle the inevitable response of not being taken seriously or, worse, his arguing against my stance to defend his privilege. Hell, I can barely stand to think that my father might be the most sexist man I know — it burns me up inside, and makes me wonder how to approach a relationship that heretofore has been good, amicable, and full of love and laughter. And then I feel like a hypocrite for not saying anything, and that more than anything pisses me off.

    If there’s a happy medium that doesn’t feel hypocritical, I’d love to know where to find it. I don’t want to be angry all the time, but neither do I want to simply bury my head in the sand and pretend that ignorance is bliss.

  5. Sara: I went to check out your journal and made the mistake of reading the post where your quote comes from … Ugh. I usually don’t attribute things to someone “for being a man,” but here I feel pretty comfortable saying that Daniel’s flippant response comes because he has the male privilege of not being a target of verbal sexual harassment, and not realizing how much that can ruin a person’s experience of a community. I’m sorry you got such an unhelpful response.

    I really feel where you’re coming from on educating people close to you. I have some similar feelings about my own father, and yet – I do love him and feel thankful for what he’s done for me, so criticizing him feels ungrateful or something. Of course, I realize that good people can still be sexist, and gratitude for one thing should prevent us from correcting a different wrong … but in practice, it’s hard. So far I focus on talking to those among my loved ones who have a more willing ear, which might work for you as well.

    Also: “It pisses me off that I have to do it at all, but then again, it took someone willing to teach me to open my eyes, so I try to have some modicum of patience.” Hear, hear. I try to remember that myself.

  6. I get very angry, too, but it is challenging for me to attempt to educate persons who seem so gleefully ignorant. A man sometimes takes liberties with saying whaddevvah the hell he wants. I’m usually quick to ask him what exactly he means (response: “blubber, blubber”), or to otherwise put him in his proverbial place. I realize that this is a unique skill, developed after years of seething anger – at some people who shall remain nameless – combined with rabid verbal competition with my older brother. So I educate assholes to stay the hell away from me. How productive is that? It works for me, and that’s as far as I can get. I guess I’m a wee bit cynical about educating the ‘dyed-in-the-wool’ pig. Or sheep? Hmmm. Plenty of men are proud of their disdain for women, and feminists in particular: it reminds me of the feminist theory I studied in college, and the male fear of losing a penis inside a vagina. Gads, I’d rather not imagine that – program me for eject!

    Nevvuhtheless, educating boys is great fun and utterly worth it. I’m a teacher and a mother. Boys, and girls, of course, may be miniature in stature, but they are large and flexible of brain. They are forming new opinions all of the time. They are watching us and noting what we do. As the old saying goes, the personal is political. All of the wildly articulate women writing – right here on this comments page – are surely walking around and spreading intelligence and ethical ideas everywhere. That doesn’t mean we always know what to say to Dad when he’s a dork. But people are watching, even when you don’t notice. And children, in particular, are learning from our every movement, pun intended!

  7. Lucy: I like your outlook. 😀 It’s true that just talking/writing on a regular basis, such as on this blog, has a palpable effect on people’s opinions.

    On the other hand, it’s so frustrating when you’re hit with a person or event that doesn’t allow for teaching or gradual persuasion – such as Tekanji’s experience with street harassment. It feels like hitting a sudden brick wall. In cases like those, I think being forceful like you is one of the best options. If you know a person is hopelessly ignorant and you don’t have the opportunity to actually talk to them, what’s most important is you – asserting your boundaries and getting the message across that you don’t tolerate the other person’s behavior.

  8. I see anger as a very positive thing. Have you read Audre Lorde’s text on anger and activism from her book Sister Outsider? That’s how I like to think of anger as – a strong fierce force that moves me forward and helps me deal with marginalization, oppression, and privilege, everyday.

    This is a great site!

  9. onebrownwoman: Welcome! I haven’t read that piece, or the book itself – it’s on my “to-be-read” list of feminist classics, which is unfortunately huge – but I love the sentiment. Anger as fuel, instead of weakness.

  10. just found your site today and am looking forward to perusing it more in depth! i thought you should know, dora, that your piece was a catalyst for my most recent blog! my thoughts on anger… thank you!!!!!!!!

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