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.