(sometimes withershins, widershins or widderschynnes) means to take a course opposite that of the sun, going counterclock-wise, lefthandwise, or to circle an object, by always keeping it on the left. It also means "in a direction opposite to the usual," which is how I choose to take it in using it as the title of this blog. We're all in the same world finding our own way.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Naked Truth: Continuing a Discussion on Anger

[Trigger warning for racial microaggressions]

So I went to this event at my alma mater this past weekend called the Naked Truth on Stereotypes. I had a lot of thoughts about the event and the presentation, but I'll save that for another time and just say congrats to the cast for doing a good job.

I did want to discuss something that happened during/after the event however. During the discussion portion at the end of the event, a person asked why everyone was so angry and why so many of the stories up on stage featured anger as strongly as they did. 

The cast and folks with Social HeArtistry did a wonderful job answering the question and redirecting, but after the show this person was having a conversation with my friend and seemed pretty upset at the idea of anger and how showcasing frustration at stereotypes can reinforce those stereotypes of being an angry person of color and even went so far as to ask how in its net cultural impact this anger was any different than the angry preachers spewing hate in the public square every spring. 

This of course was a huge red flag for me, and I understand the nuance that anger by itself is unproductive and you can't just get angry and yell, but that's in itself an unfair comparison. bell hooks talks about how anger is often a necessary tool toward creating change and how accusations of anger are often a tool to silence people. Denial of anger is often a tool to pacify and appease the ruling classes into accepting the marginalized (see specifically, black voices), but doing so at the expense of those further in the margins and the reality of the inequalities that exist to keep them marginalized (and justifiably angry).

I don't believe that's exactly the case here, but it is relevant to the larger discussion. Anger is a necessary starting point. But you have to do something with that anger that if you want to see change. 

That's why TNTS had a discussion at the end of the event, to unpack the anger on stage and talk about next steps in creating and sustaining a community that won't allow these racialized aggressions to be normalized. That's part of what my opening quote is missing: you can be angry out of love (be it love for yourself or your community) and through those two feelings demand that oppression stop. But the anger and hate of racist and homophobic preachers is not the same as the anger of oppressed people. One is backed up by a fucked up society that has a longstanding history of voicing those same hatreds. The other is frustration with the effects those hatreds have on people's everyday lives.

TNTS is an exaggeration. It presents the stereotypes faced by marginalized groups in a stark, not every stereotype that each performer talked about was a direct quote of some fucked up thing said to them every day. They don't need to be, because even being faced with those kind of intrusive, ignorant questions once is more than enough to be angry. They don't even have to be directed at you so much as merely at someone like you for them to hold true as symptoms of the toxic and ignorant environment most of our society is for people of color.That's what frustrated me, it doesn't matter if the stories up on stage were everyday lived experiences, not when the media and our classes and casual "innocent" comments perpetuate the same thing with impunity. 

Yes, people start from a place of ignorance, and many microaggressions come from a well-meaning place, but we cannot equate ignorance to innocence when toxic messages limit people's ability to grow and change. There's a phrase that's been going around a lot, that "intent means nothing in the face of impact" and this especially holds true when the impact creates a harmful environment. 

This situation is one where the intent of venting long-held frustrations is being outright ignored in favor of the impact that some people (meaning those with privilege, be it racial, class or otherwise) might be turned off by the anger they've been sheltered from. But if the intent of a privileged person entering a space like TNTS is to learn, why are they not learning? Why are they not listening to the message behind the anger? I often hear the idea that education is a two-way street and the voices of the oppressed need to meet the ignorant where they're at. While this is valid, a two-way street does not mean equal when one side as a collective often walks the other direction when you approach them. 

That's one of the distinctions that makes discussions around power and privilege difficult, that makes this post difficult for me to write: often there's a disconnect between privileged folk and marginalized folk where the responsibility of learning is so disconnected from the content of the discussion that you could almost say there are two overlapping conversations happening at the same time. One being a dialogue within the strictures of the dominant social narrative and the other more a monologue resisting and criticizing the dominant narrative that's attempting to reframe the discussion and asking that you not respond, in privilege our voices don't matter.

On an academic, ideological level, I understand the resistance to this reframing. It's threatening and it closes off discussion in the traditional sense. Discussions not based in the rhetoric of logic and rational thought (i.e. those of the kind of passion/anger I talk about above) are often criticized for seeking to be above criticism because they refuse the voice of traditional ideas of argumentation. Undoubtedly in talks about race and feminist thought especially it will come up in comments. I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, it's true, these discussions are not above criticism, but often times such criticisms based in rationalism are framed and worded in ways that invalidate lived experience.

While the larger theoretical discussion between privilege and oppression might create illogical and seemingly unfair asks when the oppressed push back, I think a lot of that theoretical thought loses some of its footing when the reality of lived experience (usually anecdotal, but so reoccurring that to deny it would be its own fallacy) is so overwhelming. It's hard to take criticism when it essentially says "the way you're describing reality is subjective and therefore wrong." I don't have a way to reconcile this, or even know if I'm describing what I'm trying to describe accurately because there's so much going on.

Thoughts, reflections, counterpoints, examples all welcome.