May 6, 2015

Why Anger Matters.


Most of my writing on the issue of anger addresses white women, but it’s not because I think we’re the only ones served by the medicine of anger.

After a short stint in Oakland training to be a doula, and proudly announcing my service to nonwhite women, my teacher gently told me that while my work was certainly valuable, it was probably not ultimately for brown and black women in the way I’d imagined.

She suggested that my service was to be where I was from. Racism says only the marginalized need help. As you can imagine, I was not entirely pleased.

It wasn’t until many years later when I finally moved back—to what a friend, like a deer in headlights outside a coffee shop, whispered was the “white people’s utopia” (Boulder, Colorado)—that I realized just how right my teacher was. So my discomfort was confirmed. Something needed attention. But white people? What did I have to offer? I had spent all my effort and money fleeing this exact situation. And anyway, I preferred to be the foreigner someplace, the novel outsider, the “different” one, than to be constantly reminded of how miserably I failed at my fun, playful and often very loving culture of white American privilege.

Despite it’s obvious appeal, it left me sucking for air beneath what I saw of silent pain, resentment, isolation and willful ignorance. My culture left me agonizingly angry. Not because I hate it, I don’t. Not because I hate white people, I don’t, but because there is so much left out in learning about the self and our participation with others.

There’s a rich, dynamic and beautiful wisdom that’s routinely neglected, feared and ridiculed in white culture, even in the midst of seeking it. At the time, I wouldn’t have used those words for my experience, nor would I have used these: I felt like a failure at whiteness. I was just too angry.

The humming wheel in many minds that repeats, “something is wrong, something is wrong,” asks people to look around. And so we do, and when, in our immediate vicinity, we see ease and beauty and comfort we begin to imagine “that something” must be us. So we keep our gratitude journals, we keep going to yoga, and/or we drink more booze and buy more toys.

We start to over-value our ability to match our external variables, as in living in a beautiful and easy place, and so commit to feeling as good as we think this place should make us feel. The power of the soul, however, commits to knowing the wholeness, intimately, including grief and anger. And so, however beautiful and easy- going our lives may look, our souls, in their perfect perception of truth and justice, cannot bear the hollowness.

People come into my anger workshops expecting to stomp around and destroy things and scream. They think their anger and violent fantasies will resolve if they can just find an outlet, blaming themselves, (“Because I mean, really, I’ve got nothing to complain about”), and feeling ashamed (“I don’t have real problems, look at those people”). But peace doesn’t necessarily come from acting on what makes us angry, it comes from understanding what makes people angry, and accepting it. Hitting a pillow isn’t the same as knowing that anger is the soul’s response to injustice. The murkiness of confusion and avoidance of confrontation arrives when we believe that somehow, the issue of justice is not our issue.

The soul desires consistency and it experiences tremendous pain when it cannot trust the reliability of our worldview. And it cannot trust the reliability of our worldview when there are things we refuse to look at. We cannot, with any integrity, call for peace and ignore injustice.

So when there are issues we cannot or will not look at because it conflicts with what we want to feel, our soul may abandon us.

I’ll fault no person for wanting to feel good, to feel peaceful, to feel loving. Desire for goodness isn’t what pushes our souls out. It’s avoidance that disgusts our higher nature, our mistaking stubborn ignorance for spiritual balance. All that messy grief and anger? Clashes with the backdrop. But the soul, if nothing else, cannot be deceived. It wants us to feel good, and to know that there is no greater joy than the relief of aligning with justice.

It may be my bias from what I’ve seen transform in myself and others when we discover the searing beauty and wisdom of our anger, but I believe that courageous peace and sincere compassion are available only to those who agree to go through their full, radiant range of emotion, and who agree to the validity of the emotions of others. There isn’t a shortcut.

The way I see it, white people have two main jobs in the abhorrent mess that is violence against non-white people in this country. The first is to make friends with our own anger, to begin to see the nameless colors of it that exist nowhere else in our being, to see that anger is not and does not have to be the same as abuse, that it’s our soul longing for us, and for the world to be right. It’s how we become magical and wise and how we test the edges of passion.

Feeling sick, ill-at-ease and otherwise unwell is a call to look openly in the face of anger. It’s a call not to silence our souls and our bodies. The confusion tells us we’ll come out more troubled if we dive into difficulties, but the relief of honesty burns into us the awakening we ask for every day in our meditations, and incinerates on contact our disavowed discomfort with the status quo.

The second is to be the audience; not to the objectification of non-white people, but to the soul. Marginalized people have been offered no page in history, no stage and no audience, and so, no voice, and whether that crushes hearts or windows, the problem is the same: deprivation of humanity. Hearing anger without offering excuses, defensiveness, hollow calls for peace and distracted blame is not, though it may look it on the outset, about “helping” anyone. It’s not about withholding opinion or tolerating violence. It’s about not skipping any steps. It’s about not punishing others with our own fear of anger. It’s about healing our own integrity. We cannot give any page back, but we can listen.

The relief of justice, that thing each of us fundamentally longs for, speaks relentlessly from the pits of our bellies even though confusion tells us there’s just too much to be done. Glossing over anger, confusing it with abuse, kills the beauty of whatever else we might say. It betrays neglect of the soul, and that cannot be concealed. May we be willing to turn our attention to our souls, to choose to see what is true, and to finally, simply listen.


Relephant Reads:

How Racism Survives.


Author: Paula Creevy

Editor: Travis May

Image: Wikimedia

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