Activism 101: Anger

Have you ever seen the movie Inside Out? The one with the animated emotions? You may have forgotten about the Anger character, unless you remember him on fire from the trailer (literally fired up).

Anger is usually conflated with fire and it’s destructive nature. How many times have you said when you were angry “Burn it all down!”? How many times have you heard someone say “Anger isn’t productive”?

People think anger is such a negative emotion. Yes, when you are angry, you can harm relationships, destroy property, and even hurt yourself. Fire can be destructive.

But no one talks about the life-giving part or fire. Giving us warmth, clearing the old, showing us light. Fire is vital for our survival and so is our anger.

No one wants to be the angry activist, but why not? Our anger is often policed. We must watch our tone and fix our face. Corporations are seen as the victims of rioting, that shows us that things are valued over people who lost their lives.

Oppression is something to get angry about. As James Baldwin said, “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” Being a part of any marginalized group in this country is to be in a rage almost all of the time.

All of our emotions are valid, including our anger. It is a part of our arsenal to do the work we do, but also keep us alive. Our anger tells us that our needs are not being met (shoutout to Dawn Serra for inspiring this post about anger).

What people are afraid of when we express anger is seeking revenge. They imagine our anger as vindictive and wanting to shift power and the hierarchy. This is some anger, but not our anger.

As Kimberly Latrice Jones (co-author of the book I’m Not Dying with You Tonight and has a book called How We Can Win: Race, History and Changing the Money Game That’s Rigged coming out this fall) ended an eloquent speech on anger, “And they are lucky that what black people are looking for is equality and not revenge.”

We’re not seeking revenge with our anger, just fundamental human rights.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when thinking about anger and activism:

Let that anger fuel you

Anger is energy, and energy can keep you going during those times when it seems difficult or overwhelming. Let it lead you to do something, and drive you out of complacency.

Let tat anger elevate your voice

A quiet voice can’t be heard over the noise. Sometimes asking nicely for what you want doesn’t work. After centuries of being silenced, it’s time to demand what we want and deserve.

Let that anger make you whole

When we stifle any of our emotions, we cut off part of ourselves. When we cut off part of ourselves, patriarchy, ableism, white supremacy wins. Being angry is a part of who we are, and we should embrace that, whether or not the world sees it as positive or negative.

So, what makes you angry and what are you doing with that anger?

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