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Saturday, September 11, 2010

Too Angry for What? (2004)

By Kirsten Anderberg (www.kirstenanderberg.com/Dec 2004)
I am often told I am "too angry." I have never totally understood what that means, honestly. "Too angry for what?" is what I always think. Too angry to be a submissive housewife? Okay, I agree with that. Too angry to be a complacent wage slave? Okay, that is true too. Too angry to sit silently by while my government commits what constructively amounts to international war crimes? Okay. Too angry to allow sexism without a counterargument of intellectual feminism? Guilty as charged. I guess maybe what I wonder about is not the "angry" part, but the "too" part. "Too angry" implies my anger exceeds what the situation warrants. "Too angry" implies irrationality, a loss of perspective, an emotional irresponsibility. I agree that I am angry. Even angry as hell. But I am not convinced that I am "too angry."
During my undergraduate study at the University of Washington, I spent a quarter doing an independent study on the topic of anger. This was pre-internet, pre-Google, so I spent many days and hours in libraries researching books and famous quotes on anger. I studied the documented history of anger, in ways. Since I was always labeled "angry," yet I was never clear what that meant, I wanted to research the topic, honestly, to find out what "anger" meant, to find out what I was constantly being associated with. As I studied books and quotes on anger, I began to see that anger had very political uses, both negative and positive. One of the first things that caught my attention was when and how the "angry" label was used. When is a person most likely to be labeled "angry?" During a disagreement. Who labels you "angry?" The disagreeing party. There appears to almost be a power in being the first one to tag the other with the "angry" label. The "angry" label is used to discredit and pooh-pooh serious arguments regularly.
One of my favorite examples of this is the very strange and illogical reaction to rap and hip hop music that many white males I know hold. My first memorable encounter with this was when I said to a notable Seattle figure that there needed to be rap and hip hop at the Oregon Country Fair. He said that would increase crime, drugs, and guns at the fair. I burst out laughing, thinking he was kidding. But he was not kidding. He went on to elaborate his position, as my jaw dropped.
A little while later, a white male I know was throwing a party. On the invitations, he invited people to bring music, but specifically said "No rap or hip hop." I asked why he said that on the invitations. He went into this long monologue about how rap and hip hop were not really music. He said there was no musicality, that he heard no melody or harmony, just a beat. And he said the lyrics were only about violence and how big the guys' dicks are. Again, my jaw dropped. I asked how it is he could love reggae music with such a passion if he hates beat-oriented music. I then confronted the reality that he absolutely could not have listened to much rap or hip hop if he thought musicality, harmony or melody were lacking. I have heard beautiful melodies and harmonies, even from mainstream rap and hip hop artists, such as Lauren Hill, Queen Latifah, Tupac Shakur, Outkast, and others. So for him to say there is no musicality is factually untrue.
But then I asked if he liked The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin. He said yes, he did. I asked how he could not like rap and hip hop because it talked about how big the guys' dicks are, when that is the premise and central theme of most of the jock rock he listened to! He took a big gulp. I told him I thought the whole line of "reasoning" was racist, and nothing else. And the violence comment also was off base. The violence in rap and hip hop addresses issues of poverty, police brutality, and social malfunctionings. I reminded him that protest against social injustice was a theme and creative fuel for much of the protest music from the 1960's and 70's that he listened to regularly. And certainly he was not objecting to the violence in The Rolling Stones' "Street Fighting Man" or even in Elton John's "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting." He did not have the same reactions to The Clash, or the Sex Pistols. He was only objecting to certain kinds of violence. Violence which involved people of color, primarily. The incident made me think he feels incredibly threatened by black men, sexually and physically. He would rather berate than validate. The way these two men I know have tried to discredit rap and hip hop as "violent" while fully supporting the white male violence prevalent in rock music is related to how the "angry" label is used to berate, invalidate, and discredit people in prejudicial ways.
I find the "too angry" label most often hurled at women and people of color. And likewise, that intended insult, or leverage, is usually not hurled *by* people of color. As a matter of fact, I cannot remember ever being told I am "too angry" by a person of color. I recall it being mostly white males who call me "too angry." The women who call me "too angry" are usually women who are white, middle class, and very tied into the patriarchy as their support system. Or, more simply put, women who are financially dependent on white men. Basically *anyone* who does not support and promote white male land owner privilege, as was instituted at the birth of this nation, is labeled "too angry." I have come to see the anger label as a form of political manipulation in and of itself.
Just as it was fear that motivated my white male acquaintances to belittle rap and hip hop in ways that starkly contradicted the rest of their musical preferences, I think it is most often fear that makes people label women "too angry" too. When I think of women society labels as "too angry," Roseanne is the first to come to mind. (Personally, I found her rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner," and subsequent crotch grabbing and spitting, at that baseball game, to be one of the most brilliant performances in history and I still get chills thinking about the pure genius she has displayed over the years). Gloria Steinem is called "too angry." Feminist author bell hooks is labeled "too angry." Very intelligent women, who are notably full of genius and vision, have been and currently are, labeled "too angry." Basically, if you are an outspoken feminist, you *will* be labeled "too angry." It is guaranteed. But why? Why is it impossible to be an outspoken feminist without the "too angry" name calling? I think it is because using the "too" in front of the "angry" has an inherent judgment to it, and that the label "too angry" is used more often to control women, than as constructive behavioral criticism.
So let's see here…Feminists are too angry. People of color are too angry. Funny thing, it seems disempowerment and abuse breeds anger. When I look at who is labeled "too angry," I realize I am in good company. I do not want to be in, or support, the status quo or middle class. If I scare patriarchy enough to warrant the "too angry" label, it means I am effective. You have got to look at who is calling you "too" angry and why. The political use of the "too angry" label has been hurled in the past at Malcolm X, Black Panthers, famous feminists throughout history, anarchists, rap artists…basically anyone who threatens to upset the status quo. Even the Dr. Rev. M.L.King, jr., who many view as too pacifist, was called "too angry" as a way to try to neutralize his influence within the status quo.
Am I "too" angry? Too angry for what? Too angry to fight for an end to homelessness and hunger? Nope. Too angry to fight for women's equality? Nope. Too angry to stand up for what I know is right even amidst a sea of armored pigs waving sticks and spraying chemicals? Nope. Too angry to fight rape? Nope. Too angry to fight for children's rights? Nope. Too angry to fight to save our eco-systems? Nope. Too angry to fight against third world exploitation by first world countries? Nope. Too angry to formulate coherent arguments and persuasive articles on these issues and my anger? Nope. What am I "too angry" for? I am too angry for the status quo. Yes, I admit that. But is that a bad thing? I am not convinced that is so. Who draws the line between enough anger and "too much" anger? Who can we trust with such judgments?

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