If we’re angry, what’s the worst that can happen?
We’ve all been there as kids. Someone’s wronged us and our feelings are hurt, but someone else, a third-party and usually older and removed from the situation, tells us to take the high road. We’re told we should move past our anger, that we shouldn’t dwell in it, that we shouldn’t retaliate or fight back. Simply put: we should get over it.
The person who’s wronged us now gets off scott-free and we’re forced to reconcile with the fact that we’ve been told to move forward even though we don’t want to. We must also reconcile with the fact that this third-party took the power out of our hands, took control of the situation, and then dictated how we (the ones wronged) should feel about what they (the ones who wronged us) did.
If you’re a black person in America (or anywhere, for that matter), this probably still happens to you in conversations, in classrooms, on Twitter, and on Facebook where we are repeatedly told by white and other non-black “allies” to just “let it go” and “be above them” when racists come crawling to the surface like roaches in the dark. I get it: we tell children to take the high road so we don’t create little monsters hellbent on enacting revenge upon every kid who makes a mistake or hasn’t learned any better yet. The thing about it, though, is that black people aren’t children and the degenerate racists who try to demean us had multiple chances to learn better and just haven’t. This is a different ball game, one where a third-party is not needed. This is a game where I’m ready to push the third party off the field and start a brawl.
To try to impose upon me a moral high ground approach of ignoring people who threaten my life with their hateful rhetoric is not only annoying, it’s a dangerous game of tone-policing and, if it’s another black person doing so, enacting the rules of respectability politics (both of which I’ve written an article about here and done a video about here). To try to impose a moral high ground as a white “ally” is to also show naked privilege, how obviously unaware this so-called ally is and how much they really don’t understand that our circumstances are not the same.
White people get to express and explore their full range of emotions in public spaces; black people do not.
From young ages, we are molded by both our community and society to temper our fierce emotions and non-complacent mannerisms. “Don’t be too loud, don’t do this, don’t do that, watch your tone…”. The way black people interact with emotions is an interesting and often sad reality. Engaging with our emotions in public spaces can get us killed. It can cause police officers to “fear for their life” and for news anchors to call us thugs and search for Facebook photos of us with indiscriminate hand signs and hoodies, as if those two things make us bad people. In America, the oppressed are told that we must hold our tongues, hold our white-hot rage, and take the high road when dealing with bigots. We must wait for our turn to strike, since we must not strike back “violently,” as if racism itself isn’t inherently violent already. The high-road-only approach ignores the fact that taking the high road usually means suppressing feelings, something black people are always being told to do for the sake of white people staying comfortable. It means not dragging a racist when you really wanted to or being in the middle of dragging a racist when a white “ally” steps in and suggests you take the high road. Their advice is given in the form of “I’m totally on your side, but I think it’s best if you just let them be,” as if they know best. What an incredibly presumptuous thought. How can someone know best when they don’t even fully understand the game that you are playing? Their advice isn’t allyship, at all; it’s perpetuating, fueling, and helping the rhetoric that they are supposedly against because they have now elevated the need for peace and moral high ground over your need to express your emotions and discontent, over your vital desire to be heard in the first place.
Being told to take the high road when you don’t want to is not only inconsiderate, but dangerously violent in nature. Why is it that we coddle bigots? Why is it that we create safe spaces for bigotry by silencing those they endanger because our anger isn’t the right (read: calm enough) type of anger? Imposing a route to moral high ground by telling people its inferior to respond to degenerate racists is coddling bigots; you’re letting them spew their life-threatening hatred without being checked, without any pushback. And in the process, you’re making it seem as if it’s somehow beneath us for wanting to pushback against people whose rhetoric literally and directly affects our livelihood. It’s a form of gaslighting, as well, of trying to make us believe that we are over-reacting to the poison of racism and bigotry that threatens our lives and sanity. We are not over-reacting.
And it is not beneath us to express our emotions, even if they scare you.
And that’s at the heart of it all, to be quite frank. From before the times of the original Birth of a Nation film to the propaganda used to fuel the support of the War on Drugs to present day when a black teenage girl in a bathing suit can be considered dangerous, white supremacy has pushed forward the idea that black people are angry beasts waiting to strike if provoked and needing to be tamed. It’s why people become anxious if a black person raises their voice in anger or becomes agitated. The fear of the black body has permeated this society, so much so that Tamir Rice, a twelve year old who was shot by police within seconds of them arriving on the scene, will never graduate from middle school and his family will never hear his laugh again. It’s part of the reason why, when black people protest in the streets and bring up the injustices done on to us at what seems to be an inconvenient time for the white majority, those who do not truly know the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. will quote his more passive, peaceful words of turning the other cheek while completely ignoring the words from Letter from Birmingham Jail: “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed…For years now I have heard the word ‘Wait!’…This ‘Wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never.’ We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that ‘justice too long delayed is justice denied.’…One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws…[because] an unjust law is no law at all.”
The oppressed will not wait, and we shouldn’t have to quietly demand for justice. If we choose to scream because we’re angry, that is valid. If we choose to weep openly because we’re tormented by the plaguing of white supremacy in our communities, that is valid. If our emotions make non-black people uncomfortable and scared, that is not our problem and it never will be. Instead of focusing on quelling the valid emotions of black people, maybe the focus should be on nipping these injustices in the butt and putting bigots in their place? Just a thought, though.
What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments section!
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