Anger and the Politics of ‘Politeness’

In the past week it has become clearer to me than ever before that this society has a problem with anger. Not that it has an anger problem, but a problem with understanding and allowing anger.

The recent election results caused me to vent on Facebook about anger towards those relishing five years of Tory government. Whilst a majority of my friends approved the sentiment there were also many who came out of the woodwork to invalidate my anger.

Not just to refute or engage with me, but to tell me not to be angry. That this was not the place for anger. That my anger was proof of irrationality, unreasonableness. Rather than anger I should accept the fact of the matter and move on.

There’s no place for this apparently!

To be quite frank, I was shocked. I hadn’t realised up till now how sorely and obviously there is a fear of anger in this society. The privileged and the comfortable cannot stand anger because they cannot understand it, it makes them uneasy. There is no place for anger because there is no understanding. One can only remain objective when they are unaffected.

The whole thing reeked of privilege. Those shushing me and trying to shove fingers to my lips argued with me as if we were talking about abstract concepts. As if ‘food banks’ and ‘poverty’; ‘free healthcare’ and ‘human rights’ were debatable notions, negotiable ideas you could consider over the dinner table. There was an empathy deficit. This was not only apparent in how people could not understand my anger, but also in how they dealt with it.

Sorry I’m not privileged enough to stay calm!

The oppressors continue to invalidate ‘anger’ to oppress the marginalised. Invalidating anger crushes any creative force that may come from injustices or pain. Invalidating anger prioritises a way of thinking that is devoid of feeling, that glorifies an ability to detach oneself from the subject; but this way of thinking and speaking and learning is hollow. It is no wonder that the educators of the elite urge these sensibilities – because they maintain the status quo.

When it comes to anger, there are however some who are allowed to be angry. At an event in college about rent rates this week I voiced my outrage at the attitude and hostility of senior staff towards students and the huge lack of understanding or care for our welfare. My comment was completely dismissed as well as interrupted. However, my peers, especially my white male peers – who were far more aggressive and angry in approach than I – were met with enthusiastic understanding and allowed to finish their pieces. They were engaged with: their anger honourable and worthwhile. But not me, not the bristly angry brown girl who always finds something to be upset about.

And suddenly she’s a ‘bitch’…

This huge and glaring disparity in the way my anger has been treated in general and the way my white male peers’ anger is treated makes it clear to me what ‘politeness’ is really about. Another tool of subjugation and a way to marginalise those we do not want to hear. Female anger, non-white anger, non-hetero anger – these all have negative connotations. Enough work on linguistics has shown how we associate ‘bitch’, ‘crazy’, ‘violent’, ‘savage’, ‘overly-emotional’ to these people, but a straight white man who is angry is met with respect. His voice carries weight and his anger is perfectly rational.

To me this point explains it all. Those who urge me not to be angry benefit from my passivity. Those who tell me to respect their opinions benefit from the subordination of mine. I refuse to buy into ‘politeness’ politics anymore – politeness is only another tool of marginalisation, a norm imposed by white supremacist, middle-class, hetero-patriarchy to code our thoughts, our feelings and our anger in ways that exclude the already excluded.

For too long my mother’s loud brown voice has triggered looks of disapproval; for too long I have not called people out for fear of seeming rude; for too long I have believed that keeping calm would give me more chance of being heard. But these politics only benefit the oppressors. Anger is only ‘impolite’ to them; but to me anger is creative, a life-force, a process. Anger is key to survival in an oppressive world. I am angry and I will not be silenced. I will gladly watch them squirm.

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