In 1999 punk drag goddess Vaginal Creme Davis directed a film called The White To Be Angry. The film is an exploration of white supremacist culture and the sometimes blurry lines between love, hate, and lust. Davis, a seminal figure in the LA punk scene was dismayed with the way white male anger replaced the anarchy and joy of the multicultural scene by prioritizing their anger over everyone else. The film was originally a concept album of the same name by her band Pedro, Muriel, and Esther aka PME.
I found out about The White To Be Angry either the year it came out, or the following year on this magical platform called the internet. The internet I learned was one giant web connecting all time and space. It communicates through a series of vibrations that ripple along the web anytime anything exciting emerges. At least that was my understanding. Anyway, the 19-minute film was a revelation. The cult of skinhead movies that began in Britain in the 80s and swept across the US in the late 90s and early 2000s was by 1999 wearing. I was already annoyed because white skinhead culture is an unabashed appropriation of Black Jamaican dock worker style and culture. But wait, a white supremacist culture that wholesale steals from Black culture? Shocking, I know. Worse, Black style stolen to dress young white supremacists in coolness. So on top of dealing with rebranding Black culture as anti-Black, I also had to contend with white skinhead white anger.
Now any person of color will tell you that white anger has always been a nightmare. If colonialism and enslavement and the oppressive systems put in place to continue exploitation is white identity on a good day, white anger is lynching, rape, mob violence, and bombing. White anger is the lone white man who enters a movie theatre, church, synagogue, or concert hall spewing his anger in a barrage of bullets destroying everything in his path. And for some reason, it is just that one crazy white man and not an entire ideology which inspired such vile hate. Even though said lone white male leaves rooms worth of flags and other paraphernalia, literature including their own screeds that make explicitly clear their connection to the ideology of white supremacy.
White anger is individual prejudice. Black anger is racism, a personal and collective attack on whiteness.
So excuse me if I took umbrage with the fetishization of white anger and the assumption that for all its flaws white anger was totally fine, no matter how problematic its expression. Especially since at no time has Black anger ever been okay. The irony of course is that Black people living under some form of the whip and lash for over 400 years are expected to suck it up and keep it moving. The only reason ever given for this silencing is white discomfort, something about not wanting to deal with it because slavery is over, etc, yadda, yadda, yadda insert eye roll. Thus callously dismissing a lived experience of oppression and violence in the today times because it does not fit with white ideas of a post-racial world. Black anger is targeted at a system and whatever white person decided to step up to the plate and act as the representative unleashing the power and fury of that system on an unsuspecting Black person trying to go about their day.
Instead, we get stereotypes like the Angry Black Woman who as far as I know her tirades have killed no one but perhaps did get her child´s butt kicked (when anger has no outlet we will always find one even if it misses the intended target by miles). Black men are scary just by existing. Both are obligated to go out of their way to reassure white people they are safe. White people but especially white women cower in fear of being attacked when in fact said the white woman is often doing the attacking.
This performative fear of Black anger is a special kind of gaslighting we have yet to name. It fits right in with every other kind of gaslighting that tries to convince the victim that they are the problem. If only we would behave, do as we are told, and stay silent everything would be fine.
So fuck yeah, I am hella pissed! As is my right. It is one thing to have to live in a society that harms me, it is an entirely different thing to then be expected to make it okay for the people doing the harm. Racism kills. It manifests itself in a variety of physical health issues such as high blood pressure, heart issues, and strokes. And also mental health issues like depression. For the sake of my mental and physical well being, I will not be silent, my anger will be expressed so that it may be released and I can move on.
LAST WEEK TONIGHT WITH JOHN OLIVER is one of my favorite shows of all time. John Oliver is one white man whose anger does not terrify me. He chooses to focus his almost gleeful rage on the latest social injustice or political calamity. His episode on the police was just the kind of exasperated anger I was looking for. John Oliver is a welcome change from the calm neutrality of other commentators. Commentators who talk about white supremacy and violent oppression as if there was a middle ground. I love that he is so pissed off. He gets that it is truly awful and maddening. We need more of that kind of white anger, an anger that rages at an injustice instead of killing people of color. The episode, an uninterrupted tirade dotted with incredible jokes and terrifying facts would have been great but John Oliver did something that made it amazing. In his last few minutes, he yielded his show to a Black woman to vent her rage in one of the most eloquent rants I have ever heard. John Oliver in creating space for that woman made a space for our Black collective rage.
Prioritizing white feelings and comfort over racialized people´s need to express their pain in the face of state-sanctioned murder and daily oppression is violence. White people, let me suggest using mindfulness as a tool to help you breathe through your discomfort rather than silencing anger. Mindfulness may even help you understand why you are so uncomfortable. As the body count grows by the day it is perfectly okay to also be f*king pissed just be sure to make space for the people who are actively working through their trauma.