Anger has undoubtedly been a powerful political force in US history.
Dr. Carolyn Anderson demonstrates this fact most fully and most convincingly in her book White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Segregation, in which she analytically records how white racial anger has implicitly influenced social policy throughout US history to deter, and from, African Americans to hinder self-sufficiency and participation in the capitalist economy by restricting labor mobility, criminalization and the passing of laws that hamper their participation in the free market and democracy.
At one point where she talks about white racist laws enacted in the post-emancipation of the South, she explains the politics of the white elite when they suddenly realized that if African Americans were to do so as historical conditions dictated, their economy would collapse , large numbers would flee to the north. That is why they have drafted laws with fines, sentences and jail terms to legally uphold a kind of enslavement and certainly disempowerment of African Americans. While those moves were marked by economic concern and interest, they were also marked by racial anger, as Anderson writes:
Legalistic language about fines and prison terms masked a barely contained anger at the beginning of the realization that blacks believed they could leave the south or rural areas for decent wages, functioning schools, and more freedom.
This “white anger” has historically hampered the US collectively and prevented the growth and development of all.
But it probably helped to vote for Donald Trump.
We have heard a lot about the anger of the white working class, for example Trump continues to play to feed his grassroots as he stirs resentment against immigrants, people of color, the liberal "elite" etc. and still advocates lower wages and implementation or pursuing policies that actually eliminate jobs, increase poverty, jeopardize people's access to affordable health care, clean water and air, and more.
The media make this angry anger tangible and bring it to the fore, probably too much, as this reporting tends to caricature and demonize this "white working class" that the media has created as a distinct identity.
We see much less coverage of workers and unions strategically directing their anger on Trump. it just doesn't play that well, and it could unsettle the class biases that Americans don't like to acknowledge or talk about, but which nonetheless dominate the nation's cultural mentality.
And we see much less coverage of how that anger resides in a white elite, which would allow us to understand the anger in class terms and see how anger of the white elite is projected onto this "white working class" for what we are for the grotesque racist blinds the anger that fuels the dominance of the white upper class.
And our culture tends to portray anger and its expression in a negative way. Just think of Bob Woodward's paired studies on Trump, Fear and Rage, which analyze Trump's own motivational fear and anger, as well as the way he manipulates popular fear and anger for nefarious political ends. The portraits are not flattering but derogatory.
We tend to fire people who speak angrily as if they were irrational:
"Well, that person is just angry."
"You have to calm down. Settle down."
This type of discharge is particularly true for women and people of color.
Although anger is often dismissed, we have also seen that it can be used with political effectiveness.
Is there a positive way to use anger for political ends?
I am an older white man (53 years old) who is probably considered a middle class and I am really angry.
I wake up angry every morning. I don't see much conversation about my type of anger.
I find that progressives tend to intellectualize and rationalize. At least I think we do.
I say this because I have become aware of my own tendencies to enter political discourse through reason and reasoning and to take up questions with facts and evidence. I am seeing the same trend in the many newscasts I watch on MSNBC. If we talk enough about the truth, if we keep showing how grotesque, selfish, careless and cruel Trump is, the tide will turn. The next outrageous revelation of something he said or did will be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel's back and pushes its followers away from it.
Recently, however, I realized that I hadn't spoken much about my anger. If I did that, if we all shared our anger, it might instill a sense of solidarity with this angry white working class rather than firing them.
I find that when I am angry and someone else is expressing a similar anger, I feel more calm. I can then communicate more effectively and participate in whatever is going on. It's a kind of homeostasis as well as a feeling of being heard and not being alone. It is a solidarity that is rooted in empathy.
Why do I wake up angry every morning?
Well, I see the number of deaths from the COVID-19 virus along with the number of new cases. I see millions in economic need. I see a culture that devalues human life, which is most evident in the devaluation of black life portrayed in the murder after the unpunished murder of black people by the police.
Closer to my home, or rather my home, I see my two sons lead incredibly circumscribed lives, dealing with changing and insecure school life that deprives them of meaningful sociality and activity that is essential for their development and basically for Crucial to their development are ability to enjoy the good life. I see my spouse negotiating an overburdened government employment system.
And much of that devastation is entirely preventable.
Every day I see Trump trying to undermine democracy and harm people.
I am angry. We all need to talk about our anger.
I am a white person with an anger that is not directed at immigrants, blacks, or LGBTQ people.
It is especially urgent that white people in America process this anger Anderson writes about, and that whites of all classes direct this anger towards the right goals.
It is this “white anger” that is a place of struggle that has to be processed, understood and strategically controlled.
What if we were able to endure this anger, especially this “white anger”, and while expressing and processing it, identify its true source and cause, which are not people of color?
First, we must express and acknowledge it, share it in a spirit of solidarity, and try to form an alliance through this common anger at our nation's hesitation, its injustice and inhumanity.
Let us own rather than intellectualize our anger and try to use its political power.
Tim Libretti is a professor of American literature and culture at a state university in Chicago. A longtime progressive voice, he has published numerous academic and journalistic articles on culture, class, race, gender, and politics, for which he has received awards from the Working Class Studies Association, the International Labor Communications Association, and the National Federation of Press Women and the Illinois Woman & # 39; s Press Association.