My weekend turned out to be very busy. I met up with some old school friends for curry and a catch-up, I went to a food festival with my parents and said hello to some piglets, and I incited racial violence against white men.
At least, that’s what a couple of people on Twitter told me. The truth is a little more nuanced, and it begins with a topic that I think about a lot. That topic is anger.
Anger gets a bad rap. It’s often viewed as a wholly negative emotion, something that should be pushed down, soothed with deep breaths and counting to ten. I don’t agree with this view. I began to change my view of anger in my early twenties, when I was in a deep, deep trough of depression. I realised that one symptom of my being depressed was that I could no longer get angry. And the reason I couldn’t get angry was because, at that time, I did not have the emotional capacity to care about anything at all.
As I recovered (or learned how to manage my depression – I view it in different ways depending on how I’m engaging with the illness), I started to care about things again. Part of caring involved being able to get angry. That anger transformed into energy, into motivation. I cared. I felt. I fought.
I became more and more involved in feminism, and I realised that I wasn’t the only person who’d found the positive uses of anger. There is a lot wrong with the world we live in, with the way we treat each other and the way we squash people down, and it is more than okay to be angry about that. As the saying goes, ‘If you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention’. Anger is where justice begins.
Unfortunately, there are some branches of feminism that seem to have decided that anger is a member’s-only club. A little while ago, I noted that ‘something is rotten in the state of white feminism’. It’s only a month since I wrote that blog, but since then, the rot has spread. A vocal group of white, cis, able-bodied, self-styled feminists with large media platforms seem to have taken it upon themselves to police the anger of women of colour, trans women, disabled women, and other women and non-binary people; to shout them down, to accuse them of splitting the movement, of bullying, of hurting their cause by being too damn angry all the time. The similarity between this attitude and that of misogynistic men is apparently lost on these women.
Sam Ambreen, a feminist and activist whom I admire very much, had been targeted for the latest round of ‘let’s punish WOC for expressing their anger’; in this instance, dealing with some white men who were white-knighting for a white feminist. (Whiteness is kind of important to the context here, which is why I’m focusing on it). While this was going on, she tweeted ‘4 stupid white guys in my mentions’ – a very mild comment, considering what had been said to her. (The guys in question had called Sam “an evil racist bitch” because she’d stood up for herself.)
I was in a mischievous mood, so I responded:
“4 stupid white guys sitting on a wall/4 stupid white guys sitting on a wall/and if all the stupid white guys should accidentally fall/We’ll laugh and laugh and not give a fuck at all”
There are many things that could be said about this little ditty. You could say that it was childish and snide. I will completely own up to that. I know myself pretty well, and I know that I have a sarcastic streak that’s about the size the Grand Canyon. It generally comes out when I’m watching a bad film with my friends; however, lately I’ve seen many WOC receiving a lot of extremely racist abuse online, and so my hackles were up.
However, the guys didn’t seem to find my tweet childish or snide. Instead, they told me it was racist and violent.
Now, I have a problem with that reading. Firstly, there was no threat of violence in my tweet. Saying that it would be funny if four abusive dudes fell off a wall is not comparable to the threats of rape, murder and other forms of violence that women, particularly marginalised women, receive on Twitter and everywhere else online (and offline) every single day. For one thing, these threats of violence have context. Women of colour, trans women, disabled women, and particularly women who experience an intersection of all of these forms of marginalisation, are incredibly likely to be on the receiving end of horrific violence. White, cis, abled men can also be the victims of violence – I would never, ever deny that. But the danger is far, far lower, and the chances of getting justice are far, far higher. And, y’know, falling off a wall and having people laugh at you is not as bad as being raped and murdered. It just isn’t.
Secondly, white people cannot be the victims of racism. Loads of people with far more experience and knowledge have written about this, so I’m not going to rehash it – if you’re not convinced, please read the links and get yourself to Google. I will, however, quote a fantastic feminist pal of mine, Louise McCudden, who absolutely nails it:
“If someone calls me “cracker!” it doesn’t MATTER. It isn’t oppressive. It isn’t scary. It doesn’t actually MEAN ANYTHING. It has no history to it. It has no context. And even if someone does do something harmful to me, like if someone, in some hypothetical weird world, doesn’t hire me because I’m white, well, the police, the legal system, the trade unions, are all predominantly white people. Who won’t question my judgement. Who will hear what I say. Even if someone attacks me or insults me, for my skin colour, the police will believe me. The courts will listen to me. “Racism” against white people? The whole idea diminishes the concept of racism to just “rudeness” and “hurting someone’s feelings”; only it won’t even hurt, much, or for long, because I’m guaranteed to be surrounded by people who will see my side, take my perspective, instinctively, without even thinking about why. So, yeah. Racism against white people…. not a thing.”
Thirdly, the idea that I might be prejudiced against white people is ludicrous. Some of my best friends are white. I used to date a white guy. Oh, and there’s the tiny fact that I myself am as white as the Ghost of Mayonnaise Past. It’s perfectly possible to critique whiteness without hating white people. As for making jokes about whiteness – well, anyone who jokes about whiteness is either punching sideways or punching up, and both of those things are fine. Jokes are only a problem when they punch down. So don’t be so sensitive, okay?
Finally – and this is the main point of this blog, I got there in the end! – anger, positive anger, is a million miles away from violence. Once again, this comes back to the idea of punching up versus punching down. Although it’s rather a combative term, there is nothing genuinely violent in punching up, in challenging oppression. There is nothing violent about expressing your anger at a system that is weighted against you. There is nothing violent about asking someone who benefits from that system to stop, and think, and examine their complicity. And this is true even if the person making that request doesn’t ask nicely!
White, cis, abled feminists; let’s stop apeing the systems that we claim to stand against. Let’s stop squashing down the entirely legitimate anger of people of colour, of trans* people, of disabled people, just because we’re uncomfortable taking a long hard look at ourselves and our complicity in structures of oppression. Let’s practice what we preach, and lose the hypocrisy. Let’s stop putting that subtext of “calm down, dear” into our engagement with women who are more marginalised than ourselves.
Because, if we can’t do that, we have absolutely no right to call ourselves feminists.