Listening to Anger

Michael Onsando
29 September ,2015

Anger is unsettling. There are ways in which anger moves that upends a space. Further, anger is often unpredictable. You never know what could happen when an angry person isn’t served un-angered. With all this in mind it makes sense that it is often with an urgency or an immediacy that we struggle to un-anger. I use un-anger because if often doesn’t happen in ways that would release the tension. Instead it happens in ways that pushes the anger aside, shoves it out of sight and, hopefully, out of mind through use of embarrassment, shame, invalidation and physical violence.

Anything to shut them up.

Anger, unspoken, can’t be threatening or, at least, can’t be as threatening as anger spoken. In The beautiful ones are not yet born, Ayi Kwei Armah writes about how silence leaves room to imagine understanding. In silence the person who angers can imagine that somehow room has been made for them. Which makes silencing a tactic that is highly valued, and practiced heavily.

Listening is the praxis which connects anger to justice. Without it, anger can only be catharsis or monologue, not constitutive of the process of justice. Listening to anger requires openness to difficult content conveyed in an unsettling tone, and since anger can quickly be dismissed or met with defensiveness about one’s culpability it is one of the most difficult types of communication in political life.

I’ve been wondering, though, what it means to listen to anger. Sing the rage is about justice at a macro level. Sonali Chakravarti uses the Nuremberg trial to talk about how anger can be used as an indicator as to what citizens need. This section on the importance of listening is interesting when read alongside Lorde:

 “For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. Racism and homophobia are real conditions of all our lives in this place and time. I urge each one of us here to reach down into that deep place of knowledge inside herself and touch that terror and loathing of any difference that lives here. See whose face it wears. Then the personal as the political can begin to illuminate all our choices.” 

Even as we try to define the political at the macro level Lorde reminds us that the political also lies within ourselves. Genuine change does not come about purely through implementation of policy and development of rules. Change also happens around us (no, though, ulinzi haianzi na wewe). Given that in our lives, often, we have assigned ourselves the role of prosecutor and judge have we questioned the court? How valid is anger in your court? What anger have you listened to?

Really listened to.

Not the nod at the right moment, pick up on the right keywords type of listening.

It’s difficult to write about listening. The medium and the message are at a counter purposes. To invoke listening is to find ways to will people into openness. And the will, as is impossible to move (with good reason too).

I’m also reminded that the demand be active and engaged can often be a demand to open oneself to forms of violence.

What do we fail to imagine when we refuse to open our imaginations to anger? At the root of anger is often three things, fear, frustration and pain. Turning away to the things we are afraid of, the things that cripple us and the things that hurt us. How can we fully understand how to move beyond the places of pain when we refuse to listen to the voices that speak to this same thing? How do we begin to understand how deeply ingrained our fear has become? Lorde’s challenge to look into ourselves and find the real face of our fear is often one to find a name that touches on the machines that perpetuate that fear. Names that we know, we have heard. Names like sexism, racism, classism. The idea of finding the thing inside us that is afraid often means finding ways to speak our anger, to make the tangible. To give our problems names.

Sara Ahmed writes:

“Perhaps not having names is a way of turning away from a difficulty that persists. We might try not notice what compromises our existence as a way of feeling less compromised. Not naming a problem in the hope that it will “go away,” often means the problem just remains unnamed.  At the same time, giving the problem a name does not make the problem go away. Maybe it is possible that to give the problem a name can be experienced as magnifying the problem; allowing something to acquire a social and physical density by gathering up what otherwise remain scattered experiences into a tangible thing.”

What happens when we allow our anger to gather and exchange? What happens when begin to realise and track the things that we have turned away from? When we start to whisper amidst ourselves? When problems that we have grumpled and growled to gain tangible form? When we finally hear that anger that has been speaking for so long it has become a dance?

“…until I think about how many days and lifetimes I would need to bring a shoe full of sand home until there is no beach.”

  • Elliot Mr Robot.

The work of change is often long and tedious, involving repetitive work, but that doesn’t mean that we stop filling our shoes with sand. It can’t mean that we continue to not listen to the things that push us, that anger us. In fact, it means that we must listen even more keenly. Now in the time of “accept and move on.” Now in the time of entrepreneurship and innovation, of a celebration of our bodies and a refusal to be unseen. Now, in this time of introspection and rediscovery, it is time to listen to our anger, to take the baby steps of change.

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