Anger is not a baseline emotion. That’s what I have been taught in my 50s and should have been taught a lot sooner.
Anger is an outlet for a more fundamental feeling. You are never angry without experiencing something deeper.
Anger comes from fear, conscious or unconscious. Anger comes from hurt, a wound slicing into you that can’t help but react to. Anger comes from pain, from the lingering, often harsh, often intolerable discomfort.
Anger is trying to tell you something.
We live in a society, as George Costanza likes to remind us, so it’s a problem to go around being angry all the time. It is up to each one of us to understand the sources of our anger and try the best we can to find a productive path forward from that understanding.
But as part of that social contract, it is also up to each one of us to understand how we might cause others to feel fear, to feel hurt, to feel pain.
Anger is trying to tell us something.
There is a lot of anger in the world right now. There is less understanding of the genuine fear, hurt and pain others are feeling. People are reacting to the anger as if it were fundamental, instead of the emotions fueling it. And that deficient understanding ends up feeding more anger, by inficting more hurt and pain and making people more scared.
Everyone feels inadquately understood, inadequately nurtured, inadequately valued from time to time. That is the human condition.
But here is the hard truth: To whatever extent White Americans, and in particular White Male Americans, genuinely feel misunderstood or unappreciated, to whatever extent this group feels any rights being trampled upon, understand that other people — be they BIPOC, women, LGBTQIA+ — have felt that way for far longer and more deeply than can be imagined.
Are you a White American feeling pain? Are you scared? That’s legitimate. No one can take away your pain. No one can just will away your fear.
But now double it. Triple it. Sextuple it. That’s the fear, that’s the hurt, that’s the pain that your fellow citizens have owned for their lifetimes. Their families have owned it for centuries.
For longer than we have been a nation, our society has catered to assuaging the pain, hurt and fear of White Americans (more so White Male Americans and, for that matter, wealthy White Americans). That was explicitly the case in our history through 1865. With few exceptions, it has been implicitly the case thereafter. Politically, legally, economically and culturally, the dominant culture has always set the rules, and the rest have tried to carve out their place.
That process, of constantly trying to establish equality, is painful. It is scary. Beyond belief. It is exahusting.
Whatever fear hurt and pain White America is feeling, the rest of America has been feeling it exponentially basically forever. For minorities, if you’ll forgive me for lumping all these groups together, it has been their birthright.
Whatever reverse inequality might exist, it absolutely pales in comparison to original inequality. And you can’t just wipe that slate clean. You can’t just say “now we’ll treat everyone the same” and ignore the systems and biases in place that prevent that from happening.
You can’t ignore that those who aren’t White Americans have greater reason to be afraid in this country. Afraid for their livelihoods. Afraid for their lives.
So if you are a White American, and you are feeling hurt, and you are feeling scared, and that’s making you angry, that’s valid. But if you can’t understand why the people who aren’t White Americans are so hurt, so scared, so angry, or why their fear, hurt and pain driving their anger matters more than yours right now — if you just can’t understand it, here’s a simple task for you.