This column first ran in John Paul Brammer’s Hola Papi newsletter, which you can subscribe to on Substack.
I’m facing a reality that I can’t avoid anymore: I’m angry. I’m angry at everything. I’m angry at the world, and at the people that live in it.
I’ve always been grumpy. People have told me I’m intimidating and, as I grew tired of people being afraid of me, I’ve been trying to become a better and more approachable person. I like to believe I was successful. I learned to be there for people when they needed it. I tried to be caring, compassionate, capable, and available. For the most part, I did it.
But now, I’m angry.
I’ve had my rodeos with police abuse, both through friends and directed at me. Some people I know were forcefully disappeared during some protests last week and now I can’t manage to keep my cool at any given time anymore.
I feel like all I’ve done has been for nothing. I want to go out to throw stones at windows and burn everything. I can’t take it anymore, and all my therapist said when trying to work through my encounters with the police was something along the lines of “but they’re not allowed to do that! You should have spoken up and stood up for your rights.” Yeah. Okay.
My gay friends are angry, my straight friends don’t get me, and I’ve started to concern some of them because of my increasingly explosive behavior.
So please, tell me, Papi, how do I manage? How do I stay supportive and caring when I feel like a hungry hyena who only wants to go into the fight to see how many bites it can get out of the lion before it gets mauled to death?
Hey there, BNB!
Goodness, looks like I’m going to be yet another entity addressing These Uncertain Times™. For the record, I don’t believe in Certain Times™. I have never lived in a time where anything was certain. But there are certainly degrees of uncertainty, and we do find ourselves in some of the least certain of all.
RHOMBUS. Were you expecting that? Of course you weren’t. Such is the chaos of our unpredictable age. Anything could happen at any time. Stay vigilant.
Moving on. I regrettably have nothing on tap that will make you less angry, BNB. To pay even the slightest bit of attention right now is to be angry. You think I’m going to sit here and tell you not to be angry? No. You should be. You have every right. More people should be angry, in fact.
That being said, what you and I call “anger” is actually at least a hundred thousand different emotional cocktails with different iterations and expressions. There is righteous anger, jealous anger, anger at yourself, and anger with the world. Anger can bring a mighty institution to its knees, or it can eat you alive from the inside until there’s nothing left. It can even do both at the same time.
So instead of talking about “anger” as if it were this pure universal element, why don’t we talk about your anger, which I think you’ve articulated in an interesting way. For example, you position it to be in conflict with being a good person. In your letter, anger is on the other side of being “caring, compassionate, capable, and available.”
I have to wonder why that is, because I think anger can actually be a bridge that brings people together for collective action. It can fuel movements, it can right wrongs, and it can invite others to gain insight into our sentiments. Making people uncomfortable for a good cause is one thing. Feeling like you’re losing your compassion is another.
The thing is, BNB, you don’t need to be “approachable.” That sounds coded to me, and it’s long been the case, especially for Black people (I don’t know what your situation is), that “angry” and “unapproachable” have been deployed where “advocates for themselves” or “refuses to be bossed around” are more accurate descriptions.
What you do need, though, is to be right with yourself. I know what it’s like to feel anger that doesn’t have anywhere to go. I know what it feels like for anger to fester into rage, rage into bitterness, and bitterness into misery: Why can’t the world be fair? Why aren’t I treated better? Why am I trapped in such a cold, cruel reality?
And worst of all, BNB? The ugliest thing nestled in the ugliest place of that ugly, knotted root is the unsettling fact that, well, the bitterness is kind of correct. We do live in an unfair world. We aren’t always or even usually treated well. This can be a cold, cruel reality. I’ve thought, and thought, and thought about this, and I never come up with a substantive enough rebuttal to do away with the bitterness entirely.
Lucky for us, though, multiple things can be true. Things can be bad, and they can be good. We can be angry and useful, angry and productive, angry and righteous. I think anger is like lightning, BNB. You can be a conductor and let it travel through you, let it galvanize and energize, or you can let it burn you to a crisp. Letting it burn you to a crisp doesn’t mean you’re wrong. You can be angry for all the right reasons, and in the end, still be a very correct crisp.
So, what do we do about that, BNB?
Here’s what I do. I think about all the people who would be justified in being angry with me. Our world isn’t cleanly assembled into oppressed and oppressors. It’s solipsistic, vanity, even, for me to get so frustrated with a world that won’t just be better when I myself have so much work to do in being better. I am part of the world too.
I have my part to play. We all do. We should try our best to do what’s right — for people we don’t know, for people who have every reason in the world to be angry with us for dragging our feet. We aren’t perfect. But we can try. And that’s about all we can ask of ourselves and others.
Now, that’s not to flatten everything out. There are degrees to this shit, BNB, and some people are just … well, objectively worse. It’s hard not to think that way, seeing police brutality and people laughing at others’ pain. But I, for one, don’t want to let this hell world flambé my insides. So I have my support groups, and I have my actions I take, and I try to let love keep me going every chance I get. That can look like a protest, or a donation, or being there for someone we love who needs us.
On that note, here are some causes I’ll be supporting in honor of your letter. Yes, yours, BNB! And I would invite anyone reading this to do the same. Here’s a link to the Okra Project, and here’s another to the Marsha P. Johnson Institute.
We need you, BNB. We need your compassion, and we need your joy, and, yes, we need your anger.
Con mucho amor,
Originally published on June 17, 2020.
This column first ran in John Paul Brammer’s Hola Papi newsletter, which you can subscribe to on Substack. Purchase JP Brammer’s book Hola Papi: How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessons, here.