Activists associated with the Black Lives Matter movement embrace anger. Owning their rage sets these activists in opposition to an older generation of black leaders, invested in respectability, who narrate anger as an emotion to be overcome. Younger activists worry about complicity with the status quo – with white supremacy – of these older activists, yet embracing anger is no surefire way of avoiding complicity with the status quo. This essay investigates the ambivalence of black anger, drawing on philosophy and feminist theory while also locating the current eruption of black anger in an ambivalent history of black political affect. In laboratory conditions, anger tracks moral wrongs, but we do not live in a laboratory. We live in a world filled with systems of domination, including white supremacy, and in such circumstances, the wrongs to which anger points are often obscured. Feminist theorists including Audre Lorde and María Lugones offer strategies for clarifying and embracing rightly-directed anger in such circumstances, and for allowing such anger to be politically productive. These strategies help in attending to the anger described in recent memoirs written by young, Black Lives Matter-associated activists. Yet deep ambivalence remains: anger as an affect, anger as a rhetorical strategy, and anger as a trope slip into each other in these texts. Embracing anger may promise a way of escaping complicity, but subtle worries about complicity are unavoidable.
"The Ambivalence of Black Rage."
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