“You sound too angry in your columns.”
There aren’t too many things more frightening in the present-day United States than an angry Arab. I’ve enjoyed being The Chronicle’s resident angry Arab for quite some time now, even if it gets exhausting at times. But anger, more so than other emotions, has a lot to tell us about our attitudes toward dissent and our political lives.
I sound angry in my columns because I am angry and unapologetically so. Not to be angry in the face of the injustices in the world would be a moral failure. Some of my friends encourage equanimity in the face of suffering, but until I’ve reached that level of spiritual maturity, the best I can do is move through my anger in productive ways. Trying to hide or ignore the anger doesn’t make it go away; it just finds ways to express itself in irritability, anxiety and hopelessness. So instead I express it. I share it for those who share my indignation so they know they aren’t alone, and I share it to wake up those who otherwise may have not seen anything to be angry about.
Anger from racial minorities is often seen as a threat. It’s one of the ways in which oppressive structures protect themselves. The anger of people of color is no longer a legitimate expression of grievances; instead it becomes a reflection of an inferior nature, an inability to reason, psychological instability, a propensity for violence. On top of all this, emotions become essentialized, so that my anger is no longer mine but is a specific kind of Arab or Muslim anger.
But I’m not here to say that my anger isn’t a threat. I want it to be terrifying. I want it to shake up your world, to frighten you out of your place of ease and comfort, to expose your blind spots to oppression. Most of all, however, I want my anger to move you toward love. So that we mourn as much for the children of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen who are killed by our country’s drones as we mourn the children of Newtown.
I’d rather be an angry Arab man than an agreeable one. Especially at a place like Duke, I could very easily gain many advantages by being less up in arms. Existing power structures benefit from the presence of token minorities; it gives the appearance that there is no oppression going on. As long as that token stays uncritical enough of the structure, he or she will find it relatively easy to move up the ranks. I’m not saying that minorities shouldn’t engage power structures, but if they can’t do so critically, they are only solidifying it. Someone else’s sense of comfort with the status quo should never take precedence over ethical concerns.
Part of our discomfort with anger is a discomfort with sincere emotions in general. We are more comfortable with sarcasm and humor as a means to express dissent, as we are increasingly clueless to how satire actually works. We confuse sincerity with weakness. We need confidence to be able to sell ourselves in our public lives. This encourages arrogance, superficiality and derision, rather than sincerity, questioning and uncertainty. We’re motivated by fear of our emotions rather than an acceptance of the complexity of life. Ultimately, however, this leaves us disconnected from ourselves and from others.
Though there’s a definite need for rational discourse in facing our collective challenges, we need to relearn that our lives also include a full range of emotional and spiritual possibilities, and that these different possibilities can never be decoupled from one another. Our emotional lives aren’t just something that’s kept private. In our public, political lives, we should share anger, frustration and disappointment as much as we share hope, dreams and ideas. Not sharing these seemingly negative reactions to states of affairs doesn’t make them go away; it only allows them to be expressed in unhealthy and harmful ways. It might be hard to quantify or generalize emotions, but that doesn’t make them any less valuable to pay attention to when engaging with one another.
On more than one occasion I’ve been told, “You’re much more pleasant in person than you are in your columns.” I’m glad to hear that I’m not always a surly individual. This space is ideal to express discontent publicly, but I also find ways to love, laugh, cry and celebrate. Though anger shouldn’t consume a soul, it also shouldn’t be allowed to fester. So yes, bro, at times I am mad.
Ahmad Jitan is a Trinity senior. His column runs every other Wednesday. You can follow Ahmad on Twitter @AhmadJitan.