As an employee of Justified Anger, an initiative of Nehemiah, I cannot tell you how many times we have heard pushback, concern, or flat-out disagreement with the use of the term “anger” in our name.
“You’ve got to get rid of anger.”
“Maybe change it to justified action.”
“Anger is the wrong way to go.”
“You’re going to push people away.”
“You’re inciting a bunch of angry people to live and stay in anger.”
This pushback is not unexpected. I can understand why anger trips people up. As a white male who has spent most of my life in white culture, I know anger is often interpreted as hatred, resentment, or unhealthiness in white spaces. This shows that white culture seriously fails to understand anger. To only be able to experience anger as a negative emotion that must be squelched is a mere limit of our own cultural conditioning.
This simplistic view of anger leaves us without the dynamic ability to understand anger as a healthy emotion. When something happens that is wrong, that is unjust, or that is evil, a proper response is the feeling of anger. To not have the emotion of anger present in the face of these things is to fail to participate or identify with the full extent of our humanity, to embrace an unhealthy stoicism that lacks the ability to embrace or empathize with pain and suffering.
Anger is not good or bad. Anger simply is. What matters is what we do with and how we respond to that anger when we recognize its presence.
Justified Anger, as an initiative of Nehemiah, works to not allow that anger to rid us of our humanity, but uses that anger to invite our community into becoming more loving, to become the best that we can be, and to become more human through recognizing the humanity in others.
One of my favorite parts of Justified Anger is it does not operate out of an unhealthy clinging to resentment, hatred, or bitterness. We reject the notion that shaming others is an appropriate response to anger. Justified Anger operates out of a posture of love, grace, and invitation for others to journey with us into the very experiences, historical truths, and injustices which have produced the reality James Baldwin states: “to be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a state of rage almost all the time.”
Justified Anger does not have to exist, nor does it produce some sort of self-righteous sadism in sharing these truths to white individuals, organizations, and communities. As a white staff member serving in a Black-led non-profit, I see the toll it takes on my Black colleagues at Justified Anger who wake up day after day knowing they are vocationally confronting whiteness, white supremacy, and racial inequities that have caused Madison to be one of the worst places to live for African Americans in the United States. All of this, only to leave work and be faced with the very realities in their daily lives that they are fighting vocationally. There is no reprieve.
One of the privileges of being a white staff member at Justified Anger is that when I leave work, I step back into a white context that does not constantly challenge my cultural perspectives, provide me with consistent microaggressions, or produce the profiling stories I hear over and over from my Black colleagues just trying to do things as simple as ordering coffee. That grieves me, and forces me to consider how my everyday actions as a white male at work even have the potential to impact my Black colleagues, or that they might be bringing experiences, fears, or frustrations into work that I do not have to bring with me.
Justified Anger doesn’t have to take all of this on and continue to invest in choosing to educate, mobilize, and empower white individuals against racism, and it sure would be easier on my colleagues daily mental health to not do so.
Why does Justified Anger do this, then? Why do we work every day confronting systemic injustices, enduring constant discouragement from those condemning our work, and pouring our whole lives, hearts, minds, and emotions into our Madison community that can so often reject us?
Love. We love you, your family, your organization, and your community, as well as ourselves, our families, our organization, and our community of Madison too much to let us be anything less than a place of justice and flourishing for all. We truly desire a stronger Madison for all.
Justified Anger is an invitation to white people to heal. To be loved. To not self-loathe, but to be free from the illusions, deceptions, and horrors of white supremacy that separate us, and that wreak havoc on our own souls.
The anger of Justified Anger comes out of an authentic, genuine testimony to the truth of evil, violence, pain, and brokenness of historic and systemic racial injustice. It is a lament that is courageous and bold enough to hold the truths of our history before our faces, to make us stare at them long enough to begin to be stirred out of empathy towards them, and to realize our own freedom and liberation are locked into our own repentance and addressing of these realities.
This emphasis on love doesn’t mean there isn’t pain in the journey. In fact, in order for us to let our ideals, our previous conceptions of the world, and our previous estimations of ourselves die, we must embrace the painful process of death. In order to become stronger, we must become weak, as well as endure the pain necessary to make us healthy and whole. Through my experience with Justified Anger as a white male, I often feel the sharp pain of a knife to the heart that begins painfully cutting when confronted with my own complacency, painful actions, privilege, and complicity. But the incisions are never meant to bleed me out. They are for surgery. To make me stronger. To make me healthier. To make me whole, and invited in to a true human experience.
True love cannot be anything less than this. Those who love you most must possess, in the words of Howard Thurman, “unwavering sincerity.” They must speak truth, however painful it might be, to those whom they love when they are off course or when their actions are causing pain and hurt. Without this, we do not have love. We have Midwest-nice, fake relationships. We have the worst racial disparity in the United States as progressive white communities full of pride in our policies inoculate ourselves against feeling the pain of our communities. We have a community that denies and rebukes the emotion of anger from the experience of people with true grievances. In essence, we have the rebuke and disregard of the humanity of our Black Madisonian community. Black human lives really don’t matter if anger needs to be eliminated from justice.
Justified Anger raises its hand in the face of abuse and injustice to testify and say, “I love this community, I love myself, and I love you too much to be able to remain silent, and to not speak truthfully, clearly, and boldly about the experiences present that have angered me.”
Hatred? Resentment? Nah. If you lean in and listen, you’ll find an invitation into the human experience, and perhaps you’ll find your own humanity as well.
Written by Tyler Nylen, Nehemiah Faith Community Relationship Manager