I am angry.
I am angry that it has taken a combination of a global pandemic and an uprising of Black and Indigenous peoples (leading a multiracial coalition) for Canada to engage with the entrenched, structural racism that underwrites life in Canada for those who are not white. I am angry that this uprising has been diverted and distracted by those that seek the status-quo – morphing instead into statements, reports, and deferrals. I am angry that, across North America, we still seem to be confusing representation with liberation, and I am angry that there are those who will take advantage of our folly.
My anger is not new. It is not unique. Yet it feels bracing – scary even – to articulate that anger in such a direct way. I feel as if I have done something wrong; that I have crossed an imaginary barrier and should be awaiting reprimand. As a cisgendered Black man with a whole lot of class privilege, this feeling cannot hold a candle to the anger felt by those whose interactions with systems that commit harm are deeper and more sustained than mine. This rage is also, however, an important and powerful tool for political and economic change – one that is unequally available to some because of their racial identity.
Davin Phoenix, in his 2019 book The Anger Gap: How Race Shapes Emotion in Politics, highlights this gap in American politics as one where Black Americans persistently display less anger as an emotional response to politics compared to white Americans, regardless of party affiliation. This “anger gap”, according to Phoenix, has profound implications for the ways that political elites treat Black citizens’ concerns, especially when compared to white citizens’ grievances. While white citizens are allowed (and often encouraged) to express their anger by partisan elites, Black citizens are either placated with narratives of progress towards a form of racial equity or arrested for pushing back against this inertia. The consequence, therefore, is a suppression of this emotion for fear of reprisal, leading to a form of resignation and despair.
A similar dynamic appears to be at play in Canada. White grievances – often hidden under the guise of regional discontent – are amplified and addressed by provincial and federal politicians, even when those politicians do not agree with the partisan orientation of these actors’ dissent. Grievances primarily held by Black and Indigenous peoples are, conversely, placated with symbolic actions that do nothing to address the core issue, or forcefully squashed because they are expressed in the ‘wrong’ way.
Not only is this unequal privileging of perspective unjust, but it also suppresses a vital form of democratic renewal. Debra Thompson, in her 2017 article “An Exoneration of Black Rage”, explains the capacity of Black rage to be both “productive” and “disruptive” in ways that are fundamental to constructing a different political system that rejects white supremacy (p. 473). Black rage can create new forms of solidarity where collective identities previously did not exist, and it can disrupt spaces and symbols that uphold a continued ignorance about racial injustice within society. Black rage, therefore, is a crucial act of resistance at a time where democracy around the world is in decay. It produces demonstrable results – the notion of defunding the police is now supported by 51 per cent of Canadians, and initial steps have been taken in cities like Edmonton based on public hearings to follow through on that rallying cry.
I am angry.
You should be too. It is beyond time for my anger, and yours, to be heard.