Sit with any group of social-justice activists and inevitably you’ll reach the point of anger at pop culture that can no longer be enjoyed. Ghost, any action movie with a black guy, sitcoms that appropriate lesbianism during sweeps, Pocahontas, and a myriad of others are straight-up unwatchable for a lot of socially-conscious folks. When you learn about such tropes as “Dead Lesbian Syndrome” or “the Magical Negro,” pop culture becomes mighty difficult to interact with.
The life of an activist is not an easy one. We are trained to sniff out injustice and figure out ways to right wrongs. And, in a really injust and, at times, shitty world, it can be hard to maintain that drive and passion for rightness.
When frustrated by impasses, power grabs, and blatant injustice, it’s easy to allow that passion for social change fester into anger or rage.
Anger on its own can be a powerful force for change. It often acts as a “call to action” or a stimulus that keeps the fires of passion burning. But, unchecked, that same anger can be paralyzing.
This is most clear when preaching to the “unconverted.” As opposed to preaching to the choir, which is what most activists are doing, most of the time, many will agree that the real work for social change has to happen “out there,” among those who do not agree with you.
Many of us have likely had the experience of talking to our parents about something that matters intensely to us, but our folks don’t give a shit about, like gay marriage, transgender healthcare, HIV prevention info for homeless populations, etc. We get to that place where we become some consumed by our own perception of the social injustice that we just implode. Maybe that doesn’t happen to you, and if so, good on ya, but it sure happens to me. In these moments all my killer communication ninja skills and compassionate patience go right out the window and I become that impetuous adolescent that just. wasn’t. understood.
And this is a problem. Anger, while it can be a powerful ally, can also be a nasty impediment. It allows our emotions to consume our intellect, and it shuts us down to the possibility that maybe, just maybe, those that oppose us could be right, too.
Anger does not advocate. It doesn’t lobby. It doesn’t convince, and it doesn’t change.
My friend Ariel is the most positive activist I’ve ever met. She considers social change to be about possibility, about happiness, about creating a world that everyone will dig. She also makes a living talking to people who disagree with her. To her gender is play, sex is pleasure, debate is a chance to get to know people better, social change is an opportunity to do strangers a solid. The best part of all this? She gets shit DONE.
My advice? Be like my buddy Ariel. Get yourself in a good place. Make yourself as happy and content with your life as you can be. Be proud of the life you live and the person that you are. Then, and only then, get to work changing the world.