Receiving anger, responding 'politely': How to handle aggression when exploring whiteness and race as a scholar activist

This is just an open heart stream of consciousness I share with how I am trying to figure out how to deal with the anger and passive aggressiveness I receive, as a black female who engages in intellectual inquiries about race, whiteness, and colonialism. It’s not so much about the online comments and emails I receive as much as I’m interested in how to handle these situations when I’m in a physical location, like after I have given a lecture, or if I’m in a class and a peer or professor displays overtly angry, or passive-aggressive responses to my critical inquiries.

 

0 thoughts on “Receiving anger, responding 'politely': How to handle aggression when exploring whiteness and race as a scholar activist

  1. Hello Sistah vegan. I’ve been reading your blog since last summer and I got to say, you inspire me! All of your work, activism, and education gives me inspiration about becoming a successful young black woman. It’s nice to find women like you and I love your topics you have that I learned from or could relate to. I can relate to your background and where you were raised in a predominantly white town.

    Before your blog, I could never consider myself a feminist because of the images and standards of the mainstream feminism. I was always exposed to white middle class feminists, but it never felt like they included me or other non white women (or even non western women) and never discuss any other topics besides their own agendas.

    I used to follow a popular Austrailian feminist blogger (http://friedarose.tumblr.com/) but after a few comments from her I found ignorant, I had to stop reading her tumblr. She also never replied to a few important question I asked, “What was her thoughts about non white, non westernized feminism,” but she never answered it. She then procedded to reply to a girl that asked what was her hair and make up ruotine. It’s refreshing to have found your blog. Once I get some Christmas money, I am going to order your book!

  2. Are you looking for assistance on handling the philological and psychological effects of dealing with angry people, or are you looking for help with interacting productively with people who are hostile to your position?

    In the last ninety seconds or so, I’m not sure if you intended to say “I have privileged knowledge and cannot continue the discussion if you don’t have that knowledge.”. It feels to me like you are refusing to explain your position to anyone who does not have a narrow specialization of academic education, and that feeling evokes cognitive dissonance in me when it comes from someone engaging in reasonable discussion.

    1. @Decius. I am wondering if I really am evoking cognitive dissonance to all ‘outside of my academic field,’ due to ‘narrow specialization of academic education’…. Because in all honesty, I have received this hostility since way before I ever became formally education in critical race theory and black feminist theory. I always received these hostile reactions from many of my white peers and teachers in my all white K-12 education.

      I guess I don’t care if one doesn’t agree with my inquiries into race and whiteness. I am more concerned with how to deal with pure anger and hostility towards when I explain suffering and pain that say, black people endure as recipients of anti-black racism and whiteness. When some tells me they suffer or are in pain from a system I benefit from (i.e. structural ableism), I don’t become hostile and/or dismiss their suffering. I listen and read more about it. I don’t tell them it is in their head, they are ‘diverting from real social justice issues,’ or are, ‘play the ableism-card’….

      I can discuss and explain my position and will only go as far as I can before I just need to stop because I don’t have the time to do what has already been done, which is why I offer that folk refer to literature about it. I have no childcare for my newborn and my 2 year old, so I am their primary caretaker, along with trying to finish school and the Sistah Vegan project, so I am limited (at least online) to explain my position in detail.

      Most of the people who are hostile towards me ARE in academia or have access to specialized scholarly literature… Just thinking out loud, here…

      1. The dissonance comes from my generalizations of academics. I assume that there is an entry-level idea in every academic discipline, and that I don’t understand what or where to find the map of concepts to words that your branch of specialized academia has internalized. .

        For example, I still have trouble separating the purely observational statement” You benefit from this system at the expense of others, and your voluntary actions perpetuate it.” from the judgmental “You are choosing to support this system because you benefit from it at the expense of others.” When I experience something which is indistinguishable from an unjustified direct personal assault, I have a strong tendency to respond aggressively on a physiological level.

        If I didn’t have the a priori belief that you were engaging in reasonable discussion, I would draw the conclusion that you were parroting what you had read without understanding why it was true. That could lead to hostility from me if I was forced to continue the discussion, such as by a professional obligation to engage with you.

        The only coping mechanisms I know how to use for unwarranted aggression are repression and escalation. Repression doesn’t seem to be working well for you. Escalating a pseudonymous internet post, for example, might involve publishing the post along with the email and IP addresses used to make it. Escalating a personal reaction is somewhat harder; if someone accuses you of a lack of objectivity because you are black, you might ask them if they care about their field of study; if they respond in the affirmative, point out that they also lack objectivity. If they respond in the negative, you might dismiss their choice of field (Is that what your daddy told you to study?/I’m sure you will find that VERY interesting then?). The goal of escalation is to make the interaction between equal actors, instead of between an aggressor and a victim.

        I’m certain that people with more experience with the canon of psychology will have additional ideas, perhaps including at least one which is more appropriate for your temperament.

  3. I agree with this video too. I think you handle yourself pretty well and there is nothing ‘angry’ about you. I get tired of these stereotypes of black women being ‘angry’ and then lump us all together as a monolith group, wheres for a white person, they are seen as individuals that stand apart from each other. Why can’t we be the same?

    As for the people in you daily life that have problems with your work, they must feel threatened by your messages and thoughts. Why else would they respond in ways like that and them being high up on the school’s hierarchy, they should know better than to resort to that behavior.

    I haven’t experienced much of aggression in terms of what I am doing so far (I’m still an undergraduate and don’t have a real job yet) but I have experience race related problems outside of school in my daily activities. I try not to it get to me, if I do the person trying to effect me will get what they want. They have their reason to tear you down and I wouldn’t want them to win. I will try to show that they don’t bother me and when I am clear away from them I either try to relax and move on.

  4. As a white vegan male, I’m aware (well, I’m working on it!) that I can not completely relate to what you’re dealing with, but I did want to say that I support what you’re doing and I felt that at least putting that out there might help a little.
    Burnout is a big issue for anyone trying to create change, but when you’re fighting it on so many levels, I suspect it can be an even bigger problem. So, in no way do I think my suggestion will be the perfect answer, but I do hope it helps at least somewhat.
    If possible, give yourself a moment (perhaps while with your kids) to remind yourself of why you’re doing these things, but also what has been accomplished so far. Even if it’s just a change in the mindset of a few friends, or realizing that your children could possibly be two people who grow up a lot more aware of the influence the world has on every level, that’s something.
    If you spend all your time looking at the list of things that have yet to be done, the future will often seem daunting, especially when you have so many people fighting the path you’re on.
    In the vegan area of things I feel like simply taking a moment to enjoy nature is good enough, but I’m not sure what your answer might be. Perhaps thinking about the fact that your project is now more than just an idea on a piece of paper? Or the reality that people are learning about it everyday, and questioning their own reality because of it?
    Basically, there may always be people fighting you, but at some point it helps to see how the numbers of your supporters are growing as well.
    Alright, I’m babbling. Maybe someday I’ll have a more eloquent way of putting all of this, but for now I thought I should at least give it a shot in the hopes that it might help a small bit. Please keep up the good work, and congrats on registering for the winter quarter!

  5. Hi Breeze,
    I’m new to the blog and appreciate (exclamation mark!) all that you’ve done here. I was wondering if you’re familiar with Janice Moulton’s article “A Paradigm of Philosophy: The Adversary Method” (most of it can be previewed here: http://tinyurl.com/d8rmuhr). As a graduate student in philosophy, I found it to be one of those articles that speaks directly to my experiences. And her insights extend far beyond philosophical circles. Presuming you haven’t already read it (and if you have I wonder what you think about it), here’s how she explains the adversary method: ” the philosophic enterprise is seen as an unimpassioned debate between adversaries who try to defend their own views against counterexamples and produce counterexamples to opposing views. The reasoning used to discover claims, and the way the claims relate to other beliefs and systems of ideas are not considered relevant to philosophic reasoning” (14). To me, this speaks for most academic contexts and the type of reasoning it holds up as a normative ideal.

    In any event, I definitely feel your pain. In my department, I get no respect for doing animal ethics (much less dabbling in critical animal studies, critical race theory, decolonial feminism, etc.). Absolutely none. And no one in my department is equipped to help guide my research in the way that your talks you post online have.

    I’m not sure if what I have said answers any of the questions you posed at the end of your video. But I just wanted you to know that there are people out there like myself who find what you’re doing to be very, very compelling. Personally, I’m vegan. I’m “white” (quotation marks because I’m part Korean, Finnish, Yugoslavian, etc.–and find it difficult to condense all that into one marker, esp. based on my appearance). And I’m trying to expand my philosophical horizons all the time. Your blog has gone a long way in helping to do just that. And I thank you for that and wish you the best of luck in what I know will be some murky waters ahead.

  6. Breeze, have you read John Francis’ Planetwalker? He offers a very simple solution to dealing with people who got angry at him – he took on a vow of silence for 17 years. AND earned his Ph.D. in the process!

  7. Dear Breeze,
    I’ve been following your blog since August this year and your work and lifestyle has been an absolute inspiration beyond words. Being a white vegan female that was born and raised in Germany and educated in London, I had been deconstructing my identity and middle-class background for quite some time, yet always without considering race and normative whiteness at as deep a level. Your blog and a critical whiteness seminar I attended in October totally changed that and I now see the world, particularly the green lifestyle arena, through completely different eyes. I am in the last stages of my masters in environmental governance and your work has inspired me to apply your approach to a European/German context by hopefully writing my thesis on how LOHAS initiatives are tied to forms of intersectional oppression and which mechanisms of exclusion sustain that link, using the newly founded garden cooperative in Freiburg as a case study/platform. I haven’t registered yet and am still looking for potential supervisors, which I think will be a very difficult endeavour due to the very strong sexist speciesist neoliberal whiteness that prevails in my faculty (forestry and environmental sciences!). It’s crazy how much of a niche topic holistic food justice still is over here, which is one of the reasons why I wanna contribute to “mainstreaming” it, or at least help paving the way should I say.
    Even though I cannot completely relate to your pain and struggle due to my white bias, I just want you to know that I truly appreciate your work and path of life and think that you are one of the most gifted thinkers out there. And always remember that the world only moves forward because of those who oppose it.

  8. Hi Breeze, I’m not sure I can bring any advice regarding those passive-aggressive people, other than what you are already doing: staying polite.

    For the burnout part, maybe keep track of all the comments, online and in real life, of people you helped. It feels like you engage more people every day to look at their own prejudices (race, gender, …). As your community and reach grow, your opponents grow, but so do your partisans. I am in particular impressed about how much you think about and take into account your own privileges (able, educated, ..), and not stop at race. This encourages me every day to do the same. Similarly, the way you always stay courteous challenges me to do the same, even in the face of conflict (though I don’t always manage that so well).

    So keep in mind that when you engage, you impact some people (if not the majority) for the better, and often profoundly so.

    Kudos to you, and know that we are many out there looking forward to each new post, video and idea, looking forward to be engaged, questioned and challenged. It won’t solve your passive/aggressive dealings, but hopefully it will help a little.

  9. hi Breeze,
    i was actually just thinking recently about how i hear very very often, black people specifically, will say something racial, not prejudice, and then feel the need to follow it up with “but im not racist….”, as if they actually can be racist, and as if what they said can even be termed “prejudiced” or “bigoted”. for example, my brother recently said on facebook “white people sure do love Christmas sweaters”, yet felt the need to say right under it – “i’m not racist tho”. my family members, specifically my mother says things like this all the time. any mention of white people’s characteristics or mannerisms has to be followed up by a “but i’m not racist”, even when there are no whites present. we’re more concerned with their feelings than they are of ours.
    all that was to say, i think we as people of color have become too accommodating. we have become too concerned with feelings, misconceptions, and being misunderstood when the same regard is not taken for us. on some level, as you said, we should be concerned about their feelings. but that has to have some limitation. cursing, swearing, and just a blatant disregard for you as a person shows that you cannot deal with those people on any rational level.
    i think bell hooks mentioned it perfectly in a couple of her books (specifically Killing Rage and Talking Back) that there will have to be some uncomfortable conversations, some hurt feelings, and some anger ( a lot of anger) before we can actually come to progressive and constructive conversations and solutions. your work is that spark; that uncomfortable confrontation. people have to be made aware of their privileges and prejudices before they can change it. and that isn’t always, or probably even a portion of the time, going to be comfortable, calm and collected with rational, empathetic individuals. sometimes it will be done with assholes. not saying you should be an asshole back, but you shouldn’t go out of your way in any sense for assholes. ever. demanding respect, as a person of color (amongst other creeds you employ) is a revolutionary act in this country, in and of itself, no?

  10. (Sorry, I posted to the wrong entry a minute earlier.)

    I just today stumbled across your blog, and I thank you for what you are doing. What you are doing is so very right. I am a white vegan currently pursuing divinity school, and I actually find the opposite–we are beginning (in the early, early stages) of deconstructing race and white privilege but have yet to consider how many other facets of everyday existence feed into reinforcing attitudes of violence and superiority. While we make connections all the time between orthodox Christian rhetoric, sexism, and sexuality, for instance, we largely leave ignored how racism, speciesism, and classism, among others things, are also intimately implicated and intertwined. Many blind spots still exist (and I absolutely include myself in this criticism), and I wish I could offer wisdom, but I only can voice encouragement and support. I hope in the future to work on some of the same intersections you explore and to include Christianity within the dialogue as well.
    Ultimately, however, I think I am left wordless. I want to ask you to find the strength to continue, but I cannot imagine the extent of the difficulties you face. I think many of us realize that a long, long road awaits us–a very hard, tumultuous one at that–but I do believe things will change. And I appreciate your contribution to building a more just, compassionate world.

  11. It really depends upon the situation and the level of aggression and number of other factors. My reactions to hostility in both professional and personal settings has led me to different responses based upon how well I know the person and our relationship as well as my state of mind at the time. Being polite is okay in the interest of showing the aggressor you do not intend to disrespect them in any way. Simultaneously, there are situations where the anger or hostility is hurtful or makes me uncomfortable and for this reason I feel violated and must confront it. This can be done politely but I admit that I can be very blunt in these situations and not mince words. I think that as long as the objective of achieving growth and healing through these conversations is kept at the forefront of the intention then everything will work out for you. Go Breeze! We want you back at UC Davis to finish your dissertation and grace us with your presence!

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