Many of my white, straight friends express deep outrage when they hear stories of racism, sexism or heterosexism in the news. We’re especially prone to do this when there’s a tragic police shooting of a young black person, which has happened all too often in the US of late. They believe it is their right to be outraged and also believe that their outrage proves to people of color that ‘we are the safe ones who care’. “We are your allies. We hurt with you.”
I have a different take on outrage. I believe it is a way for us privileged people to avoid really looking at our part in the issues, which create such horrifying incidents in the first place. It is a way to pretend we are the ones who ‘get it’. It is a way to feel better about ourselves by finger pointing at ‘those racists’ or ‘those sexists’ and so on.
Yes, there is a time to stand up and say, “Enough!” That can best be done as an ally to the oppressed group, and not as an individual action. I decided a few years ago to let go of my need to express my outrage. Why? I discovered that it was counter-productive and actually harmful!
How? First, my outrage simply pushes those people who may be unconsciously perpetrating farther away from looking at their part by shaming and blaming them- loudly! It polarizes people even more deeply and makes it impossible to have mature, effective conversations about these sticky issues. It also makes it less likely for people to do introspection and have the emotional connections that might cause awareness to creep in.
Second, it separates me from my real work: rooting out my own ‘isms’ which impact the world just as surely as the televised incidents. (Not to the same extent, of course, but impacts just as surely!) This is my real work! It will take a lifetime. I don’t want to waste a moment blaming someone else when I’m ignoring my own piece of the puzzle.
Finally, it wastes my precious energy that could be put to better use taking clear action to combat the ‘isms’ that are taking place. Outrage is exhausting! It is debilitating, especially when repeated endlessly as news cycles change. I have better, more productive places to put my energy. I’d rather be constructive by being a true ally to my Black, Latino, Native, Gay and female friends.
So, my friends and readers, I invite you to consider these thoughts the next time your driven to outrage. Perhaps you could put a lid on that energy and redirect it to some other purpose? I’ll support you in this endeavor. I’m going to do this, too!