On August 8th, Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders held a rally in Seattle that was brought to a halt by protesters for the Black Lives Matter movement. The protesters were met with insults and disdain from the audience as they spoke. Sophie Aanerud talks about how she felt about the protesters’ sudden arrival.
To Marissa Johnson,
Firstly, an introduction: I have lived my entire life in Seattle. I am white, raised in a decidedly progressive, educated, middle-class household. My mother analyzes and teaches race and sexuality studies; she wrote her doctoral dissertation on the problematic narratives brought forth through white liberalism, focusing especially upon white liberal feminism. Discussions around the dinner table often focused on class and racial divisions, exploring the many ways white privilege had impacted my life. And it has; in nearly every element of my life one can find traces of privilege based on my skin, my ethnic background. I am white. I am privileged. I have spent much of my adolescence pondering how to use this privilege.
I mainly wish to talk to you about anger. When I first heard of the interruption of the Bernie Sanders event by protesters aligned with the Black Lives Matter movement, I was angry. Angry for several reasons, some justifiable, some not. I was angered by the apparent disrespect these activists were showing a man who had become one of my political heroes. I was angered to think of the hard work put into organizing this important rally, focused on such important issues, was rendered more or less a failure. I was angered that whatever wisdom Bernie had to share with my city was left unuttered. This anger is justifiable.
I was also angered by the words of the protesters. Angered to hear someone so vehemently speaking of my city in a negative light. I love Seattle with passion; so often we want to see the object of our love exclusively as perfect. I was taken aback, offended when you, Ms. Johnson, labeled this place I so love as “racist.” I furthermore took this statement recognizing the racism in white Seattle as a personal attack on myself, on my parents who have put forth so much effort so as to keep their daughter from falling into the self-affirming world of white liberalism. “How dare she ignore their work? How dare this stranger not take into account my story?” This anger was not justifiable.
Slowly I am working to listen. To extend beyond my own misplaced white fragility, and focus instead upon your words. There was so much truth in your speech. Seattle is a hub for race-related inequalities. The white liberal majority allows these injustices to continue. I allow them to continue. And especially as an individual who reaps the benefits of such injustice, it is uncomfortable for me to hear this. I have been more challenged on such topics of race-discrimination than many, but I still often creep back into my bubble of white liberal blamelessness.
Even my minimal justifiable anger related to the protest has made it hard for me. Hard to understand and eventually drop my unjustifiable anger. Hard for me to focus on the actual content of your speech.
So now for an exploration of anger: namely justified anger versus unjustifiable anger. Anger that stems from actions not warranting of such a response— unjustified anger— eases swiftly, melting in the face of truth, if unencumbered by the other form of anger— justifiable anger. This anger is not without its uses. There is, as explained by Audre Lorde in her article, “The Uses of Anger,” information which can be gleaned through the recognition of this type of anger. Such being said, justified anger lasts longer, holds more power. It features the power to shield its possessor not only from the truth, but from conceiving the flagrant roots of any unjustifiable anger. Through anger, we slide into antagonistic tendencies, labeling any individual causing us anger of any form as an enemy. Under this anger, we no longer can identify commonalities.
Like its kin, violence, no steady peace and understanding can come from actions rooted in anger of any form.
Ms. Johnson, what I am suggesting you do is wholeheartedly unfair. You have so much justification for your anger. The BLM movement has so much justification for anger. Black America, America in general has justification for anger. Innocent individuals are on the daily targets of police brutality based simply on their skin color. Black culture is used by the privileged white population as a form of entertainment. This country is ruled by an arbitrary caste system rooted in hundreds of years of cruelty and politicians are doing very little, if anything, to change this. You have every reason to be angry. Despite this righteousness, I am concerned that this anger may be in fact impeding upon your ability to make the change we so long to see.
I can only speak from my own perspective, but as I watched again and again the footage of the Bernie Sanders protest, as my justified and unjustified anger slowly eased, I began to see you. Finally I was seeing you less as the antagonist sculpted by my own anger, but as a woman desperate to see change, a woman with important things to say, but also a woman consumed by anger.
I wonder what could be achieved if you were to work outside of your justified anger, to see those who may lack sophisticated understandings of race relations and whose minds you are working to help expand not as your enemies. I wonder what could be achieved if you were to allow them to speak, allow yourself to listen. In order to succeed in establishing real change, we must not let our conversations be one-sided.
From my perspective, the protest and the Bernie Sanders event came from a place of anger, a point where those involved, on all sides, allowed their anger to paint the situation in shades of antagonism. I responded with anger. The crowd responded with anger. You responded with anger. Little is accomplished.
Especially when dealing with topics which will cause discomfort and force individuals—especially the privileged— to confront their own roles in said subjects, it is crucial we cast aside all anger. Humans struggle when they are faced with such an “uncomfortable” reality; any anger present will halt the necessary struggle. They will cease to listen, cease to look.
Anger will always exist, but true lasting change can only come with love. And so I ask that you try to keep your anger from impacting your actions. I will try to do the same.
With growing respect,
Featured Picture by Jyoti Lama