It’s O.K. to be an Angry Protestor

On the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March (the new iteration took the name “Justice or Else”), Palestinian-American Activist and Executive Director of Arab American Association of New York Linda Sarsour took the stage and loudly proclaimed, “I’m tired of people asking us what the else is. You wouldn’t have to ask that question if we already had justice… Don’t let them ask you why you're angry brothers and sisters, ask them why are they not angry.” Sarsour speaks in a time where protesting has become the main venue of expressing the frustrations of our society, as our government becomes increasingly difficult to work with. Yet, we consistently dismiss our peers when they become angry. We see them as irrational, overly-sentimental and dismiss the idea that perhaps they are angry because they feel hopeless and voiceless.

Anger is often attributed as a negative and unproductive emotion, and for many reasons this attribution is well deserved. But what many of us fail to realize when we dismiss our peers as “hot-headed,” “overly-emotional” and “just plain angry” is that we are chastising them for having a normal human emotion. As humans many things lead us to become angry. It has always puzzled me as to why we as a society are so quick to dismiss protesters, activists or other leaders because they appear “angry.” When you sit down and look at the issues that we as a society face, emotions tend to veer off course. We live in a system of mass incarceration, high debt, bad health and an unclear path to our future as a nation headed by a Congress who are about as productive in the art of leadership and decision making as a park bench. Does it not then make sense that our leaders who seek justice, on any level of society, would be angry that their fellow citizen’s rights are infringed on? 

Part of this harsh judgement on anger is justifiable. We fear protests, activists and change because not only are we as humans creatures of habit, we fear confronting the demons in our closets. Issues such as race, religion, poverty, war and drugs to say the least are deeply painful topics, ones that affect us all on different levels of the spectrum. We fear for our future when we see protests such as the Arab Spring go so off course, only to have protests of our own such as Occupy Wall Street or Black Lives Matter. We fear these protests because we do not know the outcome they will yield. We fear them because we fear that in our pain, our anger will get the best of us. We fear anger because it’s a raw emotion, an emotion that leads us to say and act in a way that differs from what we present to the world.

But we must overcome this fear. We must begin to confront the skeletons of race, inequality, history and identity in our closets. Any emotion, whether it be anger, depression or happiness, shapes our approach to life, and will shape our discussions about our problems. In those discussions, we will experience wide ranges of emotions, particularly anger. Dismissing conversations in angry atmospheres means dismissing pain and frustration that our fellow peers feel. If we as a nation want to begin healing our wounds and building our future, we must put step outside our comfort zones and learn to accept our emotions as another chapter in our lives.

Sehar Ezez is a senior majoring in history. Her column runs biweekly.

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