TRANSFORMING ANGER INTO ACTIVISM
WORDS BY JOSH RIVERS
It was in therapy that I learned I have the power to convert destructive anger into a generative anger that fuels activism, and which has become a cornerstone of my existence. Like anything said in the safety of the therapist’s office, theoretical explorations remain exactly that unless we’re able to apply those learnings as we navigate the real world. Codifying the conversion of anger into something useful proved to be a Herculean exercise, but I was able to draw from a bank of a posteriori knowledge, that which is hard-earned by making mistakes, and by doing the work to investigate my experiences and distil them into understanding. There are two experiences, in particular, which helped make manifest my responsibility to find a way to harness my anger. Let’s call them The Awakenings.
Awakening 1 arrived in the moments after I’d thrown an iron at the head of a boyfriend who I learned had been unfaithful. Luckily, I’ve never been able to throw anything in a straight line and so he was fine, but I wasn’t. The lying, the betrayal and the disrespect, and my inexperience in understanding the violent mixture of those feelings, meant I lost control. As I ran my fingers along an iron-shaped hole in the wall, I realised this hadn’t been a judicious expenditure of my anger. Shaking and confused, and having achieved nothing, I resolved to never let myself be so fiercely aggravated in future. It would mean I would make myself numb to much else, but it meant I wouldn’t have to feel the terror I saw on his face again.
“At the intersection of these awakenings came a breakthrough: Anger can be generative.”
Awakening 2 came a few years later, when rioters in Baltimore set the city ablaze, outraged at the murder of Freddie Gray at the hands of police. I was in the barber chair, reading an article in which the city’s leaders were admonishing the youth for destroying the city, when I burst into tears. I cried through the whole haircut, walked out blubbering, and called my mum. I was angry and felt they should raze the city to ground if that’s what it took for them to understand that black lives matter. “What do I do?!” I begged. My mum didn’t have the answer, but it was the first time I felt anywhere near the anger I felt during The Throwing of the Iron. This was the time to practice converting the energy of that anger into something I could use.
At the intersection of these awakenings came a breakthrough: Anger can be generative. It is an energy that can be repurposed as fuel, and so I used mine to propel me into activism, and into a life dedicated to ensuring that no young brown boy prances off into the world in a pair of gold hot pants without so much as a pep talk about what he might expect. The irony, of course, is that neither the pain of betrayal nor the murder of my Black brothers is my fault, yet it is I who must take responsibility for converting that anger into generative energy. No matter the source, the anger is now mine. How I continue to harness that anger for good will be a challenge, but it’s one I’ve never been more ready take on.