Learning Through Outrage

I was asked by my dear friend to write a piece (this piece) that speaks to my life as a scholar and “activist” (the quotation marks indicate my shifting feelings about identifying as an activist). Around the time I was approached by her, I was in the middle of writing an analytic piece about Frantz Fanon’s essay The Lived Experiences of the Black Man and Aimé Césaire’s Discourse on Colonialism for a social theory graduate seminar. They were two of the most emotional reads of my life. Fanon and Césaire were angry and they reminded me that I must also be angry. I’ve spent so much of my political awakening trying to control my emotions to be more palatable, to be easier to swallow – then I realized I do not owe that to anyone. Our anger as marginalized bodies is sounding the alarm and giving voice to the conditions of our suffering – conditions that are watered-down, muted, and pushed aside by oppressive, disregarding, and denying forces.

Before I continue, I have to be intentionally explicit in stating that I cannot fully understand, from a lived perspective, Fanon’s and Césaire’s writings. As a racialized person who is not Black, I feel that it is only responsible of me to be clear that I am not claiming to have a full understanding of anti-Black racism. As I progress in my career as a scholar/“activist”, it only becomes clearer that I move through this world without ever being subject to the particularities of anti-Blackness in the settler state of Canada.

What Fanon and Césaire did offer me is an ability to name my experiences. I think back to being younger, before the onset of a politicized consciousness, and reprocess moments – years – of being in an othered body. Fanon writes: “When they hate me, they tell me my color has nothing to do with it. When they hate me, they add that it’s not because of my color. Either way, I am a prisoner of a vicious cycle”. [1] Growing up in a small Canadian city where I was often “the only one in the room” in more ways than one, exclusion and inferiority were normal features of my everyday. Even when I excelled at school or the arts I could never enjoy it. The world told me I never deserved or earned it – that I was just a diversity checkbox that white folks could tick so they would feel better about themselves.

Puberty in particular is an interesting retrospective when I flashback to it armed with the words and thoughts of people like Fanon and Cesaire. I know, I know, I know. Puberty sucked for everyone. But I think folks of colour could relate to this mind-f@#% of being rejected because of people’s “preferences” (ahem… white) or being the recipient of sexual attention because they think you’re “unique” or “exotic”. Audre Lorde’s and bell hooks’ writings held my hand to the rough realization that I cannot rely on whiteness to (re)connect me to a healthy sexual identity being a brown-skinned moonfaced queer-do. [2] “[D]eprived of a blueprint for healthy black male sexuality, most black males follow the racialized patriarchal script” hooks writes. [3] I learned that I will never feel genuinely beautiful or loved if I keep expecting whiteness to put its stamp of approval on my body.

Coming into this ever-complicating political consciousness has been a double-edged sword. The release offered by the knowledge of Black thinkers and writers has been healing, but it has also been enraging. For a long time, I felt like a pathology in the world I live – that the damage was within me. People like Lorde, hooks, Fanon, Cesaire, and so many other revolutionaries who were never names of popular or scholarly fame, have offered their understandings of the world to me and to a number of other folks of colour. I am not a sickness that needs to clamor to be whiter, to be more masculine, to be richer in order to survive. The real challenge however is to learn how to reconnect myself to an idea of self-worth and beauty outside the confines of white supremacy.

The catharsis of being able to properly diagnose so many years of self-hatred as RACISM has drastically shifted how I try to live my life. With this healing however is outrage. Outrage that there are people who suffer a great deal more than I do: Black folks who are subjugated by the police state, the Indigenous youth who live in crumbling reserves, Transwomen who are subject to the array of violence that society aims at them… the list goes on.

I’ve learned a lot of fancy words like “white capitalist patriarchy” or “____ industrial complex” which have all helped me name parts of my life experience, but the hard work is to move beyond these words than only a few can access. I often catch myself using these words excessively without stopping to think that not everyone has had the privilege of being in places where these words are mobilized and explained. We think of outrage, anger, and ire as these destructive negative forces, but I’ve also learned that they can point to places of healing and understanding. Most importantly, they awaken us to the suffering that surrounds us and might provide us with energy to resist and hopefully overturn the oppressive forces that keep pushing people to the margins.

[1] Fanon, F. (1952). Black skin, white masks. New York: Grove Press, 96.
[2] Lorde, A. (2007). Sister outsider: essays and speeches. Berkeley, Calif.: Crossing Press., hooks, bell. (2004). We real cool: black men and masculinity. New York: Routledge.
[3] hooks 2004, 75.

Emil Briones - HeadshotEmil Briones is a MA Education & Society student at McGill University, where they also graduated with a BMus in Clarinet in 2013. Their interests include making music, writing poetry, facilitating anti-oppression workshops, cleaning, and making food for the people they love. Because of the support of their amazing loved ones and community, they have had the privilege of winning a Canada Graduate Scholarship to fund their schooling, and of being recognized with the McGill Award for Equity and Community Building. Emil’s ultimate goal through their research is to help facilitate transformative anti-oppressive education models in health-care training and be a community-based family physician. And maybe one day be a back-up dancer for Queen Bey or Janet Jackson.

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