Nine years ago, I was waiting to be served in a banking hall in Lagos on a busy workday, and I noticed a distraught African American lady. I can’t recall what she came to the bank for, but I remembered her starting all the usual appeal-to-pity comments linked to black slavery and deprivation.
Listening to her justifying her current financial situation by how blacks got segregated, maligned, suppressed, and disadvantaged for so long in her country, my eyes started rolling, indicating, ‘enough already of all these kumbaya stories.’ I’ve heard such stories one too many times and treated each with a sneer. At this point, I had profiled her and concluded she had come to my country to live off a successful Nigerian man. Before I realized what was happening, I said, “why can’t you guys (African Americans) stop wallowing in self-pity, move past the slavery era, get on with your lives, and make them count.”
She got so livid that she started swearing and cursing me out. The rage was so intense I had to step outside and thank God she wasn’t holding a gun; otherwise, I wouldn’t be here to write this piece.
My action, thoughts, and statements were so wrong at that time because I didn’t know any better till a couple of years later. What I would like to bring out of this short story today is that we both exhibited rage; even though one was subtle, the other was not.
Feelings, also called emotions, are often expressed in various forms like happiness, excitement, gratitude, relaxation, contentment, tiredness, insecurity, boredom, anxiety, anger, stress, and sadness. These feelings interestingly happen in individuals on different occasions in varying degrees or levels. Hence the feeling of being insecure can become confusion just as happiness can become excitement.
Rage stems from such an emotional reaction known as anger. It is called rage because of its heightened level, making an individual react psychologically, verbally, or physically. Scholars have wisely described anger as some psychological salve because of its paradoxical nature. When a person gets angry, the brain secretes a hormone called norepinephrine which numbs any form of anticipated or felt pain just like an analgesic would. That is why rage can simultaneously soothe and destroy the peace of mind or a true sense of well-being of anyone exhibiting it.
How can we imagine a feeling detrimental to relationships to be crucial to the survival of many seemingly vulnerable people? Sigmund Freud’s initial defense mechanisms and his daughter’s finished work explained how projection, a form of defense mechanism, made it relatable. McLeod, S.A. gave an example to buttress projection as an instance where you hate someone or some people, probably due to envy or fear. Even though you know that such hatred is unfounded, you resolve to believe that they hate you instead, which may lead to a form of anger called White Rage.
Now then, because white rage is generally shameful and superficially unacceptable among people, it takes an invisible form. The unique characteristic of white rage, among others, makes it somewhat different from the black rage that the African American lady exhibited.
I was wrong about profiling and making that judgmental call on the African-American lady at the bank, mainly because I was judging from an uninformed viewpoint. Regrettably, ignorance is not an excuse; however, this is how white rage works, except for my unsafe act of speaking out. A typical white rage exhibitor would have quietly assessed and drawn a conclusion based on stereotype. White rage may not be vocal or openly reactive but has a structure that aids it, however, unreasonable or unjustifiable it may sound.
Professor Carol Anderson of Emory University, author of White Rage, wrote, and I quote, “The trigger of white rage, inevitably, is black advancement. It is not the mere presence of black people that is the problem; rather, it is the blackness with ambition, drive, purpose, aspirations, and demand for full and equal citizenship. However, I have noticed that white rage isn’t limited to white supremacy ideology; it happens even in societies or nations of the same race.
For example, a study showed that half of its participants would take lesser pay, which is higher than others than take a much higher income, which is lower than others. Illustrating this hypothetically, half of the participants chose to accept a job of N5 million p.a; for their colleagues to earn N3 million p.a. over getting an N8 million p.a. job for their colleagues to make N10 million p.a. That desire to dominate and probably oppress to feel secure in some is an inexplicable human nature that robs them of their peace.
The recent uproar followed by the burning of banks and attacking bank officials in the country due to the cash crunch has nothing to do with racism, but social structure envy fuelled by frustration. Recently in the news in the US, about four black police officers beat a black guy to death. As interesting as the case seemed, what shocked me the most was how the black communities responded to the occurrence by protesting peacefully. If the police officers were all white, the damage recorded would have been indescribable.
Therefore, it is essential to highlight the sharp yet interesting differences between white and black rage for a better understanding of how to manage situations, avoid triggers and probably inform contingency planning. As catastrophic as black rage is, it’s usually brief because it gets triggered by rash, uninformed ideals, situations, or actions. In contrast, white rage which is generally borne out of fear or envy is subtle, calculated, and often prolonged. Both are terrible, no doubt, but black rage is costly but easier to manage, especially when the root cause is a provocation. White rage, on the contrary, is more psychological and tougher to deal with as it stems from a mindset ingrained over the years, generations, or a lifetime.
In conclusion, white or black rage transcends race, gender, or sexual orientation. The former exhibits or systematically exists based on a feeling that one is more entitled than others, while the latter is reactionarily violent to such absurdity. Both can occur in the same tribe, ethnic group, society, or nation. Rage, or any form of anger, can be destructive and sometimes fatal; therefore, seeing a subject matter expert is highly recommended if exhibited more frequently and uncontrollably.
Olayinka Opaleye, a well-being specialist, writes from Lagos. Email: oopale[email protected] or follow her on LinkedIn: https://lnkd.in/efCmu87J