Let’s Not Get Emotional

Alexandra McKinney

6246 words

47 minutes

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An Analysis of the Stigmatisation of Marginalised Anger and Joy and the Liberation Born Out of its Celebration

Introduction: Gaslight, gaslight, gaslight

"God, stop being so emotional!"

We've all been in an argument that got more heated than we had intended it to – a seemingly innocent disagreement before voices become raised and the point of it all becomes muddled between jabs at the other's character. And then inevitably comes that attack: why are you being so emotional? Immediately, your argument is nullified, and you are reduced to a state of supposed madness.

Now imagine that feeling, that invalidation, is a permanent accessory to your reality. Existing as a marginalised person means you are constantly putting on an emotional performance. This performance – demanded by the wider cisheteropatriarchal1 society – takes the shape of suppressing the emotions of marginalised people. In doing so, this forced performance reduces marginalised people to less than human, incapable of a full range of emotions and thus absolving oppressors of any accountability for the trauma they inflict. The implications of this violence are succinctly summed up by Mikki Kendall in Hood Feminism: "...but their feelings aren't real, so they don't matter" (Kendall, M. 2020. Page 86).

To be emotional is to be human, and this state of humanity is denied to marginalised people. The stigmatisation of marginalised people expressing emotion is the core of this essay's line of enquiry, but I will be focusing more specifically on the emotions of anger and joy. I have identified these two emotions as being the most contentious in the eyes of non-marginalised folk when expressed by a marginalised person as these emotions motivate the seeking out of social change. This writing sets out to highlight the various insidious ways in which marginalised anger and joy are suppressed, why these emotions are suppressed, and how we may move towards celebrating this anger and joy.

The context of this writing will situate marginalisation through the lens of race, gender, and queerness. However, it is important to note that the suppression of marginalised anger and joy is an experience that pertains to all marginalised identities, though the scope of this essay is limited to the parameters previously listed. Furthermore, the foundation for the following analysis of the impact of suppressed emotionality on marginalised communities is built upon one major concept within Black feminist theory: the concept of intersectionality as coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw.

The complexities that underpin this writing's consensus of what constitutes "marginalised folk" versus "non-marginalised" can be explained by intersectionality. Taking Crenshaw's original road intersection analogy from her paper 'Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics', imagine race, gender, and queerness as streets that can intersect. Anyone who resides on any of these streets is a marginalised person, but also has the potential to participate in the oppression of someone who is differently marginalised. That is, white women can exhibit racist behaviour and benefit from white privilege, and people of colour can have homophobic or transphobic values, and so on (Crenshaw, K. 1989).

This writing defines a person experiencing oppression due to their marginalised identity as the "marginalised person" while the person inflicting the discrimination would be considered the "non-marginalised person." Even if the person enacting the oppression belongs to a different marginalised identity, they would be classified as the "non-marginalised person" because they are not being oppressed for their identity at that moment. Furthermore, cisgendered heterosexual white men will always fall into the category of a "non-marginalised person." Meanwhile, queer women of colour, who sit at the centre of this metaphorical intersection, will consistently be categorised as a "marginalised person."

Queer women of colour at an intersection of oppression Fig. 1 - Queer women of colour at an intersection of oppression

PART I: Hysteria

"Why are you so angry?"

Burning, fiery, red, hot – we all know anger, but not all of us are permitted to express it in the same way. Cishet2 white men have the monopoly on anger3 because they are the only ones who can express it without repercussions.

How have they managed this? Well, not only did they build a colonial patriarchal social structure of which they are the main beneficiaries, but within that structure they've laid down the framework for white men to be absolved of experiencing emotion. That is, they've (supposedly) tricked us into believing that their anger does not fall within the parameters of irrational emotion because it is automatically warranted. As James Hazlewood points out in his thesis Anger: In Black & White: A Meta Analysis (Hazlewood, J. 2002. Page 26), being higher up in the social hierarchy – as white men are – means your anger will always be justified in comparison to those who are lower down in the hierarchy.

Now, examine how the anger of a marginalised person is viewed and it's suddenly a very different conversation. Women of colour in particular carry the baggage of a variety of grossly dehumanising stereotypes, each intended to deny us our rightful anger. In her book White Tears/Brown Scars: How White Feminism Betrays Women of Color (Hama, R. 2020), Ruby Hamad outlines the various harmful archetypes that have been attached to women of colour since the dawn of colonialism and how they've evolved to fit the needs of white supremacy. We see the hypersexual Jezebel image which colonists used to rationalise the rape and subjugation of Black women give way to the supposedly angry, irrational Sapphire who must be put in her place. Latina women are categorised as "spicy" temptresses, while the Dragon Lady archetype depicts east Asian women as overly competitive abusers of white men.

Each stereotype presents a different take on the same portrayal of infantilised emotionality that revolves around white men's consumptions of women's sexuality, like a series of clues that always lead to the same uncomfortable conclusion. These archetypes reduce women of colour to two-dimensional characters which possess an innate aggressiveness, thus denying the legitimacy of any anger expressed in response to any oppressive experience. Showing any kind of anger would be considered a self-fulfilling prophecy, proof that you're one of those.

For a person of colour, exhibiting any kind of animosity seems to confirm the deep-seated fear within white people that they will be violently dragged off their pedestal by the rage of those they have marginalised. Yet this fear is unlikely to come true, as Akala discusses in Natives: "...the brutality of the oppressor determined to hang on to privilege and power is always greater in any context than the resentment produced by resistance to oppression" (Akala. 2018. Page 46). And still, it is due to this ingrained fear that marginalised folk must tread carefully and not rock the boat.

This need to stay calm for the sake of survival within an oppressive landscape was recently highlighted in the Marvel TV series, She-Hulk. The protagonist, attorney-turned-superhero Jennifer Walters can transform into her hulk form without succumbing to anger, as she explains to Bruce Banner – the original, angry hulk – "I'm great at controlling my anger. I do it all the time… because if I don't, I will get called emotional…or might just literally get murdered" (Shaji, S. 2022). This restraint is all part of the emotional performance that comes with being a marginalised person. The performance is incredibly dehumanising,4 as expressing one's anger is a vital part of being human.

Unfortunately, a marginalised person cannot elect to be human5 and also survive.

Jennifer Walters expressing very justified rage in She-Hulk Fig. 2 - Jennifer Walters expressing very justified rage in She-Hulk

The marginalised emotional performance is never more evident than it is in the workplace and academia, or the so-called professional world. Because a marginalised person's anger is never viewed as valid, that anger will always render us "unprofessional" in the eyes of those who marginalised us in the first place. This inability to express anger, particularly in professional settings, unfortunately nurtures the development of another archetype for marginalised people to be lumped into: The Strong Marginalised Person.

As presented in Mikki Kendall's Hood Feminism (Kendall, M. 2020), the Strong Marginalised Person absolves their non-marginalised colleagues, classmates, and professors of any guilt they may feel when degrading or dumping emotional labour onto a marginalised person. Because you're just so much stronger, so you can handle it. This brand of "strength" is not something we should aspire towards (Jewell, H. 2022. Page 7), but it's one that marginalised people must apparently embrace. Uncomfortable remarks and the expectation of providing anti-discrimination education (but don't make people feel uncomfortable, mind you) are all considered acceptable thanks to the privilege of weaponised emotional incompetence.

One of the dangersof weaponised incompetence6 is that it makes the offending person seem almost childlike – despite the fact they are obviously asserting their dominance within a power dynamic. Therefore, a marginalised person cannot risk showing anger because it is received in the same way as an adult lashing out at a child. Except the "child" is wilfully manipulating a marginalised person for their benefit and…it's not a child. They're a grown adult who should be capable of managing their own emotions and educating themselves, but that would negate the luxury of being non-marginalised to begin with.

The weaponised emotional incompetence that is vigorously exploited within educational and workplace settings lends itself to the intellectualisation of marginalised trauma and its resulting anger (Etherington, A. 2022). While often presented as a way of promoting inclusivity, the emphasis on marginalised people educating others is less an instance of liberation and more a case of trivialising marginalised suffering. In order to achieve professionalism, one must water down and intellectualise their own oppression so that it may be consumed by the non-marginalised. This practice is barbaric – you are no longer a human being feeling emotions as you should but a readily accessible trauma/oppression database for those who deign to access it.

One might think: "Surely having an intellectual debate about these issues is beneficial?" Intellectualising oftentimes leads to minimising – which is one step away from erasure – and to "debate" is a luxury. To truly debate in the impartial, "respectable" sense, one must be emotionally subdued and removed from the topic in a way "...that is completely at odds with any concept of normal human emotions" (Kendall, M. 2020. Page 93). This is practically impossible for marginalised people because, well, it's our life and basic rights being debated in the first place.

If you can afford to not be enraged and emotional about it all, then perhaps it is because it's not about you.

But alas, intellect and emotional detachment seem to be the aspirational package deal we must buy into if we're to be taken seriously. Anger, no matter how justified, is never used as a selling point for winning an argument or expressing new ideas, especially for marginalised folk.

It doesn't seem to be a coincidence that modern media has a habit of idolising unemotional geniuses within fiction, putting the very antithesis of "snowflake" marginalised folk on a pedestal. Take for example, BBC's Sherlock, the wildly popular contemporary interpretation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's beloved character. Sherlock's magnificent genius coupled with his glacial, generally emotionless nature have audiences singing his praises, despite his character exhibiting countless instances of toxic masculinity (Morgan, A. 2020). Sherlock's character is just one example of the white, male cold intellect that will form the bedrock of what professional discourse looks like and who it excludes.

Sherlock's behaviour is applauded despite being problematic. Fig. 3 - Sherlock's behaviour is applauded despite being problematic.

While professional settings are an absolute minefield for any marginalised person navigating their anger, personal relationships don't exactly offer the solace one would hope. Even within "friendships," too much anger is not permitted because ultimately your perceived politeness and respectability is what makes you one of the good ones, one of the model examples of what other marginalised people should aspire to be.

"Angry" always equals "scary." Villainous. Monstrous. Savage. To step into that territory will automatically make you a "bad one" – one of those. This supposed "frightening" quality of marginalised people is what is then used as an excuse for the non-marginalised folk's lack of support when a marginalised person expresses dissent, a process that quickly turns friends into critics. Navigating relationships with this added threat is terrifying, as it leaves one "...questioning reality as well as [oneself]" (Hamad, R. 2020. Page 7). Who can you trust? Particularly in personal relationships, the need to spare the feelings of others actively gets in the way of those who are marginalised speaking our truth. But just like in professional environments, this implication that one must be smiling, polite, and silent about one's oppression for the sake of not making anyone uncomfortable is oppressive in itself (Kendall, M. 2020. Page 252).

Hannah Jewellsheds more light on why speaking out about one's abuse is taken with offence, even from people who should love you, stating "...calling someone a snowflake is a way to shut down conversation before it can threaten privilege" (Jewell, H. 2022. Page 21). Being accepted and included comes with the silent agreement that you will stay in your place, that your non-marginalised partners, friends, and acquaintances will continue to reap the benefits of their position.

And with that, you realise your social position is incredibly precarious. Because there's a chance you might not have even made it to the esteemed position of partner, friend, acquaintance, or even human being. You are considered a pet to be put in their place, and you're expected to wait for a bone to be thrown to you.

I'm angry at myself for being angry about not being allowed to express anger in a crappy situation. I suppose that once external societal forces have policed your thoughts and emotions for long enough, you start to internalise that, and the voice of oppression never leaves your mind. If you're wondering what inspired this reflection, let me tell you about an incident that occurred some time ago.

During a class discussion on an assigned reading, I drew the lecturer's attention to questionable passage that I took issue with. I was met with pursed lips and a reassurance that "the author didn't mean it that way" and "the text is a bit dated anyway" before we moved on. I was aware of what the "official" meaning of the passage was, but the arrogant undertones present in the text indicated that there was more to it. But I stayed silent for the remainder of the lecture, aware that I had taken on the role of Person That Has to Make Everything Political™.

That was not the end of it, as a week later came the apology letter. In the letter, the lecturer apologised for moving on too quickly from the discussion about the offending passage, expressing that while we didn't really know what was meant by the author, the content provided much to debate about. Hm.

I would've argued that the underlying meaning was right there, but perhaps it's only there if you yourself feel othered by it. Also, why do we need to debate the implications of a text that others already marginalised people? And if there was much to debate, why was I talked down in class?

But I should be happy that I got an apology, right? It's not what I would have hoped for, but they're trying, and that's all anyone can ask for. The apology was made in good faith, so any anger following that is unjustified and would indicate I am merely stirring the pot.

Fuck that.

If I tried to manage my anger according to what's more convenient for our colonial patriarchal society, I would never feel anything ever again. I've spent so much time researching the ways in which marginalised anger is suppressed, why it shouldn't be suppressed – but I still need to learn that my research also applies to myself. So yes, I am angry – hysterical you might say. And I'm not going to stop bringing it up.

PROVOCATION: Design also likes to oppress you

"Whatever happened to good design, you know?"

As a designer, it is natural to take a moment to examine the ways in which the design community has interacted with marginalised designers and audiences. Surely the design industry would be progressive. Design is meant to be inclusive, driven by communicating messages to an audience in a way that is neutral and easily understandable – but understandable to who? Inclusive of who? And what exactly is neutral design?

The myth of "neutral" design carries the utopian promise of being appreciated by all audiences and therefore presenting a universal solution. In reality, this form of design only resonates with a specific assumed "neutral" audience: white, Western European/American, cisgendered, heterosexual men (Ellen Lupton et al., 2021). The neutrality myth is rooted in Modernism, a design ideology that originated in post-World War I Europe, rejecting embellishment and celebrating functionality (V&A, 2023). While Modernism as a design movement is not inherently bad, its idealisation promotes a single perspective that dismisses all other design, effectively erasing any visual language that exists for those of us whose identities fall outside the parameters of this idealised "neutral" person (Fuller, J. 2021).

Modern man in his modern bubbles Fig. 4 - "modern man in his modern bubbles"

The seed of oppressive elitist design was planted even before Modernism began. In his audacious essay 'Ornament and Crime,' Adolf Loos claims "cultural evolution is equivalent to the removal of Ornament from articles in daily use". He goes on to state that ornamentation is primitive and all those who engage with it are "degenerates" (Fuller, J. 2021) – no doubt this man would be positively thrilled by the mere existence of Helvetica. The infantilising way in which Loos puts down the crafts of indigenous communities he encountered is very reminiscent of the way white cisheteropatriarchal structures currently put down the emotions of marginalised groups.

The issue lies in that the discarding of ornamentation, colour, or texture is equivalent to the discarding of any art or design that does not fit within the confines of cisheteronormative7 colonialist ideals – it's a deliberate statement of what visual language is acceptable and what is not (Cripa, B. 2020). By validating colonial Modernist design for its apparent roots in and intellect, this paints the picture that the designers who adhere to this design structure – as well as their "neutral" audience – are automatically logical and knowledgeable, thus providing a perfect antithesis to "emotional" and "fussy" marginalised communities. The visual language of abstraction and straight lines is conveniently granted positive associations with human advancement, all the while being heavily associated with white men. Meanwhile, Benedetta Crippa points out in her article A for Anything that "figuration, roundness and nature are linked to woman, emotion and unreason"(Cripa, B. 2020), clearly indicating that a departure from this beloved "neutral" design is a departure from "good" design.

The way in which design canon has endeavoured to distance itself both from emotionality and the craft of marginalised people can be evidenced through its rejection of colour. David Batchelor's Chromophobia (Batchelor, D. 2000) gains its name through detailing a phenomenon whereby the West has historically shown disdain towards colour, putting it down to a fear of the unknown, or more accurately, a fear of the marginalised. Batchelor emphasises that this combination of fear and hatred towards colour is because it's "...made out to be the property of some 'foreign' body – usually the feminine, the oriental, the primitive, the infantile, the vulgar, the queer or the pathological" (Batchelor, D. 2000. Page 23). Colour is feared because it is not the territory of the white man, which is, unsurprisingly, white. Even with something as simple as colour, design still seeks to exclude those who are already marginalised.

Thus, with all this historical oppression coming from the design community itself, how can marginalised audiences or designers ever feel welcome? From the moment you start design education, white modernist ideals of clean lines and functionality are drilled into your head. If you're a marginalised designer, how can your work be considered "good design" when the mere implication of designing for marginalised people, and therefore deviating from a colonial cisheteropatriarchal standard, goes against all the rules that are supposed to enforce this so-called "good design?"

PART II: Delirium

"Do you really need to be so in-my-face about it?"

Defined as "the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying" (Dictionary.com, 2023), joy is an emotion with obviously positive connotations. But alas, nothing gold can stay – at least not for marginalised people. To be joyful in the way that goes beyond happiness and facilitates genuine self-acceptance is inappropriate – it does not align itself with the mainstream consciousness of the cisheteropatriarchy.Much like marginalised anger, marginalised joy strikes fear within those who sit at the top of our current social hierarchy. It implies that us marginalised communities have grown tired of having to think of ourselves as less than human and feel affirmed in our identities – strong potential for an overthrow of existing patriarchal colonialist power. As a result, measures are put in place to rein in this joy, to make sure we marginalised don't feel too joyous.

The concept of femininity is, unfortunately, set up to be viewed as intrinsically negative. Not only the state of being a woman, but simply engaging with femininity and taking joy in activities that are feminine-coded indicates (through the lens of the bigoted cishet white male) that one accepts and embraces being a sexual object at the subjugation of the colonialist patriarchy (Hamad, R. 2019. Page 43). As stated before, the way a woman is perceived has for centuries revolved around how white men decide to consume her sexuality – thus, to be aligned with femininity in any way is taken as being a willing volunteer for consumption. Also, to have joyous experiences that are rooted in femininity indicates a lack of need for a white man, putting the existing hierarchy in peril. It's much harder to subjugate a population that can live happily without your presence or input. So what's the patriarchy's solution? Exploit misogyny to the point that all and any activities associated with femininity are automatically inferior.

The infantilisation of feminine joy is evident in the way feminine design is diminished: "...most of women's efforts in design production have been downplayed as 'craft' and their value remains largely unrecognised – and kept at arm's length within ethnographic museums as 'decorative arts'" (Cripa, B. 2020). For instance, textile production has long been the domain of women since ancient times, but over time it morphed into something that provided women with joy, fellowship, and economic importance (Barber, E. 1994). However, it is precisely because textile crafts such as weaving or sewing are considered "women's work" that they are not taken seriously within traditional, patriarchal art and design canon (Syfret, W. 2016). Even when women are successful in mastering a craft that has proven essential both to domestic and economic life (and has given women a creative outlet), it's still not serious enough. Because for it to be considered "serious," it must be historically associated with masculinity.

Another obvious example of this normalised misogyny and degrading of feminine interests is the treatment of fangirls (and to an extent fanboys who engage with feminine material). Typically portrayed as rabid and foaming at the mouth, fangirls get quite a lot of backlash for simply liking things: "Their behaviour is often generalised as crazy, and the objects of their desire often dismissed as worthless of everybody else's time" (Diaz, L. 2022). A lot of the things that are considered feminine interests (boy bands, tv shows, romantic comedies) are considered inferior forms of media solely because are historically liked by women (Khatib, H. 2022). In a world where oppression is thrown at you from multiple angles, you can't even enjoy a book or a movie without it becoming another reason for your maltreatment because it's girly.

I'd tell the patriarchy to get a grip, but unfortunately the problem is that its grip is too strong.

The cisheteropatriarchy's hatred of feminine joy can also be evidenced through the significant suppression of another marginalised community's joy that is traditionally linked to femininity: the obliteration of queer joy. The watering down and erasure of queer joy is especially visible through the commercialisation and deradicalisation of Pride. On the surface, there is nothing obviously wrong with a commercialised annual Pride parade – sounds like a great way to get mainstream society on your side. But this overlooks the fact that Pride has mainly become popular because it's deviated from what it originally was – a protest.

Pride was originally created to mark the one-year anniversary of the momentous 1969 Stonewall Uprising, which began when New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn and queer patrons – agitated fed up with constant harassment from law enforcement – began fighting back, resulting in six days of protests and riots (HISTORY, 2022). This marked a shift in the LGBTQ+ community, one of moving away from passive dissent and toward putting on the most visibly queer demonstration America had ever seen: "There were no floats, no music blasting through the streets… this was a political statement and a test – what would happen when LGBTQ+ citizens became more visible?" (Holland, B. 2019). In an era where queerness was still heavily criminalised, marchers shouted "Say it loud, gay is proud."

Protests following the Stonewall raid Fig. 5 - Protests following the Stonewall raid

Fifty years later, great strides have been made for LGBTQ+ rights, but we are far from queer liberation. Meanwhile, Pride has transformed into a Coachella-esque party that is "more retail than riot" (Brammer, J. 2019) and provides cishet allies with a virtue signalling8 playground9. Even worse, corporations are able profit off of the queer community without providing meaningful support. For instance, while Primark does indeed donate thousands of pounds to the International Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and Intersex Association (Primark, 2022), they still profit off the Pride merch that they put out annually and possibly produce in countries where being LGBTQ+ is illegal (Duffy, N. 2018).

Queer joy has been essentially appropriated for the sake of entertaining the cishets and providing them with virtue signalling content. It provides the illusion of queer liberation without being radical, joyous or…genuinely liberating? We've moved away from the performance of protest to performance for the sake of entertaining non-queer people and anyone who deems to witness the perverse warping of what used to be radical queer celebration by andfor queer people.

Rainbow capitalism at Primark Fig. 6 - Rainbow capitalism at Primark

When queerness is viewed through an academic lens, it's always always always depressing. The only acceptable way to view queerness is if you see it as the source of everything wrong in your life. It's not "correct" or "professional" to be joyful because of one's queerness; you should just manage to survive in spite of it. Kevin Brazil points out this phenomenon in his book, Whatever Happened to Queer Happiness?: "...more negative approaches become aligned with those who are more 'educated'...To be educated into queerness is to also be educated into shame…" (Brazil, K. 2022. Page 17). By creating an either/or binary where academia and queer joy cannot coexist, queer joy will ultimately be put on the educational back-burner.

This obligatory push toward depressing queer narratives is clearly evidenced in the "Bury Your Gays" trope that exists in media – essentially dictating that nearly every queer character must be depressed or live in the most depressing circumstances as a result of their queerness. Any negative trait they possess will be linked back to their queerness and to top it off, they or their partner will likely be killed off (Hulan, Haley, 2017). While it cannot be ignored that the significant oppression faced by the queer community will undoubtedly have a negative impact on a queer individual's mental health, repeating the same narratives of despair forces queer people to remain within the emotional confines of this depressed archetype.

A recent piece of "Bury Your Gays" literature is Hanya Yanagihara's award-winning A Little Life – which despite its accolades, has been describes as a "melodramatic saga of queer suffering" (Brazil, K. 2022) and "a trauma dumpster fire" (Nabeel, S. 2023). Boasting a disturbingly long list of trigger warnings, this book's cast of queer characters are doomed to spiral of misery fuelled by abuse and trauma (Maslin, J. 2015). Ultimately, this forcing of unhappiness or the emphasis put on depressing tropes within media such as A Little Life is a way of enforcing isolation and solitude for individual queer people and preventing genuine self-acceptance.

There is yet another form of marginalised joy that is almost always met with some kind of reproach or punishment – Black joy.

Pride in one's Blackness can be considered an attack on whiteness and is punished as such. Thus, even an aesthetic mode of expression that should carry joyous connotations like hair is penalised by the wider colonialist social structure. UK Black women in particular feel immense social pressure to straighten their hair in order to assimilate into the workplace. While workplace discrimination on the basis of race, gender, or religion is illegal, there is not much specified about hair discrimination in the workplace, leaving it up to potentially biased employers to decide what counts as "professional" hair (Morgan, A. 2020). One small victory is the Equality and Human Rights Commission releasing guidance for schools to ban hair discrimination (Mamona, S. 2022), a move that will no doubt spare countless children the trauma of being told they are unfit to learn because of their hair.

Emma Dabiri on BBC Breakfast calling for legal protections for afro-textured hair Fig. 7 - Emma Dabiri on BBC Breakfast calling for legal protections for afro-textured hair

However, this issue has further implications that go beyond school and workplace policy. The degradation of Black beauty practices by colonialist society goes back centuries and serves to diminish Black women's pride and sense of self, as well as reinforce negative stereotypes: "Some…recurring negative manifestations of African American beauty include the oversexed jezebel, the tragic mulatto, and the mammy. Therefore, it is clear that the notions of Black beauty and Black inferiority are inextricably bound" (Patton, T. 2006). Similar to the points made by Ruby Hamad, Tracey Owens Patton spells out how joy in Black beauty signifies a departure from negative stereotypes, and as such, a departure from viewing Blackness as intrinsically inferior. Thus, hair discrimination isn't just about hair, it's about tainting a mode of expression in a way that prevents Black women – or other women of colour – from experiencing a form of marginalised joy that could lead to self-acceptance and deviate from the established colonialist hierarchy.

When you think of joy, you generally think of a huge, extraordinary moment. I personally haven't had a big joy epiphany – rather, I've experienced smaller, quieter moments of joy. These moments are still significant pieces of my lived experience and acceptance of myself, which is why it's still painful to have them tainted.

A seemingly insignificant thing that brings me joy is my hair. I had voluminous, curly hair as a little girl and after a long period of believing my hair had turned frizzy, I've recently figured out how to bring my curls back. Now, the wild, curly haired person I see when I look in the mirror somehow seems to reflect a truer version of myself. Or at least a version of myself that isn't exhausted from spending hours straightening my hair, or staring glumly at the mass of dry, frizzy hair I've shoved in a bun because I didn't know how to take care of it. It makes me happy when people point out my curly hair as one of my identifiable features.

And yet, there are instances of people taking notice of my hair throughout my life have not been particularly positive. Between hairdressers complaining about my "difficult" hair to adults stroking my head like I was an animal at the petting zoo, discussion around my hair has sometimes been tinged with discomfort. One particular incident stands out: my second-grade teacher was walking through the classroom, observing the class, when she stopped at my desk and began to stroke my hair. I froze as she ran her hands through it, exclaiming that my hair was just so thick. Being the smart ass eight-year-old that I was, I replied with "it's not actually that thick. It's just that most people around here have really thin hair." With that, she immediately stopped stroking my head and moved on.

Moments like these threaten to taint the bubble of happiness I've built around things such as my hair. And the reality is that there's not much I can do besides just doing my best to maintain the bubble. It's probably not the inspirational note anyone reading this was hoping for, but it's reality. Small bits of joy are precious and powerful, so all you can really hope to do is protect them.

Conclusion: A slow reclaim of our humanity

Using historical social structures as the framework, our colonialist cisheteropatriarchal society has found numerous ways to invalidate marginalised anger while also tainting our joy. That this emotion supposedly needs punishing is an indicator of how much it frightens those at the top of the hierarchy (Hamad, R. 2020) – it is powerful and purposeful.

Anger is not a senseless emotion. All one has to do is look at the global reach of the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests to see the power of anger. Protests began in Louisville, Kentucky following the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. Soon enough, thousands across the globe flooded the streets to rally against the injustice faced by the Black community. The public's outcry resulted in (some) action: Minneapolis banning chokeholds like the ones used on Floyd (Gottbrath, L. 2020), and charges against all officers involved in the deaths of Floyd and Taylor. While the murder of Black people is still ongoing, it goes to show what organised anger can accomplish.

Just as Audre Lorde stated in her speech On Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism (Lorde, A. 2012), anger can be used as a powerful tool when it is focused, because it is a means of articulating the change that needs to happen. We need to be focusing and using our anger; our anger needs to infiltrate daily life and turn everyday into a protest if marginalised folk are to experience liberation.

While anger and protest go hand in hand, joy is also a powerful means of resistance to be reckoned with. Because let's face it: being unabashedly happy as a marginalised person is the biggest "screw you" one can send to our oppressive societal structure.

There has been more joyful media showcasing marginalised stories in recent years and we must revel in this. Blackout brings together six heart-warming short stories about Black teens finding love during a New York City blackout (Bryce, D. 2021). Meanwhile, Heartstopper is being heralded as one of the most important shows on British television for the joyous, but also realistic queer love story that plays out between young Nick and Charlie (Opie, D. 2022). Outside of TV and literature, modern feminism has taken the concept of craftivism and ran with it, reclaiming women's textile knowledge. We now see people of all walks of life taking to social media to share their new love for sewing, crochet, and knitting (Syfret, W. 2016).

We marginalised folk have not resigned ourselves to an existence of misery, nor can we afford to. If we are to experience joy within marginalised existence, we need to create it and seek it out ourselves and, because no one is going to hand it to us.

We absolutely must seek out that joy because we deserveit, dammit.

They don't want us to be angry because it means we are alive and fighting; they don't want us to be joyful because that means we're actually enjoying some aspects of being alive. Propriety cannot be all that marginalised people strive for because that means striving toward a future of remaining within the cage. In the words of Audre Lorde, "...the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change" (Lorde, A. 2007). We're not going to achieve anything by numbly allowing ourselves to be moulded into whatever shape oppressors deem convenient.

So please scream, cry, rejoice – whatever is most suited to the moment – but please do not be convenient, because marginalised folk have been a convenient commodity for far too long.


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  1. Cisheteropatriarchy is a socio-political system in which cisgender heterosexual men dominate at the top of the social hierarchy. (Michigan State University, 2023)
  2. Meaning cisgendered and heterosexual.
  3. Do not confuse this with getting emotional, as anger is not an emotion according to white men.
  4. To be dehumanised is to be viewed or treated as less than human. (Resnick, B. 2017)
  5. Within the context of this writing, I interpret being considered "human" as a positive attribute, as it implies being considered equal and part of the same group by other human beings (Smith, D. 2012), rather than being othered and not permitted to express human characteristics. However, while this lies outside the scope of this writing, it is important to note that not all marginalised individuals strive to reclaim the title of "human", as it is a concept bound to whiteness and colonialism as explained by Akwugo Emejulu in Fugitive Feminism (Emejulu, A. 2022).
  6. Weaponised incompetence is when someone purposefully does a poor job of executing an action or behaviour under the guise of incompetence, which then results in that person usually not having to complete that action or behaviour (Saxena, S. 2022.) In this example, non-marginalised people can get away with placing emotional burdens upon marginalised people under the pretence of not knowing any better.
  7. Cisheteronormativity is a social belief system that centres heterosexual and cisgendered identities and treats these identities as being the default. (Michigan State University, 2023)
  8. Virtue signaling is the act of exhibiting good character or social conscientiousness for the supposed sake of gaining approval or recognition.
  9. It's important to note that I am not criticising the presence of allies at Pride, but merely stating that Pride should not be marketed primarily for allies.