Confessions of a Formerly Angry Black Man
The term "anger management" comes up every time we hear about stars, like Chris Brown and Mike Tyson, flying off the handle. But do you know what it involves and why so many black people need it? I do; I've been there.
I think about that time in my life often when I hear about such-and-such celebrity flipping out or getting violent with someone. It used to be Mike Tyson and Naomi Campbell; more recently it's Chris Brown. I imagine what might have happened had I not sought help, and I shudder to think what I might have become.
Rage in Silence
As is the case with many mental problems, African Americans don't often talk about their anger issues, but it's not hard to see that those issues exist. Even outside of Brown smashing up a Good Morning America dressing room, or Tyson biting off part of a man's ear, there's an ugly element of rage that constantly underpins black communities around America.
Consider the convicted murderer in Louisiana who told his jury last month that the only reason he stopped shooting his victim is that his gun jammed, or the woman in Florida who was arrested for causing a melee in a Burger King when someone got her order wrong. It takes a terrific, seething rage to do things like that.
Yet nobody wants to talk about African-American anger. To acknowledge it is to acknowledge serious, widespread problems that, because of taboos in our community, often go undiagnosed and unaddressed.
One thing you learn in anger management is that there are rage "triggers," things specific to you and your experiences that set you off. Some of my triggers were ignorance and impoliteness, and people thinking that I was dumb. Everyone has things that light his or her fuse, and they are as unique as a thumbprint. However, what's most important to remember about triggers is that they are not why you're angry. Rather, they're the spark that unleashes the anger you're already holding on to.
For instance, while thinking that that cabdriver was trying to hustle me certainly ticked me off, that incident only brought to the surface a rage that was deep-seated and that had originated and snowballed years before. My therapist and I sussed out that, among other things, I was angry that my parents got divorced; I was angry that I felt stuck in a job I didn't like; I was angry that I felt creatively unfulfilled.
On top of all that, I had been raised by a father who used to have anger issues himself. Though I love my dad deeply, and though he never hit me, my brothers or my mother, he used to shout at the top of his lungs when he'd get upset, and he once slammed his fist through a closet door in our home while yelling at my brother.
The Extra Trigger of Being Black
Of course, though undoubtedly difficult for me, my problems are peanuts compared with what many African Americans face. Yoked with abject poverty, few educational opportunities, rampant joblessness, illness, violence, an unfair justice system, and the general resentment and sense of unease brought on by navigating social and structural racism, many in the black community are without question angry -- and I'm not sure I blame them.