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.
In their now seminal work, Black Rage, psychiatrists William Grier and Price Cobb wrote that "people bear all they can and, if required, bear even more. But if they are black in present-day America they have been asked to shoulder too much." And a 1990 study from physician Elijah Saunders, co-author of Hypertension in Blacks, suggested that the sustained, painful scourge of racism is why African Americans have hypertension at twice the rate of whites.
That's not to say that people who assault others or vandalize things when they don't get their way shouldn't be held responsible for their actions (were I arrested for breaking that cab's window, I'd expect the police to laugh if I said my parent's divorce made me do it). What I am suggesting, though, is that there's another way to look at people who constantly lose their tempers and resort to violence, a way that allows you to see them as being in need of help, not public condemnation or hate.
According to Chris Brown, his stepfather used to assault his mother in front of him, sometimes scaring Brown so much that he peed himself. He says that he hated his stepfather so horribly, in fact, that he fantasized about killing him. That in mind, I'm willing to bet that Brown has not gotten proper treatment for that trauma, especially now that he's surrounded by people whose livelihoods depend on his ignoring his problems, recording music and touring nonstop.
Do I think it's acceptable that Brown hit Rihanna and sent a chair through a window at Good Morning America when they questioned him about his past abuse? Absolutely not. But I don't think he did either of those things because he was angry at his girlfriend or a TV-show producer. I think he did those things because he was angry, which you learn in anger management is wholly different from being angry at something.
Nowadays, thanks to a concerted effort to keep my temper under control, I find it pretty easy to remain calm. It sounds like a cliché, but breathing exercises that I've learned help, as does something as simple as talking openly to people when I'm feeling hurt or upset. What's more, one great thing about letting go of anger is that you begin to enjoy life in a way you hadn't before, which further strengthens your resolve to remain anger-free.
A famous quote attributed to the poet Maya Angelou says, "Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. But anger is like fire. It burns all clean." That is wrong, at least in my experience. To me, anger will always be like that rainy night in Brooklyn, when I was rightly abandoned on a corner: chilly, disorienting, painful for the people I love and so far from home.
If you'd like to seek out treatment for anger management, chances are there are professionals in your area who specialize in everything from group meetings to individual classes to family therapy -- some of which can cost as little as $20 per session.
Cord Jefferson is a contributor to The Root. Follow him on Twitter.