Anger provokes debate, and there’s no need always to remain calm when you have a point of view, says Eusebius McKaiser.
Last week, I was demonstrably pissed off on two public platforms. The first time I was pissed off was on Twitter in response to former Sunday Times columnist David Bullard tweeting callously about the work of a rape survivor, Michelle Solomon. He tweeted ad nauseam about how much she had made up her claims about having been raped, in order to have a career in journalism focused on rape activism.
The tweeting continued unabated, with him at one stage telling her to accept she got drunk, had a nice “bonk, woke up and regretted it” and then deciding to claim to have been raped to save her reputation.
For more than an hour, I carefully mulled over how to respond. I know David personally, and although we’re not close friends, we have had lunch several times; I have profiled him on Talk Radio 702, where I worked previously; and I’ve debated with him several times on topics such as racism, the value of Twitter (ironically, he initially lampooned it as a platform not conducive to effective public debate) and whether it’s right not to silence voices, like his, with which you disagree.
So I felt we were at least acquaintances, and therefore I could call him up and ask why the heck he had tweeted such rubbish, never having met Michelle, not being in a position to know whether her claims are lies or not, and so probably simply being irritating for the sake of getting attention, in a context where sexual violence against women is rife.
I was a few seconds away from calling him, when I decided that, on this occasion, expressing my anger was more important because he needed to be called out publicly. And so I tweeted that I regard him as a racist, sexist f***wit who is opposing our country’s vision of a non-racist, non-sexist society. It was a deliberate expression of my anger, and I still don’t regret it.
The second expression of anger wasn’t as colourful in language but was as palpable in tone. It was when I interviewed academic and writer RW Johnson on Power Talk With Eusebius McKaiser about his claim that blacks associate institutions such as former whites-only schools with excellence because they are led by white people.
He made this claim, out of interest, during the course of explaining why the DA doesn’t need a black African leader like Mamphela Ramphele.
But instead of stopping with a brutally accurate analysis of the limits of Ramphele as a leader, he throws in the extra bit: that it may even be desirable for the leader of the DA to be white because, well, blacks associate whites with excellence.
As an aside, many of my black radio listeners agree with that fact, but see it rightly as a psychological hangover from apartheid. It is tragic false consciousness, which we need to overcome. As opposed to a subtext that runs throughout Johnson’s work – Google a few pieces if you’re too lazy to read his longer works – that suggest it is an essentialist scientific reality that blacks rightly respond to. Put bluntly, for folks like Johnson, there is nothing to bemoan about a black person who may well think that whiteness is normative; that’s the natural order of things.
And so I asked him several times, and adversarially, whether he had evidence for his sociological claim about the motives and reasons for black parents sending their kids to former whites-only schools, or whether he dreamt it up with his friends while sipping brandy and Coke.
We exchanged thoughts for a few minutes, and then he hung up, which, on the plus side, allowed for a beautiful, emotionally honest conversation with my listeners.
But I continued to be angry, while giving space for my listeners to debate each other, and me, and to agree and disagree.
But here is the moral of these two stories. I think we fail to reflect on the rationality of feeling, and expressing, emotions in debate, in interpersonal relations, in public dialogue. If you are responding to bigotry – whether it is the misogyny in the tweets of Bullard or the subtext of racial supremacy in Johnson – you cannot only respond calmly.
Dispassionate debate is deceptive. If I behave permanently like a logical machine trained at the Oxford Debate Union, I would be letting bigots off the moral hook. The trick is not to be permanently angry, of course. That may retard the possibility of reaching overlapping consensus, mending relationships, and finding mutually acceptable solutions to social problems.
But it is equally morally abhorrent to never feel or express angry disapproval of bigotry. Not only is that justified on some occasions; I think it is even obligatory.
Imagine if poor black South Africans, for example, never express anger at a government that underperforms. Then we’d take even longer as a society to stop making avoidable mistakes. Anger is not just instrumentally useful to draw attention to serious matters. It is an acceptable move in dialogue that has immense moral value. Reserve your right to get pissed off!