Betrayed By My Mother, I Chose To Use The Energy Of My Anger To Understand, Not Divide
My expertise lies in the field of race and identity, borne of the circumstances of my personal story and the mid-life discovery that I was not the white man I’d been led to believe I was.
September 11, 2020 at 3:28 pm
I read in a book on psychology that depression is caused by anger turned inward. If that’s true, then there are certainly many reasons for us to be collectively depressed. Fear appears to be the catalyst for the anger which our current administration (and dare I say one party?!) is using to stoke divisions amongst Americans. One side is very afraid of socialist terrorists, the other very afraid of nationalist terrorists. In other words, Americans are afraid of one another. Seems strange, don’t you think? How’d we get here?
The presidential campaign of 2016 brought forth what some hailed as the death of political correctness, and what others saw as angry, mean-spirited and divisive. Historians argue over whether this is an unprecedented period in lack-of-decorum, or simply collective ignorance of our past. Once the gate was opened however, the flood was swift and all consuming. At the apex of America’s original sin, our racial divide, we saw anger turn to violence. Whether it was white supremacist marches, mass shootings in synagogues, fear of Black Lives Matter protesters, or Confederate statues torn down, each side found the other objectionable.
So why are we so angry and fearful? Is this anger serving a greater good? Why do so many people listen to hate-talk-radio and television trash-talking-heads as they spout angry, mean-spirited often blatantly false rhetoric? Why are these folks so angry? Why all the name-calling?
Well, there are plenty of experts who can debate the reasoning, but the anger practiced is addictive. A 2013 study of over 200,000 internet users found that anger spreads faster than joy or even sadness among the 70 million messages they collected, and follow-up studies have reached the same conclusions. This is not to suggest that that some people don’t have legitimate reasons for their anger. However, instead of channeling our anger into a positive outcome, we are acting it out with negative consequences. Positive changes have little chance in a climate saturated with anger and fear.
I too know a little about what it feels to be angry. My expertise lies in the field of race and identity, borne of the circumstances of my personal story and the mid-life discovery that I was not the white man I’d been led to believe I was. The betrayal I felt regarding my mother’s decision to withhold the identity of my Black biological father could have led me down an angry path like so many others. But I realized that path is a dead-end.
Simply reading that paragraph will produce a wide variety of reactions since opinions about race and identity are as diverse as, well, race and identity! Revealed within the hundreds of dialogues I have conducted over 15 years of sharing my story, I discovered there isn’t merely one way to have a conversation about race and identity. Conversations about race are messy and uncomfortable, and can often lead to misunderstanding and anger.
There is, however, an antidote to this anger, which I have learned and practice that can help mitigate this divide. I have found the powerful act of sharing your personal story can bridge what seem like disparate realities. By sharing our stories between majority and minority populations we can break down prejudices by discovering we have more in common than we have difference. It is a fact we have more in common than different. Discovering commonalities gives us the power to create bonds and build trust.
The problem is we are not wired to initially find commonalities. We see (or hear) differences and those activate our own set of stereotypes and unconscious biases. That person has a unique name, speaks another language, has dark-skin, looks like an elitist, a gay person, whatever. We allow those first impressions to taint our opinion and, for some, that’s all it takes to prevent a conversation from happening. The old adage, “You only get one chance to make a first impression,” can prove difficult when we have no control over how we are seen and judged. Walking into an interview with a unique name, dark-skin or a visible disability puts you at an immediate disadvantage.
However, telling your personal story, asking others about theirs then discovering the commonalities, can forge meaningful and deep connections. We are not enemies; we are Americans with rich personal stories. So let’s set aside the anger and get to know one another’s stories. How can we affect change? Make it personal!
Michael Fosberg has been traveling around the country telling his story in the form of a one-man play, utilizing it as a Diversity & Inclusion training tool for high schools, colleges, corporations, government agencies, law firms and others. His latest book, 'Nobody Wants to Talk About It: Race, Identity and the Difficulties in Forging Meaningful Conversations', talks about his journeys across the country trying to get people to talk about race and the lessons he learned. IncognitoThePlay.com