A couple weeks ago, I got into a debate with someone I knew quite well. He also knew me decently well and it was normal for us to occasionally engage in conversation concerning contentious issues. I avoided talking about a certain opinion of his that he made a few weeks prior to that moment. In fact, I generally choose to refrain from engaging in heated debate with anyone because it takes an emotional toll on me. It can also distract me if I am already preoccupied with a project or task at hand. But then he mentioned it to me personally. And, immediately, I knew this was going south very quickly.
I pointed out how the way he communicated his stance on women gives women no agency, as if women are exhibitions meant to exist for his viewing pleasure. The more he spoke, the more frustrated I got. I told him that he only felt this way because he is a man who does not get judged nearly as much as women do in the manner they wish to adorn themselves. I told him that while he acknowledged his privilege, he was unaware of its depth. He began to conclude the conversation by saying that our exchange started with him stating his preferences in women which turned into a conversation about privilege and oppression. I told him he did a poor job of communicating it as a preference, saying “women should…” followed by his personal tastes (as opposed to “I like women that…” or “My type is…”). He thought I was splitting hairs with the wording but the fact is he wasn’t speaking in a vacuum; he was speaking into a world with a patriarchal system so communicating in such a way that leaves women having agency is important. Then he followed with, “I’m sorry if this comes across patronising but you sound tired and emotional.”
You sound tired and emotional.
My frustration in this moment reminded me of a very serious event that happened a month ago, the moment when America stood in anticipated silence waiting for the verdict of Dante Servin. He was a 46 year old off-duty police officer who shot unarmed Rekia Boyd in the back of her head as he opened fire into a crowd three years ago. The officer claims that he was justified because Antonio Cross, the man beside Rekia Boyd, was allegedly armed, however, no weapon recovered from the scene. The prosecutors in the trials felt that his cell phone was mistaken for a gun. Because of this alleged incident, Dante Servin claimed the ever so popular police mantra “I feared for my life.” Luckily, the bullets merely grazed the Antonio Cross’ hand (though shots should not have been fired in the first place). Unfortunately, Rekia Boyd was not so lucky. And when Black America waited with bated breath for the verdict to be read, the judge, Dennis Porter, had the audacity to mention the following in front of Rekia Boyd’s family and friends, “I know this case has generated a lot of emotion…but this is a court of law, not a court of emotion.” And this was my immediate response:
What the judge said to #RekiaBoyd's family:"This is not a court of emotion." What I heard: "Ur not rational. Emotion & truth can't coexist."
— Mary (@verilymary) April 20, 2015
After the verdict pronounced Dante Servin not guilty of involuntary manslaughter, reckless conduct, and reckless discharge of a firearm, bated breath became enraged exhales. And, for some reason, the expression of said anger and hurt, all of which were justified and appropriate, means these people lack the ability to engage with facts (or “law,” rather).
But then we have women like Marilyn Moesby, the current Baltimore State Attorney who sought to determine if the death of Freddie Gray was unlawful. When she gave her first press conference announcing whether or not the officers would be charged, it was clear that she was passionate and fed up. There was definitely emotion in her voice. In fact, she also alluded to the emotion of the city, telling the city of Baltimore that she hears its cries for justice. And, like clockwork, there were comments all over social media calling her irrational and emotional and that we needed someone “objective.” But how convenient it is to call her irrational when she is both black and a woman and the loudest voices saying she’s irrational/emotional are the people who are neither of those things. But as for those officers? Well they were indicted. Sounds to me like she did her job well. So much for emotional illogic.
Both online and offline, people allude to the “oh, you’re just being emotional” opinion toward those who do not have the privileges that the self-righteous “logical one” benefits from. I’m not even talking about the less privileged defaming the more privileged person; I’m talking about them explaining their truth from a place where it obviously hits close to home. Their frustration manifests due to their bad experiences and because the person who does not experience what they do brazenly insists that not all is right in their logic. It’s ironic if you think about it. It’s also such a simpleminded, condescending mindset to have, especially considering that this is often said by the majority toward the marginalized.
It would be much better if we looked at our emotions like we look at our biology, specifically, like how we would view our nerve endings; their presence helps us to discern whether or not the surface we’re touching is safe to touch. On an unknowingly hot surface, one would remove their hand quickly. It also happens to logically makes sense in order to prevent further injury. It is not uncommon to hear a vocal reaction made in the experience of the pain, further reinforcing the very valid pain that has been experienced. The presence of that loud shriek does not negate the legitimacy of that experience.
Like that vocal reaction, our emotions can be a further reinforcement of wrong that has been done. Maybe when someone seems very expressive to you with their reaction, perhaps it does not negate the obvious wrong that was done, that their emotions aren’t some magical eraser that haphazardly gets rid of random sections of their commonsense and neural processing. Maybe even the slightest show of emotion shows that you went a bit too far and that the wrong that they witnessed or experienced went too far also. Maybe we should start viewing emotions in others as possible alarms when the marginalized express it, not as evidence of lack of ability to reason.
Have you also noticed people making emotion and logic mutually exclusive? What are your thoughts on that?
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As you can see, this is part 1 of a two-part post. I noticed this post getting very long as I got more and more intrigued by the implications society has set about being rational vs. emotional. I’m pretty excited to share the latter half to say the least! Stay tuned for part two coming to you soon!