Essays — October 7, 2014 10:54 — 10 Comments

Angry in Seattle – Ijeoma Oluo

Seattle, we need to talk.

You have anger issues.

No, you aren’t too loud. You aren’t violent. You aren’t belligerent. Actually, that’s the problem. I haven’t heard you shout in a while. In fact, I’ve lived hear my whole life and I don’t know if I’ve heard you shout, ever.

And I know you are angry, or you should be. There are a lot of things to be angry about – our underfunded school system trapping children in cycles of poverty, lack of affordable housing, disappearing public transit, SPD, brown people getting maced at Westlake Center for no apparent reason – I could go on. I know not all of you are doing great – not all of you have great Amazon jobs right? You aren’t all hanging out at Starbucks high-fiving each other are you? So why aren’t you yelling?

What? I didn’t hear you. You were explaining.

Oooh, because it’s rude. That’s why I can’t hear you. It’s impolite to yell.

As a society we are told again and again to control our anger. We are told that our outbursts are unseemly at best, threatening at worst. Seattle seems to have really taken this to heart. We recycle, we go to shows, we donate money, we politely discuss social issues we can agree on. When something major happens, like Ferguson, we will gather together for a nice candelight vigil. We will perhaps post a link to an article on Facebook and say, “Oh, so sad. Why do these things happen?” But we don’t shout. We don’t argue. At our most passionate we will agree to disagree.

But does that make the anger go away? If you swallow it down does it just disappear? Does our silence free us or oppress us?

Now I’ve been wondering, is it just me who thinks Seattle could stand to be a little more angry? Am I the only person who thinks this is a problem? I started asking around. A simple question of: what do you think of when you think of Seattle, brought answers like this:

“As an ‘angry black woman’ I find it difficult to navigate work situations. Even when I have been severely wronged, it has been expressed to me that my anger is frightening and therefore should be suppressed.” – Reagan

“I think people here tend to internalize anger more than externalize it, thus the passive aggressive shit.” – Anthony

“People here confuse being honest with being mean and I don’t think they are the same thing. It creates this repressiveness that I think relates to the expression of anger…” – Natasha

“When I am in public and ever express anger regardless of how justified it is, people react with fear.“ – Shannon

Well I have a confession to make: I, Ijeoma Oluo, am an angry Seattleite. I am driven by fiery anger born of love for my community. I am a yeller, I am argumentative, I do not ask please, I USE ALL CAPS WITH WILD ABANDON. I have been told time and time again that this is something I should be sorry for. I have been told that my demands for intersectionality are divisive. My reactions to casual sexism make me a killjoy. My frustration over having to choose between diversity and quality of education in my children’s in our public school system is met with awkward silence. My anger at the gentrification and displacement of our few communities of color is viewed as hostile. My tone of voice is considered violent. My use of swear words deemed unnecessary. But I’m not sorry. My anger is righteous and beautiful. I love it. And I don’t think I’m alone.

Anger is not only a destructive force. Anger is not always wrong. I believe in the power and beauty of righteous anger – anger born from great love and the outrage from seeing things you love harmed. Anger is a part of our experience when we’ve been wronged, and there is a lot of power in it. I believe that the silencing of anger disempowers us – and has been used to silence women, the LGBTQ community and people of color. I believe that Seattle’s relationship with anger is deliberate, and it is not done for our benefit.

I express my anger primarily through writing (yes I’m counting Facebook rants as writing) and storytelling. I write essays, I give talks, I share stories, I have conversations. It is the way I can communicate my anger and release it from my body in a way that does not leave others harmed, even if it does make some people uncomfortable. I believe in the power of truth to change the world. And there are many different ways of telling the truth – this is my way. It is more accepted than screaming directly at my oppressors, and it won’t get me fired. It is my way of navigating this system.

A lot of other artists in Seattle are finding amazing ways to navigate Seattle’s relationship with anger – through subterfuge, surprise, direct confrontation, riddles and rhymes. In this series I will be interviewing artists all around the city who are finding creative ways to address and express anger. Let’s look at some subversive visual art displays. Let’s listen to some angry beats. Let’s recite words written in rage. Let’s dig into this world of unapologetically angry art. Let’s examine the impact it has on artists and our community.

I hope you will join me in this journey as we discover the beautiful anger within us. Come yell with me Seattle.


Ijeoma Oluo is a Seattle writer, thinker, talker and mother. She cares deeply about discourse.


  1. Flora says:

    oh how i love this. about time. :)

  2. Carolynne says:

    aaaaaayFUCKINGmen!!! Sing it.

  3. Lyndsey Patterson says:

    I’m so mad that we’re even talking about this.

    KIDDING! Seattle needs more open discussions like these – Can’t wait!

  4. David says:

    In the name of open discourse, I’ll just say up front that I think this post contains instance after instance of the same flawed assumption, namely that content of a discussion and presentation of a discussion are in any way related.

    Using “the power of truth,” reacting to casual sexism, and in general making your opinion known all relate to content. Yelling, USING ALL CAPS, and speaking with a tone of voice that people consider violent all relate to presentation. Examples of these two categories are placed side-by-side throughout your post and commented on as if they’re the same thing, but they’re absolutely, completely orthogonal to each other. You can have discourse without anger just as much as you can have anger without discourse.

    So is presenting your arguments in an angry way better than presenting them in a non-angry way? I truly believe that depends on who you’re presenting to. Some people apparently(?) respond better to anger. I’m not going to try to guess as to why that is, because I’m not one of them. I respond to anger poorly. At best, I’ll try to look past the anger and see the content trying to be communicated, but it takes effort. At worst, I’ll fail, and I’ll get hung up on the presentation and either miss the content or just assume the person is more concerned with making a show than a point.

    So should you stop expressing anger? That’s up to you, of course. I’m just saying that when anger is expressed towards me and people like me, it’s generally less effective than presenting the same content without anger. That direction of communication becomes less effective, and it is not the fault of the recipient.

    And don’t get me wrong. I’m not some peaceful soul that’s found inner tranquility and is above such things. I get angry, too. But I do my best to channel that inner anger into a peaceful, thoughtful discussion that conveys what I’m really trying to say in a way that’s easily digested by the people I’m talking to. It takes a LOT more effort, but for me it’s much more personally satisfying, and is usually more effective. On the occasional time that I fail and do express anger, I don’t see that as “venting,” or “speaking my mind.” I see that as failing to be a rational adult, and I for one will continue to strive to make those occurrences increasingly rare. I find that I can get rid of my source of anger, along with my need to vent, when I can speak peacefully to resolve problems. And in the end, isn’t that what we’re aiming for?

  5. Alan says:

    YES! I left Seattle 2 years ago and am still angry over how the city experience nearly killed this chocolate man (1st and only suicide attempt that obviously failed). Only place where I was fired from a job – for conduct reasons and I’m a accountant dammit! Haters on the job, haters at my trendy eco apartment trying to lock me out the building because they didn’t think I lived there, haters everywhere in Seattle! And yes the silence IS deliberate. Thank you soooo much for sharing this!

  6. Jared says:

    I feel that arguing and expressing anger unless it is a last resort, is a dangerous game. I am from Chicago where people seem to argue a lot in anger, and I never found it very useful. It just made me more angry. My interpretation of Seattleites is that they speak with their actions and not their words. Some people view this as being passive aggressive, but I really prefer it to my experience in Chicago. I feel happier and friendly, and I don’t dwell on things as much. This is obviously just my personal preference. I found your article really interesting, as I think about this a lot as well. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Hunter says:

    YES!! I love this. I firmly believe people need to speak their views and if thet means you need to yell a little bit or use caps go for it!

  8. This really resonated with me for some reason. I am a Seattle native also, grew up with the Seattle “chill”, and have a rather ambivalent relationship with it. I think I’m sometimes considered a bit of a loudmouth and a loose cannon, but I can never understand why more people aren’t as angry — outwardly, vocally angry — as I am when they see things that are wrong.

  9. mom says:

    don’t kid yourselves. ever since the folks from down south have taken over, seattle has been yelling!

  10. Greg says:

    Are you people for real ?……you are going to be life-long victims because it’s always someone else’s fault….black,white, or purple with pink polka dots , if you’re an idiot be prepared to suffer an idiots consequence.
    Stop playing the race, sex, and gender card because life doesn’t happen to go your way. Pull your big boy (or girl) pants (or panties) up and deal with life as it comes.

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The answer isn't poetry, but rather language

- Richard Kenney