May 3, 2016

ZUMBA | Writing With Emotion

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Over the course of the past year, I have heard several people say that they thought my columns were “angry” and wondered why I never wrote about anything “happy.” I have never really taken offense despite the fact that the comments were meant to be a critique of my writing and the approach I typically take. It has taken me years, but I have learned not to listen to what others want to see from me and instead solely focus on what I wish to see from myself. It’s not that I don’t take suggestions, it’s just that there are some that I don’t find necessary to listen to especially when it has to deal with the amount of “anger” in my pieces.

The reality is that there is a lot in the world to be angry about. This isn’t necessarily to say that I am always angry, but when I’m provided a platform in which to speak freely, I am obviously going to voice my criticisms in the hopes that it can help make someone consider a new perspective. I find it difficult not to be angry when people are constantly facing discrimination and oppression, especially as someone with marginalized identities. They shape the way I view the world because they aren’t something I can simply take off. I use my identities as a lens because there is no separation. I process everything often through my own emotions. This affects the way I express criticism. And I choose to vocalize often through my own emotions along with a critique of whatever I’m talking about.  The phrase “the personal is political” often comes to mind because I cannot detach myself from political ideas, nor should I really be expected to.

Therefore, I don’t really downplay how I feel, especially since these are opinion pieces. I can list off facts for my argument, and I do, but ultimately I also write how I feel about everything. Emotions are often invalidated because for some reason they aren’t seen as appropriate or relevant to the point someone is trying to make. That kind of mentality is not only wrong, but stifling. We are taught that there is a correct way to write, often involving the use of facts and arguments without personal input. Good writing is believed to be something that stimulates us intellectually, but that only demonstrates the dichotomy between theory and practice. There is no room for the input of emotions because they aren’t really valued. Theory can go along with academia and respectability if one fails to act on it. Practice means constantly trying to understand different perspectives and remember that there are people that these concepts affect.

Separating ideologies and systems from people means that the system still wins. The focus on the conceptual serves a method to continuously dehumanize and disempower people. It is so easy to read and create policies and take them at face value, without consideration for those they may affect.  Emotions are a strong reminder that we are human and are therefore extremely powerful. The way that people are able to empathize with one another and really attempt to understand different perspectives is a powerful tool. It’s what helps make art, like writing, threatening.

There is also the idea that because I vocalize a lot of my criticism, my writing is angry and predatory. I understand how it can be seen that way, but I’d like to imagine that everything I write comes from a place of caring. I’m not angry just to be angry, I’m angry because there are people who are continuously being hurt by oppression every day. That’s a valid way to feel and share my opinion. Not everything is happy and simplistic, as my cynicism would agree. I often wonder if the way I intertwine emotions makes people uncomfortable or tired, but then I realize that’s on them and not me. I will keep being angry until, by some miracle, there is nothing left to be angry about.

Sarah Zumba is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at sez29@cornell.edu. Zumba Works it Out appears alternate Wednesdays this semester.

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