Be Outrageous: Anger and Resistance to Epistemic Injustice

While engaged in serious conversation has someone ever said to you, “Are you sure?” or, “You’re overstating things” or “Don’t get so worked up, calm down.” In interpersonal relationships, this kind of scepticism could be justified. But what if there is a pattern to who gets questioned, and how. What happens when some voices are silenced in the broad social structure more than others? The term for this is ‘epistemic injustice,’ and it’s one of the ways that marginalization, or the act of othering, manifests itself.

An audience’s rejection of the lived experience of the marginalized, either knowingly or unknowingly, constitutes this injustice. Miranda Fricker, credited with coining the term, speaks to a particular type of injustice wherein someone suffers prejudice exclusively in their position as a knower. In what we do, it is of the utmost importance to be seen as a reliable source of knowledge. So why do marginalized social groups experience a credibility deficit, whereas others, in positions of power, experience excess credibility? The answer is power. where particular groups cannot openly communicate their experiences of reality based on their positionality. Women and minority groups are said to lack the power to speak up about their thoughts and experiences because doing so could suggest that they have been wronged. What options are available to those who are trapped in unjust structures? How are they further silenced, or burdened with having to prove their lived experience. Moreover, where knowledge is questioned, how can emotions such as anger serve as a weapon of the weak?  

We often associate a person’s race, class, or gender with their level of credibility. Scholars of  epistemic injustice have referred to this refusal of uptake as communicative injustice. Silencing is a powerful tactic used by the powerful to ensure that the status quo is upheld and to get away with oppressive practices. The first strategy for those in power to sustain their dominance is to ridicule the vulnerable by making derogatory assumptions about them, such as labelling them irrational. According to Kristie Dotson, when listeners fail to recognize a speaker as a knower, it might lead to testimonial quieting. When a speaker believes that their immediate audience is not ready or unable to properly absorb the testimonies they are offering, testimonial oppression of the second kind takes over. Dotson refers to this form of silencing as testimonial smothering.   

Given the long history of violence inflicted against Palestinians, I think about how they face epistemic injustice, and are treated with such disregard when they speak out. “But October 7, however, was a horrifying day. Do you condemn Hamas?” The Western mainstream media has consistently employed this type of questioning. Tales of a war between Israel and Hamas have been propagated. Does a war actually exist? The gruesome first hand accounts and images of violence against women and children ought to be proof of the genocide that is allowed to occur under the guise of  “War.” The term “privilege-evasive epistemic pushback” by Alison Bailey comes to my mind, which she characterizes as the range of deliberate ignorance displayed by privileged  groups when asked to take into account the structural injustices and  lived realities that people in  marginalized groups experience. So, how do the marginalized speak? What happens when their voices are  ignored, suppressed, or given no credibility?   

The oppressed are frequently made to  recount, in great detail and with great effort, their own suffering, in what has been referred to as “epistemic labour.” This can be seen most clearly in the way Palestinians in Gaza, journalists and residents alike, have had to document their most vulnerable and private moments. Without this brutal and naked evidence, epistemic injustice ensures they would not be believed, and even then, they are asked to bend to the oppressor’s narrative.  For example, a Palestinian woman deprived of fundamental human rights, cast out from the ‘Eurocentric Sisterhood’, is supposed to condemn the events of October 7th. She might try to educate the astute Western media on the history of exploitation that started long before October 7th, but this is a gruelling exercise. Nevertheless, the oppressed feel compelled to account for their situation. Emotions such as anger, grief, or contempt should serve as evidence of the wrongs done to her, and her people. But the fact that the oppressed have emotions that “rational” oppressors find so easy to dismiss when they try to reclaim their testimony highlights an essential point about epistemic injustice. It is that emotions are valuable and not what is referred to as ‘preposterous’ or evidence of ‘irrationality’; instead, they are evidence of an already distorted epistemic landscape. Many feminist theories encourage people to take emotions seriously, and point to the benefits that emotions can bring  to  communication and knowledge acquisition.   

Thus, Palestinian women and others who endure injustice, who are expected to perform epistemic labour ought to feel outraged. The ancestral anger they possess is their well-stocked weapon, enough to throw into doubt the status quo that the oppressor will do anything to retain. The epistemic usefulness of anger is often demonstrated by work on social injustice, particularly in the contexts of gender and intersectional oppression.  But Western narrative tradition pushes the ‘reason vs. emotions’ binary, positioning reason superior to emotions, and repressing rage. Anger is a frequent, and important emotion among the oppressed, but for the privileged, rage is the antithesis of reason and the desire for vengeance. Anger has had a bad reputation, derided by stoics and modern philosophers like Martha Nusbaum. On the other hand, anger can be a useful form of resistance, as Audre Lorde says in “On the Uses of Anger,” it is “packed with energy and information,”, and “resistant” since its cadence withstands repeated silencing, additionally Aristotle states in Nicomachean Ethics that anger is a legitimate reaction to injustice.    

The questions I asked in this article might outnumber the answers because asking them is imperative. I believe Palestinian poet Rafeef Zaidah, sums it up perfectly in “Shades of Anger” a spoken word piece that ends with “Beware! Beware my anger…”     

“I am an Arab woman of colour, and we come in all shades of anger.   

“So, who is that brown woman screaming in the demonstration?”   

Sorry, should I not scream?   

I forgot to be your every orientalist dream”  


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