Love, Anger, and Racial Injustice

In Adrienne Martin (ed.), The Routledge Handbook of Love in Philosophy. New York: Routledge (2019)
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Luminaries like Martin Luther King, Jr. urge that Black Americans love even those who hate them. This can look like a rejection of anger at racial injustice. We see this rejection, too, in the growing trend of characterizing social justice movements as radical hate groups, and people who get angry at injustice as bitter and unloving. Philosophers like Martha Nussbaum argue that anger is backward-looking, status focused, and retributive. Citing the life of the Prodigal Son, the victims of the Charleston Church shooting, Gandhi, and King, she claims that we should choose love instead of anger – not only in our intimate relationships but also in the political realm. Buddhist monk and scholar, Śāntideva, argued that anger is an obstacle to love. Anger leads to suffering. Love frees us from suffering. All this makes an initially compelling case against anger at racial injustice. In addition, although philosophers Jeffrie Murphy and Antti Kauppinen argue that anger communicates self-respect and valuing, respectively––they make no connection between agape love and anger. In this essay I’ll show that the love King and others have in mind––agape love––is not only compatible with anger at hateful racists and complicit others, but finds valuable expression in such anger.
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