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Mask Up: Identifying Anger in Gender and Racial Formations

ABSTRACT In a passing observation made while reading Joan Riviere’s theory of womanliness as masquerade, Judith Butler comments that what is hidden in masquerade is not sexuality, but rage. It’s a provocative glance at how gender and anger converge. But the quickness with which the discussion moves on from this insight suggests that this rage must also be quickly covered over by the discourse of gender. It recalls to my mind Frantz Fanon’s description of the mask, which he uses to describe how Blackness emerges through a splitting produced by the white gaze. The kind of double consciousness that results (captured in his title, Black Skin, White Masks) emphasizes how Blackness is made to exist in relation to whiteness. The anger here resides in the negotiation with these white masks, which, for Fanon, is bound up with masculinity. Although “masks” signify differently for Fanon and feminist theorists, both accounts suggest that anger becomes entangled with gender and race in ways that appear on and through the body. I consider these theories of masks and masquerade alongside two clinical vignettes to ask how anger takes shape in and through racial and gendered formations, as well as to ask how clinical material exposes the limits of these theories. Might gender contain precipitates of anger, especially residues of a relation to a rageful parent? Through a relational lens, I explore the usefulness and limitations of masks and masquerade for identifying disowned anger in the surprising ways it converges a sense of embodiment.