Of all the workshops held at the Congressional Black Caucus legislative session this weekend, none dealt with the one affliction plaguing black people more than any other: anger.
We are mad because President Bush met with South African President Frederik W. de Klerk and we're mad because a Japanese official slurred us -- again. At Fisk University, students got so mad at the administration that they staged a sit-in, while at the University of the District of Columbia angry students closed the school down.
We are mad at the makers of Nike footwear for not hiring more blacks, mad at Philip Morris for making cigarettes that kill blacks, mad at the makers of cheap wines who target poor blacks.
We are mad at everybody.
We are mad at white America, Hispanic America and Asian America, to say nothing of African immigrant taxi drivers who pass us by because other Americans can afford bigger tips.
NAACP Executive Director Benjamin Hooks, marching around the Japanese Embassy on Friday, led a small band of protesters in a chant, "We are sick and tired of being tired . . . . "
But when black leaders call for sustained protest action, we can hardly respond, because we are mad at them too.
"The Congressional Black Caucus weekend is the most glaring evidence of a two-decade-old saga of ineptness, mismanagement, lack of accountability and vision of our so-called leadership," wrote William Reed in an angry column for the black-owned Capital Spotlight newspaper. "After 20 years of CBC weekends, the most obvious evidence of black leadership having been on Capitol Hill are thousands of empty Scotch bottles, a slew of chicken bones and a host of white merchants rushing to the bank to deposit the one-half-billion dollars they receive each year from CBC hotel rentals and the sale of Scotch and hot Buffalo wings."
We are mad, mad, mad -- and, of course, the people at whom we are most teed off are ourselves.
Largely because of feelings of low self-esteem, black Americans refuse to take better care of themselves. Self-inflicted stress and hypertension caused primarily by dangerous diets cause black Americans to have one of the shortest life expectancies in the industrialized world. Lost tempers, and the fear that underpins them, are causing record numbers of homicides in black communities throughout the United States.
Black adults are dying of heart attacks, strokes and cancers at such a rapid rate that nearly half of them never reach what may be considered old age.
Of course, there is a lot of power in anger. But it must be managed in a much more productive manner.
Had black Americans organized to stop de Klerk from coming to America in the first place, we wouldn't be sitting around today drowning our disappointments in alcohol.
There is a strong case to be made for blacks not buying Japanese products. A quiet boycott certainly would have been better than losing face by pouting around the Japanese Embassy.
Next month, the Ku Klux Klan will march through the streets of the nation's capital. Black people are mad at that. But black leadership is out to lunch on how to handle the anger.
Such silence represents the most glaring failure of black leaders today: the inability to look ahead. Mired in a civil rights past, black people are left with only one way to deal with their feelings: 1960s-style confrontations, protest marches, pickets and violence.
Whether it is black men in dispute with one another on the streets, or black students in dispute with black school administrators, the bottom line is that we feel it necessary to show how mad we are -- by the snarl on our face, the volume of our rhetoric or the size of the protest sign in our hand.
Reactionary anger is the order of the day -- but the results are rarely what we hope for. Even a child knows that when you just get mad at somebody and start throwing tantrums, the only one who pays is you.
Our anger must be channeled into a more relaxed intensity that can be sustained for generations if necessary. So-called quick fixes have proven to be a farce. No change that comes instantly lasts very long.
We need to stop letting our emotions keep us mad at the world.
Let's start using our brains -- and not just to get even, but hopefully to get ahead.