Age of Madness is a column by Shell Everette exploring and unpacking the complicated injustices of the world through an intersectional perspective.

I didn’t think about the handcuffs.

I only remembered the old purse holding my dying iPhone and broken wallet splayed on a sidewalk once my friend and I were physically safe from the wrath of the Greensboro Police Department. 

After sprinting from the Guilford County Detention Center for what felt like years, we paused in a peaceful field nearby and imagined the people we knew being thrown into the back of police cars. I screamed, unable to go back or move forward. That was a painfully hot day in the summer of 2020. 

The pandemic had everyone I knew panicked and distrustful of the systems destabilizing our lives, and I finally grew enraged enough to shed my safety in favor of justice on Independence Day. Forty days before that, a Minneapolis police officer had brutally and publicly executed George Floyd. I had zero desire to celebrate murder with fireworks, so at the last minute I decided to help some people pull off a risky project on America’s birthday: a blue mural in front of the Detention Center, a simple call to action planned and painted by ordinary citizens whose moral clarity and courage will always inspire me. 

The mural was six thick letters that spelled “DIVEST” rather than “ABOLISH,” or “STOP KILLING BLACK PEOPLE!” The city didn’t approve the removable mural beforehand, so the city had the right to send police officers — who silently watched and waited nearby as we finished the whole word — to make arrests. 

I didn’t want or need the city’s consent to protest because I knew what Greensboro, what my country, had done for me: it allowed the conditions for my rebellion. I wasn’t born mad, I was thrust into an unjust world. 

My favorite game in middle school was Would You Rather?

To cope with a contradictory world, I’d spend a serious amount of time conjuring up two, somewhat equally stressful scenarios and asking myself, or certain friends, which improbable reality was worth surviving: 

  • Would you rather be trapped on an island with skilled people you don’t trust, or would you rather be trapped on an island with no one around but plenty of books about hunting? 
  • Would you rather be rich and lonely for the rest of your life, or be poor but deeply understood? 
  • Would you rather feel nothing ever, or feel everything all the time? 

When the laws you live under condone violence but punish unarmed resistance, when a call to devalue the institutions that consistently harm vulnerable citizens is seen as a threat to power rather than a long-term opportunity to save lives, you’re being set up to play a rigged game. 

To accept injustice because it’s everywhere, or to give in to apathy because it’s easier to navigate than care, is a crime against humanity. Madness is the appropriate response to all forms of injustice.

To a generation defined by paradoxes such as booming economies that benefit the rich but rely on the labor of those struggling with endless debt and meager wages, global policies that reward morally bankrupt corporations for harming the same planet that sustains us all and prejudiced workers full of hatred for their fellow laborers, madness refers to the furious pursuit of justice. 

We’re mad because so many of us are suffering from problems that don’t need to exist.

When I interviewed alyzza may from Greensboro Mutual Aid about Greensboro’s second Freedom Fridge, they made a claim that makes a lot of sense to me: 

“We have enough housing, we have enough food, clean water, clothes, parks, modes of transportation, money, everything. We just live in a society that is extractive and siphons resources into specific areas and limits them in others, often correlating along lines of race, class, and gender.” 

Technological advancements, the interconnectedness of global markets, and mass consumerism are key elements of modern life that have allowed humans to produce more stuff than ever before. Yet the people in positions of power need us to believe that most issues boil down to scarcity or lack of resources rather than a purposeful mishandling of those resources.

Ironically, while gaslighting non-rich people for decades, the powerful have severely depleted the natural resources vital to everyone’s survival solely to satisfy their insatiable urges to consume and control.

Madness is the courageous response to cognitive dissonance, the discomfort we experience when our deepest beliefs conflict with the values of our society. Instead of excusing or tolerating acts that perpetuate harm in order to ease tension, truly mad people recognize and use that tension to challenge our corrupt society. Civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr was mad: he went to jail for breaking unjust laws 29 times. 


I was encouraged to flee the scene minutes before the police descended and wasn’t arrested that summer, but five people were. 

The painters and the protectors who saved my brown wrists from those tight handcuffs and prevented my knees from hitting that scorching pavement are good people and didn’t deserve punishment or hostility for their act of protest, just like the people protesting Jim Crow laws didn’t deserve to be scarred by the police dogs sicced on them. While I’ll forever be grateful, and thankful, for the mad humans who sacrificed their safety for a vision of freedom, those sacrifices aren’t actually fair. 

What would American society look like if enough of us resisted the moral traps of prejudice and apathy and got mad at the systems that prioritize profit? Would we allow our government to oversee genocides, or fund historically racist institutions with our tax dollars? I believe what Dr. King called “a radical revolution of values” is possible, but shifting “from a thing-oriented society to a people-oriented society” requires communal commitment. 

I’ve gotten braver with age, but I’m not fearless. A few friends have cautioned me against sharing too much out of fear for my safety. Their concerns are valid, especially given how my intersectionality already exposes me to social and systemic vulnerabilities. If you’re reading this and feel I should be locked up, I have three final questions: What’s your favorite game? Have you ever become the certified CEO of Amazon by buying all the right plastic properties in Monopoly?

Would you rather feel nothing ever, or feel everything all the time? 

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