Monday, March 24, 2014

I'm Not An Angry Black Woman But Should I Be?


Many people are concerned about anger within social justice circles. They want to limit and contain anger. Angry people are shamed as destroying the credibility of the movement. They are often told that if they were "nicer" they would be listened to.

However, I am concerned that I'm not angry enough.

I wonder why I'm not able to conjure up anger more easily and if that means that something is wrong with me. Maybe I am so terrified by the "angry Black woman" label that my anger has become relatively latent. I have tricked myself into seeming relatively happy or at least not viscerally upset.

My anger has been muted. Although I have a lot to be angry about. I should be angry about the sexist and racist microaggressions I deal with daily. I should be angry about institutionalized inequality. I should be angry about every instance of injustice that I hear about and personally experience.

Instead it is as if my anger is misplaced and un-reachable. I am disappointed. I am sad. But I lack the energy or perhaps the ability to be truly angry.

I have not always been like this. When I first became introduced to social justice activism and began to learn about white supremacy and feminism from a theoretical standpoint I was very angry. It was a brand new, fresh and on fire kind of anger. I was angry at individual oppressive people. I was angry at privileged and oppressive groups as a collective. I was angry at every single act of injustice. I wore that anger with a badge of honor and viewed people who were not angry with disdain.

I can mark the exact time when my angry diluted into a form of ennui and passive acceptance.

It was the Trayvon Martin case. I was fresh from my raw anger at the killing of Troy Davis when Trayvon Martin came to national attention. That was when I realized that my heartbreak superseded my anger. It was in fact what drove my anger: my capacity to love justice.

The Trayvon Martin case exposed vulnerabilities I hadn't realized that I had. I thought about this case and I thought about my younger brother. I thought about my friends. I thought about my own experiences with racial profiling and how fortunate I was that the accuser didn't turn violent. And I thought about how little regard Black life has in America. For the first time in my social justice life, I was heartbroken.

Racism is personal. It is not merely an abstract concept. It is not just critical race theory. It is losing children, siblings, parents, and friends to socially sanctioned ignorance.

Something happened to me. I became afraid of the great chasm of despair that every social justice activist will eventually find themselves in if they remain informed and passionate about the issues. I knew my anger was wedded to my sadness and so I dispensed of both emotions.

I tried to approach my activism from a relatively un-emotional stance. Or I substituted sarcasm and snark for what used to be anger or fear. It felt less painful and less vulnerable. But it's also less powerful.

In many ways, I am scared of anger. I am scared of the other emotions that are inextricably linked to anger. I want to make this my life's work but I want to steer away from depression. I do not want to be consumed by the injustice I learn about.

I approach my studies in this manner. I read some of the most gruesome history texts. I read the saddest slave narratives. I learn about little known history that highlights the extreme cruelty that Black people have faced and continue to face. I read these things with a sort of detachment.

I realize that things that would have made me livid in the past do not rise any emotion in me. I think to myself "another one, another victim" and the rage I used to have loaded and ready for every victim is gone. Some people say this marks social justice maturity. But I think this is a sign that I both overwhelmed and underwhelmed by all of the evil I see around me. And it's to the point where I cannot process it all.

Although I am doubtlessly impacted by the idea that being an angry Black woman is who you do not want to be. I am also impacted by the reality that anger and despair are not pleasant emotions. They are psychologically draining.

I continue to wonder how a Black woman can remain informed and involved in social justice and still retain her happiness. I wonder if I am supposed to dissect my existence. If I am supposed to have the side of me that is social justice focused and the side of me that is concerned with everything outside of it. And yet, to me it seems as if these two things are always linked.

I can never avoid oppression. Before I was informed it seemed as if I could avoid it because I didn't know how to notice it. But now I see it everywhere. When I'm out with my friends, when I'm in my own home watching TV, when I walk outside and overhear random conversations. I see and notice hateful comments all the time. And yet, I somehow believe that I am not supposed to be angry.

I am trying to limit my humanity if I fail to be angry, if I fail to embrace the moments of sadness that I will doubtlessly experience when cases such as Trayvon Martin's are brought to attention. This is the life of a conscious and aware Black woman.

This need not be viewed as a wholly negative thing. I think that I am acting in convenience, if I prevent myself from accessing righteous anger, but really I am acting to reinforce my own oppression: the same oppression I purport wanting to change.

Also Check Out:

Want new posts delivered directly to your email?
Enter your email address here:


Delivered by FeedBurner

3 comments:

  1. People have, in their own minds, a definition of 'angry black woman'. I think for a lot of us, the things you've stated in this post wouldn't make you an ABW, it would simply make you an activist---or someone who is hurt, frustrated, or outraged enough to speak out about things that do need to be spoken about.

    I had what I perceived as an experience with an angry black woman today. Two women were standing on a platform waiting for the train. They were engaged (loudly) in conversation. They happened to be standing near the area that I typically sit, so I simply went to sit on the bench where I usually do. One of the women became extremely angry that I chose to sit over there since the whole rest of the platform was empty and she thought it was rude of me to chose to sit near (6ft away) where they were standing. She began a loud angry diatribe, picked up her things and told her friend to follow her to where they eventually stopped probably 100 ft away. She continued to very loudly deride me to her friend. At this point, I thought, "Well, maybe that was rude of me to not avail myself of one of the many available seats." I walked over to them and apologized and said that I hadn't meant to be rude. The friend said ,"That's okay, don't worry about it." I offered my hand and introduced myself to the angry woman, and she said nothing and did not take my hand. Then as I walked away, she again started in loudly and in a threatening tone, "She better not come over here again or I'm gonna..." And that for me is the definition of an angry black woman : 1) Disproportionately loud and angry in a given situation of perceived slight 2) Belligerent, threatening, overtly intimidating.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I really appreciate what you have shared. I too was very angry about social injustice and the new issues that I was learning about as a young Black woman coming of age. I used to say that "consciousness" was like having your eyes opened and the light in your eyes is so painful that you wish you could just close your eyes again. But it's too late once your eyes have been opened. I was torn between being angry (and as a result, productive, working for change) and being tired, wishing I could develop some willful blindness and go back to the days when I was clueless and therefore "happy" (or passive, not seeing the issues as something that I needed to work for, not being personally responsible for change).

    I also know when my anger became diluted: when I gave birth to my first child. I had been a very vocal spoken word artist, full of fire (my stage name "enoje" means "angry" in Spanish -- ironically, I did not know that when I chose the name but it sure was accurate). When I birthed my child, it was like I pushed out all my anger with the afterbirth. It evaporated as soon as I saw his face. I actually could not write anything for years -- I honestly said it was because I didn't have that anger to draw on. I no longer wanted to make waves, to go out there and picket, riot, cause trouble, get in someone's face...just think of what could happen to me! Who would look after my child (now children)? I didn't just want a better world for them, I wanted to be in that world WITH them! I was totally vulnerable. Fear and despair took the place in my life where anger used to stand. Tired was still there though, tired of the foolishness.

    But with each passing year, I think anger is starting to wake up in me again, like a foot that has fallen asleep but starts to wake up slowly with pins and needles. And it's not the anger of my youth, which was like a forest fire blazing down and taking out everything in its path! This anger is like slow-burning coals, consistent, always ready to cook up something, nurturing in its warmth but can fan into a righteous blaze before you know it. Now I might get loud but I'm not ignorant. I'm more calculating. I use my tools in the way that will get the results that I'm looking for. My anger can draw attention, educate, repel, intimidate, hurt, and heal. I agree with your points. Physical pain alerts us to a problem in the body. Anger alerts us to problems in ourselves, in our families, in our communities. Without anger, there can't be change.

    ReplyDelete