Recently I’ve noticed Black women speaking about the “Angry Black Woman” as though being angry while Black and woman is a disease. Yet in the spoken word poetry world I see angry white women yelling at crowds all the time. Lots of white women are angry y’all. Yet they are not killed by police for expressing legitimate frustration and there isn’t a pervasive stereotype about them related to anger. Possibly because white skin privileges a person into being accepted as fully human with a fully human range of emotions. It is not Black women’s anger that is killing us. It is the tendency of white supremacy to reduce our humanity to tropes and stereotypes (among other things).
I am often angry simply because of the state of this world where Black people’s (African diaspora) lives are undervalued worldwide, and we are constantly being gaslighted every time we speak up about it. Daily there’s news or status updates or comment threads to remind me of that. Beyond that there is anger at the general state of this world in which human beings of all skin tones, ethnicities and creeds are constantly being treated to all sorts of atrocities and injustices – because I am human (not 3/5ths of one), I also have empathy for people who don’t look like me, and that leaves room for a lot of anger and pain. All of this is outside of the regular everyday things that might push my emotions into the red such as the hassles of everyday life, the frustrations of keeping up with all my responsibilities, not to mention the microaggressions that leave me with little recourse but to give side eye and take mental notes.
So yes. I am angry. I am also sad. I am also happy, joyful and grateful because there are so many amazing people and positive circumstances that make my life fulfilling. I am also frightened, apprehensive and anxious because life is scary and change is constant. I feel, and am allowed to feel, a full range of human emotions. And there are a lot of good reasons for me to feel anger in the same way there are a lot of good reasons for me to feel gratitude. I am a Black woman, and in the complexness of my humanity I can feel many emotions at the same time. Tada!
Many Black women have been trying to break the narrative of the “Angry Black Woman” by labeling themselves “Carefree Black Girls” and looking at my love for sundresses, poetry, travel and pretty beads and stones I might appear to fall into that category. It is actually a truly necessary movement because it allows us to focus on different, more emotionally uplifting, images and versions of ourselves to combat the constant bombardment of negative and traumatic imagery. It’s called Balance. But even “Carefree” Black women are not care free. Even we become angry or sad or belligerent or anxious or afraid given certain circumstances. No one emotion or state-of-being describes a whole person – much less a whole group of people.
I have always had a temper, and I have always been good at pushing my anger down or redirecting it in order to not lash out in ways I would regret. When things get bad, my anger becomes a smoldering mass in my stomach that is only safe to release through poetry or physical activity. I am okay with that; with the fact that I am angry often. If you expect my sensitive empathic self to live consciously in this world and not be constantly angry you are being unreasonable.
A few years ago Trayvon Martin’s smiling face broke something in me and there has not been an opportunity for that something to be repaired because the wound is constantly getting re-opened. For a long time I have had the habit of redirecting my anger and anxiety into sadness. It seemed the only emotion I was safe to express as a Black woman. I am still working on that. I have learned though, that expressing your anger – as anger – is necessary. Anger is a boundary-setting emotion. It helps you know when your boundaries are being crossed. Setting and enforcing healthy boundaries is important in all relationships, whether between you and another individual or between you and the world. Furthermore, anger provides a unique energy that can direct action like no other emotion. Rather than denying and avoiding my anger I would much prefer to harness it in ways that are useful and effective in enforcing my boundaries and taking courageous action toward making this world a place that is less triggering for me to live in. I am still working on that.
I have always identified with the Marvel comics character “The Hulk.” As Dr. Bruce Banner he is an intelligent and gentle human being yet still he has an outlet to express his anger – all his legitimate rage – without himself getting hurt (although there are massive consequences for others along with social and emotional [and wardrobe] consequences for him). My favorite version of this character is portrayed by Mark Ruffalo in the 2012 Avengers movie. I identified so much with how Dr. Banner, in order to control the dangerous consequences of his anger, simply stopped trying to fight the emotion, accepted it and learned to harness it. Here’s a clip of a scene illustrating this.
It took me a while to figure out why I liked this character so much, but now I really do understand. Sandra Bland helped drive the understanding home. As a Black woman, expressing my anger is dangerous and can have deadly consequences for me. I have felt the need to always appear benign, not only because people are expecting me, waiting for me to fit the “Angry Black Woman” stereotype but because people react violently to a Black woman’s anger. My self-preservation instinct is strong. I know for a fact that I would not have made it this far, physically or academically, if I did not appear non-threatening and calm in public when angry. But I am also learning that suppressing my anger is not healthy for me, and my self-preservation instinct is strong.
My creativity has channeled much of my anger and other “dangerous” emotions into poetry. This year I wrote a poem the really gets at the heart of embracing my anger. Performing it is cathartic and takes a lot out of me. I am always shaking when I am done, but I feel it is important to allow myself this. It is also important to allow myself to express my anger in other ways, in the moment, when it is required. Below is the poem. Above is the context.
Video courtesy Write About Now Poetry (WANPoetry)
© 2015 Kelene Blake, All Rights Reserved