There is power in anger; but who gets to be angry?

Anger. It’s an emotion that, from a young age—especially as women—we are told doesn’t have a place in our lives. Like other emotions (such as sadness, disgust, fear, and vulnerability), anger has to be shut away and shoved down. As women, we are unable to access these sides of the emotional spectrum. This affects certain aspects and people of society, but none so much as the women of Black and Brown communities. We’ve all heard of the angry black woman or spicy latina tropes we’ve see so much of in mainstream media and entertainment, even today. Both are overtly racist stereotypes used to describe women of color (WOC) and how they handle their anger or, more so, how they “fly off the handle.”

I can think of a very recent example of a WOC becoming angry in public and being attacked for it, not just monetarily but personally: Serena Williams at the 2018 U.S. Open. The referee was making some bad calls on his part, but it wasn’t that. It was the way that Williams reacted that took center stage for many people. She was upset, angry and let the ref know. She even became emotional and broke her tennis racket. So many negative things have been said about Williams’ outburst, whereas John McEnroe, retired tennis player, has been praised for being an outspoken angry man on the tennis court; he was still fined for his actions but definitely treated differently than Williams. There is a huge difference between why Williams is vilified for being angry and why McEnroe is praised for it: he’s a white man.

An angry white man is inspiring. He’s called passionate and a leader. Men are even encouraged to be angry. White women (WW) also have a way of getting away with this. Today more WW than ever are stepping up, becoming “feminists” and standing as “allies” (I use these words in quotations for a reason) and becoming angry. There is inherent privilege in being able to angrily speak out against the disproportionate systems that have been in place for so long and this privilege is mainly possessed by WW.

WW are quoted as saying that they “feel defeated” and “don’t know what to do” and “can’t believe that things like this happen” when they see a WW call the cops on black youths or when another Black person in gunned down in the streets due to police violence, or when our president sends armed troops to the border after women and children. Well, welcome to the world of Black and Brown people in this country. Things like this happen daily. And the only reason you’re in the know now is because a Black or Brown woman is letting you in on the secrets.

Moreover, these WW take platforms away from activists and feminists with black and brown skin attempting to do the same thing. WW make it all about them and forget that there is actually a WOC making the same statements. Instead of supporting the platform of a WOC, other WW support and raise up the white feminism instead of taking a backseat and being an ally or to support a WOC feminist attempting to do the same thing. WW can also be one of the main culprits when calling out WOC for speaking out. I have seen way too many Instagram posts where a WOC is calling out and attempting to dismantle a system created by white people and the whole comment thread is WW talking about how this WOC is being divisive, racist and plain old angry. This is not an anger of divisiveness. This is an anger of passion and wanting these systems to change.

I am not buying it. I am tired of using this as an excuse before I talk about the problematic relationship between white people and anger.

For years, WOC have called out racists and pointed out racial problems in the U.S. They are called divisive, angry, aggressive, hostile and a myriad of other terms. Whereas, when you have a cute, skinny, WW saying the same thing, they are praised for being “so brave and confident,” “changing the system” and—the worst one—“a hero.” And rarely are they called angry. This isn’t anything new I am talking about. White feminism has been such a pervasive entity to the plight of the WOC feminist.

I remember during my time in grad school, when I began my activist work, how hard it was for me to be taken seriously as a Latinx feminist and how angry I was because of it. And how hard it was for me to find feminist views that aligned with mine. I was always given white feminists to read and look up to and it all just…fell short for me. There was never any fire or passion seen in the writings of white feminists. Never any anger, no rage. I could never seem to find a voice that suited mine until I read Living a Feminist Life by Sara Ahmed.

She was the first woman that I read that I could relate with. She talked about growing up half Pakistani/half English and how that had a profound impact on her life. She spoke about being so angry. Then I started to see myself more, researching the works of Aurora Levins Morales and Dolores Huerta. Then I found the others, who gave not only a voice to me but to Black women: Roxane Gay, bell hooks, Audre Lorde—to only name a few of the heavy hitters.

These WOC rounded out my universe, not the universe of the white feminist that had been fed to me for the two years I was in grad school. I know, I know, some think it might be as simple as googling “latina feminist” or something to that effect. But even bringing up such issues I experienced in my life as a Latinx woman, I was repeatedly shut down and explained to by WW that since they have never experienced the same things I had in my life that therefore it must not exist! Even some white men got into the conversation, explaining to me that I was playing into the Latina stereotype by being loud and outspoken and that maybe I should soften my image to get others to listen to what I have to say. As you probably guessed, that only made me angrier.

I am angry. I have been angry for a long time. I am not only angry at these backwards systems that keep people of color in check, but also at the WW who can’t seem to take a back seat and let the WOC lead. I am angry at the white people who call cops on black youths, angry at this systematic racism I’ve seen for years and see daily from our president and others he has gaslighted to lock up immigrants I am angry because when I show my anger, it’s met with disdain.

I believe there is power in being angry. The rage the culminates within can make great change happen. Anger and rage can be one of the most important resources we possess as WOC. This anger is not only justified, but can be a part of the solution. It can be harnessed to facilitate change and give you that slow, low burn to ignite passions. I like being angry as long as the anger is fueled into the solutions. Anger should be a part of a WOC toolkit for fighting against systematic racism, and we should not be made to feel bad about it. It’s an honest and vulnerable emotion, letting you and others around us know how we truly feel and that we’re sick of the systems in place. This rage isn’t about hate. It’s about change. It’s about being sick of the systems that have been set in place for so long.


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Living in a bubble: The privilege to disconnect

I recently came across an article in The New York Times about a white man, Erik Hagerman, who lives on a farm in Southeastern, Ohio. He decided that, after Nov. 8, 2016, he would “avoid learning anything that happened to America.” Hagerman—“The Man who Knew too Little”—has staved off of social media, refuses to discuss or look at politics, and has asked his friends and family to not engage him on the topic: he calls this The Blockade. He’s even gone so far as to alert the coffee shop he frequents of his blockade. The article is an utterly interesting and engrossing read into the life of a privileged white man.

This works for Hagerman for a few reasons—two of the biggest ones being that he lives on a farm in rural Ohio and is very well-off financially (he was a “corporate executive at Nike”). The Times also reports that he has a financial advisor who takes care of his investments—when the financier sends Hagerman updates, he never even looks at them. In the Times article, Hagerman says, “I’m emotionally healthier than I’ve ever felt. Why do we bother tracking faraway political developments and distant campaign speeches? What good comes of it? Why do we read all these tweets anyway?”

Even as I sit here to attempt to find the words to process Hagerman’s situation, I am at a loss. I am struck by his ignorance. So, Hagerman: You’d been following the news for decades and when a racist, sexist, xenophobic man white man was elected president, you felt that the only thing you could do was to ignore it? Would you be able to do this if you were Muslim? Or what about a recipient of DACA? A Black man? The answer, of course, is no. POC, womxn, LGBTQ+, and differently-abled peeps can’t ignore the reality of life under Trump; it is very much life or death for so many. Cruel policies around immigration could—and have—meant deportation for some. The rescinding of protective laws for transgender people are setting back years of work, protest, and policy reform. Hagerman is only able to ignore this because he is a rich, white man.

I’m reminded of a time, right after Trump won the election, when I was discussing the state of national affairs with a white man. I was saddened that the country had elected this horrid person and the dude I was talking with simply said, “This won’t change anything. I’m not sure why everyone is upset by this.” Sure, nothing might change for him or Hagerman. But for millions of others, lives have been and will be upended.

What about Jorge Garcia, a 39-year-old father, husband, and landscaper from Michigan who was brought to the United States when he was 9 years old, had paid his taxes for years, and has been fighting for citizenship ever since? Things didn’t go unchanged for him. Instead, Garcia was led from Detroit back to Mexico, having been recently deported on Jan. 15—on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Garcia couldn’t just live peacefully and ignorantly and forget everything Trump has been saying and doing to Mexican-Americans. Opting out of the national conversation is just not an option for many people.

Hagerman knows nothing of Heather Hyer, even though his sister Bonnie works and lives in Charlottesville, Va. She says, “He has the privilege of constructing a world in which very little of what he doesn’t have to deal with gets through. …We all would like to construct our dream worlds. Erik is just more able to do it than others.”

I am here writing this to both understand what Hagerman is doing as well as how he is able to do it. Let’s start with the basics. Hagerman is:

  • a cis, white man
  • financially secure
  • owns his own land
  • has demanded that friends, family, and the people in surrounding towns work with him to obey his wishes

Rich white man syndrome strikes once again: his whiteness and wealth allow him to be so controlling and insulated from the world. All of the above factors allow Hagerman to access the benefits of his privilege. The article goes on to speak of a friend of his, an immigrant who just recently became an American citizen. Hagerman has shut her down about speaking about anything surrounding the administration and immigration. Just like the current administration in silencing those around us, this man is doing exactly the same.

OK, OK everyone. I might be digging into this dude a little hard. There is also the aspect of mental health that I haven’t brought up. He could be doing this because he wants to take part in “self-care,” healing his mind so he can help others. I mean once you get to the end of the article, Hagerman talks about a haven he’s making that he calls The Lake. It’s a piece of old coal mining land he owns, and he plans to use it as a rehab facility for others to use as a media escape. This could be an admirable way to use his resources and time to fight the political climate, but excusing yourself from injustice just isn’t an option. Recharging yourself and your mental health and needing to show yourself some love so you can clearly take on the daily battles in your life is utterly important. However removing yourself from the conversation completely is unwarranted. When even one of us—as part of this human race—is hurting, we all are. We need to come together to fight for each other and ourselves.

What this really all boils down to is privilege. Everyone should be able to access that pinnacle of privilege that Erik Hagerman has accessed as a white man: Respect.


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I’ll see you nice white ladies at the next Black Lives Matters protest, right?

I can’t believe that it has been a year since that man took office in this country (this author refuses to acknowledge his name and is saddened by the fact that a staggering 52% of white women voted for him and are proud to call him their president). And it has also been a year since the 2017 Women’s March in Washington, with congruent sister marches all over the world.

While the “success” of the march can be found in the non-violent way mostly (white) women and men marched, there was backlash. But how? How can women and men peacefully marching be a problem? And why would others have issue with it?

And why has there always been so much more backlash at Black people and other people of color marching or launching non-violent protests that filled streets or malls or the like?

I’ll bluntly tell you why: People felt safer because it was mainly white women marching.

As much intersectionality as the founders and organizers of the Women’s March on Washington—Bob Bland and Teresa Shook—touted, it was only after backlash that additional organizers, Tamika D. Mallory, Linda Sarsour, and Carmen Perez, were added to round out the diversity. There was even more resentment, when the panel opened up to include others and basically asked white women to acknowledge their privilege. White women felt that they were being attacked and some even decided to not participate.

All of the above, initial ignorance to the need for more diverse representation in the organization of the March, as well as white women’s inability to acknowledge privilege in relation to this movement, resulted in women of color feeling slighted, as they should. (Another interesting fact is that the title of this march was originally going to be the Million Women March, erroneously taken from a similar march on Philadelphia in 1997, the Million Women March, which was organized by and marched for by African-American women celebrating their heritage. It was then changed.)

Then there is the public’s response to Black Lives Matter. BLM was formed by three women—Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi—in 2013 after the acquittal of George Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin’s murderer. This group was created to try to vanquish systematic racism that has been prevalent in our world. So I ask: Why was this organization the target of so much hate from the start? BLM has been criticized as being anti-police, Rudy Giuliani has called the group “inherently racist,” and white people began to make silly sayings, such as “All lives matter” or “Blue lives matter.” referring to people in law enforcement. Umm, hi. Your lives have mattered for a very long time, it’s time to put aside your white-ass privilege and focus on lives that society has been systematically eradicating.

So how do these two groups get labeled differently? How is the Black Lives Matter movement “violent and against police” and the Women’s March on Washington a peaceful and hopeful sign? I think I know the answer, but I don’t want to beat a dead horse.

One is easy. One makes white people feel good about themselves and who they think they are and have always been. Joining friends on Saturday after brunch out with that new pink hat just crafted, posting about the movement on Facebook (challenging the external world and not the internal one). It also involves white people following and surrounding themselves with people who look like them in an almost social setting.

The other is hard and challenges who white people think they are; it shakes the core, and it doesn’t feel comfortable for them. It highlights unconscious bias and privilege. It involves white people following and rallying behind people who are different and have different life experiences than their own. But shouldn’t activism and real change feel uncomfortable and shake us to our core?

It’s almost as if being an activist has become just as trendy as a pumpkin spice latte. Rosie Campos, a writer for Medium, writes eloquently about trendy activism:

Our social activism is only stirred when it’s convenient for us. We love our lazy activism. We love our safety pins. We sit in the comfort of our homes and shake our heads in disgust as police brutalize and kill Black people. Good intentions. We post a few memes and our regrets on Facebook and call it a day. We leave it to Black people to fight their own battles.

I remember a few years back, when I was in art school (here I go again beating that poor horse), I was beginning to find all of these feminists of color, ones that looked like me and had similar upbringings. I was so incredibly excited to find women I could trust and rely on. However, as I started making work concerning these experiences—specifically centered on Latinx situations—it didn’t line up with the Eurocentric view held by my white instructors and some peers. So, long story short, it was misinterpreted, talked over, and disregarded as wrong.

The idea I presented in my work confused and probably upset some of my white peers and colleagues. They did not understand that having the privilege of being a WHITE person entered subconsciously into their brains and told them that I was wrong. It felt like the rug had been pulled out from under me. I had found my sisters In arms and then they were stolen from me.

What’s at the core here is the leaders and followers of the Women’s March on Washington couldn’t see past their privilege in a way to be inclusive to all women. To welcome and hear all of the stories, they needed to take a back seat to let someone ELSE speak. And they needed to listen humbly to that new experience, different from their own. I bring this up on the week after his first year in office, a week after the women’s marches, to show that not only has not much changed…but under his shaky hand, much has gotten worse.

Practicing intersectionality is essential to our well-being as a society from here forward. We must be inclusive to all: Black, Brown, LGBTQIA, Disabled. All of our voices need to be culled up against the tyranny they face each day. We need to be better to each other.


If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support. Want more BGIM? Consider booking me to speak with your group or organization.

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Photo by Vlad Tchompalov on Unsplash