“Don’t shrink your Black womanhood for anyone’s comfort today or any other day.” – A tweet on Twitter
Not too long ago, I found myself having drinks with another Black woman up here in Maine…imagine that? There really is more than one of us! As usual when I am having a moment of fellowship with a fellow Black woman in Maine, the conversation turned to the racial climate and matters of racial equity. It was a conversation that gave me a lot to sleep on as I found myself pondering: What does it mean to wear the label of “angry Black woman?” It’s a label that I have heard applied to myself countless times and one that I tend to brush off because I refuse to have my existence as a person, a living being, a fellow sojourner in the path of life be reduced to simply being an angry Black woman.
Yet it is a label that haunts far too many Black women. If we speak up for fairness and equity, we are labeled angry almost as if it’s an excuse to not dig a little deeper as to why exactly would we be angry (if indeed we are, rather than simply pointing out injustices because they are unjust).
Since the founding of the country that we call the United States, Black women have been viewed as the second-rate members of a group that is itself already seen (at best) as second rate. There is being Black and then there is being a Black woman. During slavery times, our ancestors were ripped away from their families even their own children and made to serve whites. Despite what certain history books are trying to tell us, this was not the immigrant looking for a better way of life story. A white master could sexually take us against our will and then the white mistress would often act out against us…as if we asked her husband to debase us in such a fashion.
In more recent times, too many us still find ourselves fighting against the tide to be seen as actual humans. Not simply a tidy and often inaccurate category. In our workplaces, too often we not only earn less than men, we earn less than white women. Promotions come slow and often with a lot of pain and struggle regardless of how good our qualifications are, and rarely do we have the support that we need to truly blossom. If “Leaning In” is hard for the average woman, it is only compounded for those of us with darker hues. The very act of surviving (and sometimes thriving) at times feels like a grueling feat and yet millions of us manage to do it every day. Yet the act of surviving, even when it looks easy on the surface, comes at a deeper loss that rarely are we as Black women allowed to express publicly because to be a Black woman is often associated with a word that at times I want to throw out the window…strong.
Yeah, the “strong Black woman” archetype. It can go to hell as far as I’m concerned.
What is seen as “strength” (and sometimes “anger”) is sometimes a cover for the deep emotions that we carry that we are rarely allowed to name publicly. It is admitting to vulnerability and a need that few wish to respond to. It’s knowing that a white peer can lay her burdens down and there will be a cadre of folks rushing to assist but, for a Black woman, too often there is no one there to pick up our pieces and necessity often makes us keep going when really we would rather stop for an extended break. I know that I push myself hard and often because the alternative is scary.
Still, we live in a culture where our survival at times requires our own subjugation, something that I know far too much about and that I am not necessarily proud of as I ponder: “Is it even possible to be seen as more than just an Angry Black woman?” Funny thing, though, is that not all anger is unproductive and sometimes anger is the impetus that leads to change. A mother’s anger at unfair racial treatment changed the trajectory of my own writing in this space and in the past two years has led to larger dialogues in the region on race. What started as my personal anger has allowed countless other people of color in this state to know that they have a right to their voices. In macro moment of anger, we are seeing the presidential election cycle being shaped by a type of anger that few of us have ever seen. The common denominator being that something has got to give for millions of Americans who have watched the American dream become a collective nightmare, the only difference being whose version of change are you buying?
Culturally, we have always had a very precarious relationship with anger. Often in childhood, girls are chided for being emotional or angry whereas boys are given a space to deal with their anger. Yet if anger is unbecoming to girls and women as a whole, it really is seen as extra-vulgar for Black women. However I am tired of being an angry Black woman; instead I challenge anyone who is comfortable labeling any Black woman as angry to walk a day in our shoes and ask yourself: Wouldn’t you be angry too? And frankly, to ask yourself: Why aren’t they angrier…or angry every single second…given what they put up with day after day after day?
As for me, I am striving to use my anger in productive ways that plant the seeds of change while giving myself as much space to honor my own humanity in a world that rarely sees me as a woman worthy of the full spectrum of human emotions.
Anger is both a guide and a tool if we allow it to be. Yet to see anger as a tool for change means reshaping the paradigms around who is entitled to be angry. My womanhood as a Black woman is filled with an array of experiences and emotions that only someone who walks this path can truly grasp and sometimes, it is filled with anger, but I am far more than the sum of my anger and I refuse to only wear that label.
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