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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1 thought on “There is power in anger; but who gets to be angry?”
Nailed it ! In digesting this so potent essay, I do feel ill. YES…. the white woman still has not got it !
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