Within the lingering effects of slavery and colonialism and the resulting isms that challenge People of Color throughout the world, Black women have been bearing the brunt of the social, economic, and political effects of a system that is built solidly on a racist and sexist foundation. Subsequently, Black women have morphed into marginalized versions of themselves and in the process, have become the victims of negative stereotyping in mainstream culture. These stereotypes often include the caricatures of the angry Black woman that portray us as aggressive, ill tempered, illogical, overbearing, hostile, sassy, and sometimes ignorant. So, are Black Women angry? Why are they angry? Is angry being loosely used to describe post-traumatic stress that has been passed on (sometimes as a badge of honor) not uncommon to survivors of horror?
Black Women are Survivors
How did Black women emerge at the tail end of this angry Black woman trope? Or in the case of my fellow Jamaican women, the “miserable ooman”? Black women have survived an onslaught of horror that can only be compared with that of Native Americans and as such are survivors:
Physical Captivity– Black women’s dreams of freedom and safe spaces to be Black, beautiful and bold have eluded us since our arrival on these shores during the Atlantic Slave Trade
Sexual Captivity– Black women’s bodies have been exploited through rape and forced conceptions to create a slave force that enriched First World countries. When that was abolished, their sexual agency was/is put on trial and used to demonize them.
Financial Captivity– Black Women had to and still do provide for their family (nuclear and extended) from the minimal stipends that gender and race disparities afford.
Emotional/Mental Trauma: As bystanders in the attempt at genocide against Black men/boys, Black women bear scars from the horrific violence and trauma from both their communities and their nation-state and yet are forced to “keep it moving.”
Post -Traumatic Stress
Black women have screamed, cried, mourned, and struggled. We have been heartbroken, sad, depressed and abandoned as we wake up from our dreams to face never ending nightmares. Having never been afforded the luxury of feeling/expressing those emotions, we have bottled them up and as such, as Black women, we get and stay angry:
Angry at being raped by white slave owners
Angry at the children stolen from our arms and sold
Angry at seeing our men flogged, lynched, emasculated
Angry at the descendants of slave owners incarcerating our lovers, sons, fathers, brothers, brothas
Angry at being Fatherless Daughters
Angry at having angry, bitter mothers
Angry at the far-reaching arm of Patriarchy
Angry at the molestation, exploitation…the #METOO
Angry at a God who seems to have been too busy to care for 400+ years despite earnest prayers and supplication
Angry at our men for not being our Kings, blaming them for not loving us enough, forgetting that they too have been dethroned and left like us, struggling to love self
Angry at not being the standard of beauty
Angry at not being light enough, slim enough, tall enough, hair not straight enough, long enough, soft enough…
Angry at not being rich enough, despite being more educated, more hardworking, more resilient…
Angry at always being imitated and appropriated, but rarely complimented…
JUST ANGRY… at YOU racism, sexism, colorism… ANGRY because that is all we feel you have allowed us to be.
Time to Resist
As a Black Feminist, it becomes essential to my existence to challenge the systems of oppression with “eloquent rage” (Cooper, 2018). Albeit, sometimes when Black women are labeled angry, it is often our attempts at being assertive and thus heard in a world that has muted our voices. Anger then becomes the amplification of Black women’s voices. Despite having earned the right to be angry, how about as an act of resistance, we move away from the demonstration of the negative expressions of misplaced anger, and, instead challenge and channel it into a more positive lifestyle choice?
Here are some steps we can try to utilize to harness this anger as we attempt to evolve to becoming our best selves:
- Acknowledge that we are indeed ANGRY and explore why
- Determine how this anger manifests itself (ask our loved ones)
- Become mindful that being angry is not synonymous to being strong
- Decide which behaviors need ameliorating in order to be effective personally and professionally
- RESIST: Create strategies to stop lashing out, especially at our loved ones
- Turn anger it into fuel to topple the institutional strongholds, as well as those generational/cultural habits (nagging, fussing, yelling, frowning, scowling)
- Most importantly, create the vocabulary to express how we are really feeling, before it escalates to anger
I too have a sassy grandmother and had a “miserable ooman” as my mother and they are/were my heroines. They successfully tackled poverty and progressed to a higher level of existence, socio-economically. A dominant part of my mother’s legacy as a successful educator and school principal is how stern she was. Indeed, it is admirable the progress she made, the impact she had on so many lives and the magic she brought to her own life’s journey. However, I believe that each generation should aspire to be “better.” I seek to be a better version of the matriarchs in my family as they have paid the price for me and I am now emboldened to navigate further on Maslow’s hierarchy. I seek to fuel my ANGER at the isms with the hurling of my locs at each act of oppression and suppression daily, through using my superpowers. However, I refuse to punish my loved ones in the process. Therefore, I wake up every day attempting to be mindful of this goal, compelling myself to speak love more than hate, hug more than punish and laugh more than frown. It is not an easy task as cultural norms clasp us in their deadly grip like a jealous lover, but, I will die trying. My happiness is essential to my life’s journey, as is the happiness of my loved ones. When anger emerges, as undoubtedly it will, I strive for an eloquent rage that challenges the privileges afforded to some and in so doing shine light on those marginalized as a result of inequities and inequalities. Let’s make a small, collective step towards choosing the path to happiness in our homes, instead of anger and “miserableness,” because it is much sweeter and so much more revolutionary.
Love and Light.
Jamaican born and raised Nadine L. Leblanc is an Educator and Cultural critic who resides in South Florida. She is currently a PhD candidate at Florida Atlantic University in Educational Leadership and Methodology.
Excerpted from Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower. Copyright © 2018 by Brittney Cooper; reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Press.