When Black womxn finally allow ourselves to get angry
Anger is an appropriate response for when someone spills their shit all over you.
Anger is dangerous. That’s what I learned as a child, when other people’s anger meant screaming and clenched fists and scratches and bloody lips and flying objects and switches and paddles and belts. Anger is unequal, too. See, my mom and my brother were allowed to be angry. And when they were angry, they were allowed to hurt me, because “boys will be boys” and because my mom brought me into this world, and she can take me right out of it. But I wasn’t allowed to be angry.
I wasn’t allowed to feel that emotion or its relations—frustration, grief, bewilderment, fatigue. These things were out of reach for me. Don’t cry, or they’ll give you more to cry about. You better fix your face, and your attitude. That’s all it is, an attitude. Swallow it. Hide it. Bury it deep. Don’t let it breathe. Anger doesn’t belong to you.
Anger has always been an emotion of disparity—historically and anecdotally. Some of us never get to have our emotions validated, by our communities or our society. Some of us learn, early and well, that anger is not for us. It will never be recognized as legitimate, or valuable, or necessary, or useful for us or our lives, because our pain will never be recognized in these ways either.
I am afraid of anger, and have been for as long as I can remember. I’m afraid of angering the people around me, afraid of how they’ll react. In the back of my mind, I still believe other people’s anger means screaming, and clenched fists and scratches and bloody lips and flying objects. And now I think it means abandonment, too. When people get angry, they leave. And it’s always my fault.
I’m afraid of my own anger, too. I’m not even supposed to have it. When I am angry, I feel insubordinate. I feel guilty. I hope no one sees me holding it. I’ll get in trouble. Someone will get angry in response, and then they will hurt me, and then they will leave. Don’t cry. They’ll give you something to cry about. Fix your face. Don’t let them see you coming undone. Don’t be a Black girl with a bad attitude. Don’t be an Angry Black Womxn.
Black womxn’s anger is never right, never rational, always an overreaction, never worth listening to. We don’t get to make decisions about our own emotionality, our capacity for feeling. We don’t get to acknowledge the weight of Black womxnhood.
Don’t talk about the elephant standing on your chest, or the planet on your back, or the teeth sinking into your flesh, or the fire in your gut. Don’t talk about your labor pains, from working and working and working and working. You’re an incubator, a triage unit, a rehab center, an orphanage. You’re an exhibit, a petting zoo, a sideshow attraction. You’re a punching bag, a spittoon, a toilet, a junkyard. And you are content with this. All the Black womxn in you are content to do this labor, to be all things to all people.
For so long, I have been trying so hard not to be the Black girl with the bad attitude, the Angry Black Womxn. But goddamn. The truth is I’m always fucking seething. Silently, beneath the veneer. I’m spitting mad and I’m bitter about being dehumanized, devalued, and discarded. I want to scream and throw things and shatter worlds, and I feel like I might suffocate if I don’t destroy something pretty.
But I don’t know what it’s like to feel safe with this anger, or frustration, or grief, or bewilderment, or fatigue. I don’t know what it’s like to let myself feel them, fully, unencumbered by my own fear of them and the ghosts that live in my head. But I am learning, finally. I’m learning to hold that anger, to let it prick at my skin and set my scalp on fire.
I got angry when I needed to last week. Someone I once called a friend spilled his misogynoir on me by accident. He inadvertently told me the truth about what he thinks of me, how he views Black womxnhood, and how he understands my purpose in this world. Black womxn are here to teach him, you see, and hold his hand through it all.
I am to perform emotional and intellectual labor for others, especially men, when they demand it. I am to be their bottomless resource—their dictionary, encyclopedia, thesaurus, archivist, museum curator, historian, cultural critic, librarian, counselor. Tirelessly. Eternally. Eagerly. He spilled all this shit on me and I got fully, righteously angry when I needed to, and it felt so fucking good even though it terrified me. I got angry when I needed to because anger is an appropriate response for when someone spills their shit all over you.
This January was the first time I practiced the tradition of choosing a word for myself and my life at the beginning of the year. I didn’t really understand why at the time, but the word I chose was wreckage. Now I get it. There’s damage for me to attend to and debris that needs to be swept away. There’s destruction to be remedied, walls to rebuild and fixtures to restore. Things to polish and refine.
But there is also shit for me to tear down. Structures for me to demolish and foundations for me to rip up. Things to splinter and break and pulverize. There’s wreckage to be cleaned up and a different wreckage yet to be made. But I can’t do any of it if I don’t let myself find that necessary, useful anger.
It took me almost thirty years, but I’m finally reacquainting myself with this emotion that has always been dangerous and unequal in my life. I don’t owe the world a damn thing, but I owe it to myself to get angry when I need to. This anger belongs to me, every pound of it. It’s still terrifying. It still feels dangerous. I still feel insubordinate and guilty. But, every day, I become less and less afraid of it.