My Anger is Justified: Why Black Women's Rage is Necessary for Change8/16/2015
by Priscilla Ward I felt like everything was okay. The ability to separate myself from history was blissful. I had the mental and physic...
by Priscilla Ward
I felt like everything was okay. The ability to separate myself from history was blissful. I had the mental and physical autonomy to brush it off and not be bothered. On a small scale I understood the pain and despair of African-Americans’ struggles in this country, but they were distant and far removed. I could study them one moment, shelve the pain, and focus on something else the next.
Five years later, this fake utopian state I found myself in during my childhood and adolescence was recalibrated after I got hit with news of Trayvon Martin’s murder in 2012. I was 21. His extrajudicial killing set the record straight for me that I didn’t have the permission to be a carefree black girl. I could no longer just go about picking and choosing what information to consume without being personally affected. There were questions I had and responses that didn’t clear my conscience or free me from my own thoughts. All of a sudden I felt lost and full of unsorted emotions.
Here I was marching and calling out, “Justice for Trayvon Martin!” It was the first time I marched for a cause I was desperate to understand. It was also the first time I felt shame in showing my true emotions, so I kept them contained within the rallies where I felt they belonged. My historical self told me I had to move on, without allowing the hurt and anger to show.
These emotions were locked up. Instead, I wore a forced smiled in order to get by, to keep my job, and to ensure those I interacted with didn’t feel threatened or alienated. This was the moment I first became aware of what was at stake as an African-American woman. It was the first time I felt like I truly didn’t have autonomy over my emotions, and yet I had to figure out how to deal with the trauma of it all.
To get by, I kept the burden of this trauma between God, myself, and when in community with other Black people. I learned to show my emotions within these congregations, because outside of them, I knew a haphazard label would parole me: Angry Black Woman, a one-dimensional minstrel show character created to strip black women of their right to fully express themselves.
Throughout history we’ve seen how a black woman’s exasperation is paraded as crazy. This labeling is often connected to systems of power and who can question them. The recent death of Sandra Bland reminds us that we don’t have the right to confront white male patriarchal systems. When you are denied basic human rights as a Black woman, it seems only natural to be angry.
The Angry Black Woman has existed in many iterations throughout history, including the well-known Sapphire archetype. She’s depicted as usurping a man’s role by being loud-mouthed, rude, and full of attitude. The most significant characteristic of the Angry Black Woman is that she’s seen as a danger to white society, because she oversteps her emotional “boundaries.” This is used to justify simplifying her into an accurate representation of all African-American women’s emotional states. By creating this cartoonish stereotype, mainstream white society strips us of our agency and silences our voices.
We are prevented from reacting the way we truly feel, because doing so is seen as a serious threat. If we as black women aren’t allowed to have emotional autonomy, this disenfranchises our movements for liberation,which are largely spearheaded by black women. When we raise our voices in protest, assert our narratives, and hold it down for our brothers and sisters, we cannot just hide our emotions inside. It’s draining.
Expressing our truths means taking ownership of our narratives by supporting each other in ways that are proactive—such as having discussions that help us deconstruct the myth of the Angry Black Woman. As African-American women, we cannot ignore the ways the stigmatizing role of the ABW is portrayed throughout media as well—from The Real Housewives to Shondaland.
We can’t continue investing in the exploitation of a black woman’s emotions. We cannot afford representations that do not depict the full depth of who we are. Instead, we must hold up black women who like Bree Newsome, Marilyn Mosby, Opal Tometi, Alicia Garza, and Patrisse Cullors, who have all used their anger to incite change. We must use our anger to fuel actionable plans that push past these false narratives. We must transform our rage into progress.
Let’s recalibrate our minds to understand that our anger is justified. We no longer deserve to feel guilty. We no longer deserve for our emotions to be policed. We must free ourselves, and embrace the full force of our womanhood and our strength. If we need to cry, scream, or simply talk assertively, then we must do it. We need not offer any explanations.
I refuse to make excuses for how I feel any longer. Too much is at stake. It’s time we put our anger into words and action.
Priscilla Ward is a writer whose work has been featured on Salon.com, Health.com, AfroPunk.com, Youngist.org, as well as in Essence and Ammo magazine. She's obsessed with natural hair, bell hooks, sandwiches and really cool art shows.You can find her tweeting about running one moment and being black the next @Macaronifro.