Archive for the ‘black women and anger’ Category

Dear God, I’m Here!

Wednesday, June 18th, 2008

The feral attacks against Michelle Obama over at FoxNews bring to mind a question as a black woman I’m asked a lot. How do you know when it’s racism or when it’s sexism that’s driving people to react negatively toward you? Of course, it feels like racism when  the white media is doing it. Who can forget Bill O’Reilly’s lynching comment last February where he thought nothing of talking about Michelle Obama being lynched for some position he disagreed with. Then there’s the reference in recent days by the cable station to Michelle Obama as “Obama’s Baby Mama,” an expression which everyone knows (including Fox) is short hand in hip hop lingo to the unmarried mother of a man’s child. The slur that really got to me was the one by Fox guest commentator Cal Thomas who opined recently that of all the insufferable things being shoved at America right now, the first woman having a credible chance of being president, the first African-American having an even more likely chance of becoming president, the possibility of having an “angry black woman” as the First Lady is one that equally dismays him. 

Let’s all agree that its open season this election season on women, but especially on women of color.

One thing experience has taught me. There’s something about being black AND female that drive some people insane. Being black and female makes you the object of folks worst fears and basest fantasies. People think that they can say and do whatever they want to you, because… they can. Black women may be praised for their strength and applauded for their courage. But none of that is the same as being respected. How does a black woman get respect in this country is the question that deserves asking?


Who can say for sure whether it’s blackness or femaleness that’s despised most in this country? Meaning, there’s probably no way to parse out which part of you is under attack when as a black woman professor you sit reading the vicious evaluations of your students, or you discover as a black woman in ministry that the church you candidated for chose a man with lesser qualifications than you to be their pastor, or as the wife of a black presidential candidate you hear a television commentator you never met impugn your morality and characterize you as an angry black woman.

Whether it’s because you’re black or female –when it comes to what makes people look up from what they are doing when you walk in the door and decide they’re under no obligation to treat you with civility will have you sitting crouched in a basket like a woman without a god if you let it.

Don’t ask why, but my mind has trailed off to the many stories in the Bible about foreign women and the enormous prejudice directed against them. The foreign woman is both exotic and threatening, desired and despised, a wealth of insight and an object of mystery.

She had nothing to fall back on; not maleness, not whiteness, not ladyhood, not anything. And out of the profound desolation of her reality she may have well have invented herself.” (Toni Morrison, Sula)

What does it mean to be a black woman in this country? It means that you understand race and sex have always been overlapping discourses, and you’ll be wise to take nothing at face value. You understand the nature of oppression, and the interlocking nature of oppressions especially, and how those in power benefit from keeping oppressed groups at each other’s throat. You understand that people fear people who are different from them, and notice how difference is exoticized and exploited by the media.

Albert: Who you think you is? You can’t curse nobody. Look at you. You’re black, you’re poor, you’re ugly, you’re a woman, you’re nothing at all!
Celie: Until you do right by me, everything you even think about gonna fail!
Albert: I’ma knock you under…
Celie: Everything you done to me, you already under, you. I’m poor, I’m black, I may even be ugly, but, dear God, I’m here, I’m here!

 celie What does it mean to be a black woman in this country? It means that you are not crippled by the knowledge that you live among people who despise the likes of you.  Like Rahab and Ruth in the Old Testament who did not let others’ assumptions about their ”foreignness” deter them from making their impact and like the Canaanite woman who thought nothing of taking on Jesus’ own prejudices for her daughter’s right to be healed you learn how to use your space of marginalization and invisibility to your advantage and that of the cause you are struggling for. It means like Celie you figure out that there’s no shame in being black and female, and ain’t no devil in hell nor one around the dinner table gonna intimidate you into thinking and acting otherwise.   

Musings of an Angry Black Woman

Friday, April 18th, 2008

I will attempt to do something today I’ve never been able to do before which is to compose a blog article in thirty minutes. I have a flight in a few hours. There’s not enough time to think a thought all the way through this morning, smooth out its edges, and tuck in the corners. I must content myself with a journal entry. Stalking a thought and seeing where it takes me.

Reading Ruby Sale’s piece earlier in the week on grief and the comments of everyone got me to thinking.

Or is it the fact that I reached for  Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde before heading out the door and started re-reading it on the plane yesterday?

Or is it because I’ve been thinking a lot about what I would do over in my life if I could do portions of it over?

Regardless of what did it, I wake up this morning feeling myself in that suspended space artists know only too well. Where you feel yourself dangling somewhere between intuition and insight.

Thinking about black women’s grief sent me connecting a dot to black women’s anger.

Every Black woman in America lives her life somewhere along a wide curve of ancient and unexpressed angers.

My Black woman’s anger is a molten pond at the core of me, my most fiercely guarded secret. I know how much of my life as powerful feeling woman is laced through the net of rage. It is an electric thread woven into every emotional tapestry upon which I set the essentials of my life—a boiling hot spring likely to erupt at any point, leaping out of my consciousness like a fire on the landscape. How to train that anger with accuracy rather than deny it has been one of the major tasks of my life.

(Lord, I need more than thirty minutes to stalk this topic.)

Why do these words feel like a punch in the gut this morning? Surely I’ve read them lots of times over the years when I’ve returned to Audre Lorde’s essays.

I know the anger that lies inside of me like I know the beat of my heart and the taste of my spit. It is easier to be angry than it is to be hurt. Anger is what I do best. It is easier to be furious that it is to be yearning. Easier to crucify myself in you than to take on the threatening universe.

Every black woman I know has had to battle with the stereotype of her as the angry black woman. The stereotype hinges on the notion that black women are outspoken, unreasonable, uncontrollable, and quick to raise hell. Almost every television show that has ever featured a black woman has had at least one Omarosa character on the show, the angry, outspoken, and all but unhinged black woman railing against everyone and everything. The stereotype takes no account whatsoever of the possibility that our anger might be justified. We are expected to metabolize the daily insult of being overlooked, demoralized, hypersexualized, and loathed— with grace and calm. Anger in women is supposedly unbecoming. I’ve known black women who have risked their sanity and health to hide their anger. They’d risk a nervous breakdown rather than say “back off, and I mean it!”

I am willing to admit now that I wasted a lot of time and energy in the past being angry.

The white flight attendant managed to take everyone’s drink order on the plane yesterday, except mine. She didn’t see me. Ten years ago I would have fumed, seen it as part of a larger plot in the world, and allowed my day to be ruined.  I would have been justified, in part. But ten years later, let it go. What’s at stake? A bag of pretzels and a can of flat soda. I barely noticed I’d been overlooked. I was too absorbed in reading Sister Outsider to care.

I try to preserve my anger these days.

I am ashamed to say that I have not always aimed my anger at the right target in the past. I didn’t have to pull out the blow torch every time something got in my way or someone said something stupid. Blood didn’t always have to spill. There were times I should have taken the time to let myself feel the grief instead of lashing out so quickly. I should have wept first instead of rushing to plot how to get even. Like Job’s friends I should have sat quietly and in solidarity with the afflicted for some time before launching into a passionate tirade against the injustices and the evils of the world.

Mental note to myself of yet another lesson to pass along to my daughter and other young women. (God knows, it’s a lesson I’m still learning.) How to train your anger and let it bring you the clarity you need to fight and survive the fight and come out stronger and wiser than you were before the fight.

It takes time to figure out that anger is a gift from God. Anger helps you set boundaries for yourself. Anger helps you speak up and say when enough is enough. Anger is supposed to make you want to do something about the wrong all around you.

It’s taken years for me to accept the fact that I’m one of those women who feels deeply. Which is both a blessing and a curse. It takes time to learn how to train one’s anger, to aim it at the right target, and to keep the collateral damage to a minimum. Perhaps that’s what the Bible means when it says, “Be angry, but sin not.” Aim with precision.

(Just as I thought, it took longer than thirty minutes to write this blog article. LOL)