Note: In the previous post, I talked about the peculiar feeling of experiencing anger while grieving. This post will be all about anger, so if that is triggering for you, you may want to stop reading.
Note 2: I was going to put this post behind a paywall or a cut to better protect the identity of the person(s) I’m referencing, but the world has and will protect(ed) them enough: they don’t need my help. However, if you feel inclined send a few dollars my way to help pay for the therapy I SO OBVIOUSLY NEED, I am grateful.
I have anger issues.
I didn’t want to believe it before when people —usually white women–levelled this charge against me, because I’m old enough and have experienced enough white nonsense to see it coming from a mile away. In my past life, I went out of my way to not make white people feel uncomfortable, because some of my closest friends — people I loved! — were white people. At some point that shifted, probably around the time all off the nice white lady machinations began on the job and I started speaking up about the way I was being treated in the workplace.
At some point I noticed that when my mental health is in the toilet and I’m struggling to stay afloat, white women’s deflection made me turn my well-honed and exhaustively footnoted anger at the state of the world inward. Instead of hating these women for their unwillingness to acknowledge that the system that we’re both locked in hurts us both (though it hurts you less), I learned to hate myself more, and convinced myself that this was all my fault.
You see, if I only learned how to communicate better, or to be less reactive, or to learn how to comfortably walk on the eggshells white women forced me to walk on, somehow things would magically get better, we could all hold hands, and skip gaily through the fields of togetherness. Because as corny as that sounds, this is the world I actually wanted and tried to build for myself.
So, I tried meditation. I tried working on my anger issues. I tried doing what Jeff Warren suggests in his Daily Trip Calm masterclass: I busted my hump trying to find more creative ways to express my anger. Warren said that if I used passionate words to show how much I cared about something, that I would be inviting people in to see things from my perspective, and they’d want to share the experience with me.
Jeff Warren has obviously never encountered the sheer power that is white supremacy.
My recent relationship with She Who Shall Not Be Named solidified something for me.
As a Black American woman, finding a creative, more “passionate” way to express my feelings is not available to me. The minute I emote above a certain level that a white woman is used to or feels comfortable with, I am considered a threat. I become hostile. I’m “trying to elicit guilt”, or I’m “being toxic”, or I’m just plain “angry”. And any Black woman who is interested in being honest with you will tell you the same thing. If she doesn’t, she’s not only lying to you, but she’s also already decided that you’re someone best kept at arm’s length.
You are not her friend. You are not her ally. In fact, you are the greatest danger to her happiness, safety, and sanity.
When an aggrieved white woman is faced with a Black woman who refuses bend to the white woman’s will and reassure her immediately that she “Sho’ is good, sho’ is kind, and sho’ is important”, then that Black woman must be punished, no matter what it costs.
It took a long time for me to undo this conditioning. I spent a few years jettisoning the dead weight of the white (and non-Black) women who were not ready to do the work. I drew this line in the sand:
If you are a white or non-Black woman who does not accept at the most basic level that systemic racism is a 24/7/365 experience for me; if you don’t understand that your femaleness does not mean that you aren’t capable of acting like an oppressor, if you cannot have empathy for the mental health struggles I’m enduring because of all y’all, then we have nothing to offer each other. Not even the fake Southern niceness that we both know so well.
If you describe me as having a “victim mentality”, or tell me that I’m “too much”, or insist on using the exact same words and language that the greatest threat to American democracy utters on the regular, then you pose a far greater threat to my life than I could ever pose to yours.
Because I am who I am, I turned to books to see if I could find examples of other people who have felt this way because there’s nothing a “Devil’s Advocate” likes better than proof of your argument (that they will ultimately reject as being biased against white people!) and I found that what I had experienced wasn’t in any way unique. In his book Love and Rage, Lama Rod Owens writes about the time in his life when he realized that the anger he was feeling was only causing him more pain on top of the heartbreak (of disappointment) that he experienced. He writes:
I was doing the work of activism, organizing, and attempting to create change because I was pissed off at the world. I was deeply pissed off at being born into this body, deeply pissed off at the system of racism, the system of homophobia. I was very pissed at my trauma and woundedness. I was pissed at all these acts of violence that were perpetually laid upon my body and mind…Yet I still believed that I could somehow use my anger to shatter this system, that once that happened I wouldn’t be angry anymore.
SURPRISE! I’m still really fucking angry!
But this anger is nothing more than a distraction. White supremacy and white nonsense want to distract me from the work of learning to love myself, to take care of myself as only I can. When I join my anger with love — for myself, for my people — the energy that I put out into the world and invest in myself helps me see through the distractions and focus on the real work that must be done.
It turns out, that Andre Henry came to a similar realization that led him to write the book All The White Friends I Couldn’t Keep:
Countless times, the white people I once called friends and family would go blank when they came face to face with Black pain. It was like one of those horror movies where the soul gets snatched out of someone. Like robots programmed to shut down whenever they hear the word race, they always went cold at the exact moment when I—their alleged “Black friend”—would have appreciated their empathy.
Your disbelief, contempt, and dismissiveness of my anger tells me that you’re less interested in helping me shoulder the “bag of rocks” of white supremacy, and if you can’t step in and be a good Samaritan when I most need it, then you are completely useless to me.
I love myself too much and have worked too hard to be caught in your maelstrom of ill will and white fragility. I may have carried a torch for you for 30 years, but the cool thing about torches is that they can be extinguished.
And this is me extinguishing mine.