Opinion: The Black Bitters

A friend jokingly called me an angry black woman. And by so doing became the scapegoat I had been waiting for.  Have you noticed how in conversation with someone of say African descent, you being maybe a caucasian by the name of Victoria, would pull out the angry black person card? This usually happens when your friend, Asantewa, is trying to talk about such things as racism and how it is psychologically damaging and such. You, dear Victoria, have learned to use this magic phrase the moment you start feeling uncomfortable because it brings the disagreeable feelings to an end: All this forever talk on race in the 21st century of "color blindness" is really annoying and has been going on for way too long. People really need to chillax! No? It makes you feel as though you are being accused of something that is no fault of yours. Why should you have to keep taking the backlash? Cannot they see that it makes you feel awful? I mean it is not even your fault that one or two of your ancestors owned people and treated them poorly. For all you know they never did own anyone. Life is complicated and evil is as much a nature of human as good. Besides, if you could go back in time, you would have talked some sense into those ancestors.

Well, calling Asantewa an angry or bitter black woman is like siding with the people who owned other people. Because it is not really about you. It is about a curated society that has been programmed to treat people like Ansantewa in unfair ways; which has been making them uncomfortable for centuries now. So Victoria, Asantewa is trying to explain to you life from her perspective.  She is trying to express her pain or fatigue with the way things are. And you can go on being the good friend that you are and listen to what she is saying without getting extremely defensive (yes, of course, you did not choose to be white, you did not vote for white supremacy––No one is blaming you for anything. Even when you feel as though they are. Trust me,  they are not.) Try to overcome your discomfort or use it to see things as Asantewa does.  I am sure it is difficult having ancestor who owned people but imagine coming from ancestors who were owned. A ton of books can be written and have been written on what this does to self-esteem and sense of identity.

Now you, dear Asantewa, hate being called an angry black woman. You are too educated to be one of those angry black women. So you will bring the topic to a full stop and step into defense mode.  You are going to try to explain to Victoria that you are not angry. You are as far from an angry person as an ape is from the human. In fact, you are the goddess of happiness. When you drag on for a bit and eventually become aware that you have been repeating yourself and Victoria's eyes are now all glazed, you give in to the overwhelming feeling of foolishness and drop the subject altogether. You move on to that other topic that you both agree on; your inability to comprehend how anyone in their right mind would spend so much of their hard-earned money on a product that is heavily branded with the designer's logo: it is like giving them your money and then becoming a free advertisement board for them. Congratulations, Asantewa! you have successfully steered the conversation from the black bitters. But I am sorry to say, you have succeed in bringing yourself a step closer to becoming a silent angry person. And that is very unhealthy. A good shrink may make a ton of money off of you someday. Providing you are able to afford one.

I have noticed this pattern and it often surprises me.  I keep hearing people like Asantewa say I do not want to come across as an angry woman. Are you freaking kidding me? Why? What is wrong with being angry? The last time I checked it is a legitimate human emotion and we all have a right to it. How is it any sensible to not be angry when you are treated unfairly every corner of your life? It is cruel to be kicked and told you cannot cry. It is weird to be taught to speak a language only to be banned from the use of it. Yes yes yes yes you are allowed to be angry! It is human to be angry. You have feelings, you have a mind, you want happiness, too. It makes sense to be angry when some people are constantly
telling you that you are not good enough because of the color of your skin and the awesome fun texture of your wickedly cool hair––when you and I know that you are great enough. How can you exercise change if you cannot even show anger towards a treatment that is geared into destroying you?

I  for one believe in anger and I know it can be crucial when one wishes to effect change. That intense emotion has led me to achieve some very grand victories that are now a little scary to recall: Once I stood up to a bully who was about two times my size and weight and it was all because I was so tired of being bullied and so angry that I did not care how big they were.  I was about 6 years old then. Here is another one: I was sitting in an empty train with a group of boys when the train stopped and one of them run and tried to snatch my iPod. But my grasp was firmer than he had anticipated. He run out before the door closed, leaving behind his friends. I was so outraged I forgot to be frightened. I lashed out at them. Narrating to them how long it took to work and save and eventually buy that iPod. What gave them the right to try to rob it right out of my hands? At least you have a job, they told me. We are unable to find any. Well you ought to keep trying, I tell them. It was not easy for me to get my job either. And it is really uncool of you to go about targeting poor girls, I exclaimed and went back to listening to my music. Later when I was off the train and walking home I realized what had happened. The rest of the boys on the train could have managed to finish the job the other boy started, but they were shocked by my anger. And through it we managed to actually have a conversation.

So I tell my friend, anger is a human emotion and when circumstances ignite it, one has every right to express it. And if I appear to you as an angry black woman, you should be worried about how you perceive me rather than how I feel. I have every right to express my frustrations without being cast into a stereotype. I deserve to be treated fairly, just like everyone else, and when I am not being treated as such I have a right to demand it without being made to feel as though I ought to be thankful for what I already have and ashamed to demand better. Do you not think that I have the right to be upset? Do you not realize that what I am talking about is a state of discomfort for me, too? That you are uncomfortable is good because it means you are listening. We are both uncomfortable in this moment, you are not alone, so there is no need for you to make me feel even worse by using phrases that have been created to silence people like me from having conversations as such. What I am complaining about is the fact that I am being told that I am not even allowed to be angry about a situation that deserves my ire. How is one supposed to feel if they are being denied the  right of a natural emotion.  It is like you are now claiming to be God or something. It is also quite irritating that one cannot talk about how one feels without losing one's individuality. Others see it fit to make one into the spokesperson of a race, or of a gender. That is problematic and good reason enough for one to be furious. If one is, therefore, angry, it is not because one wishes to be, but rather that our society ignite such feelings. And how is one supposed to break free of these barriers if it does not anger them? And when did the ability to feel anger become a luxury that cannot be afforded by all.

My friend was surprised. Like I said, they were joking. But in truth they wanted to silence me, and the "angry black" phrase is infamous for shutting people up. I did not know I was waiting for a scapegoat until our conversation was over and I found myself reflecting on it. I realized then that I was a little too eager to share with my friend how I felt about that phrase. Anger is often an ingredient in the recipe for change and anger needs an outlet. A healthy outlet. To keep disappointments and frustration boiling inside one is a way to bitterness. But even if anger is expressed in awful ways, one learns from it, forgives oneself, and hopefully does not repeat the same mistakes again. Besides, the important thing is not that someone thinks you are an angry person but that you take steps to not become a bitter person.


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