race + gender + politics

On Being a Black Woman Who’s Angry

September 10, 2012

Hol’ up. Whatchu say?

Disclaimer: I know. I know. I’ve been ghost for a minute. Just give me the “just got her PhD” pass and let’s forget this happened. I’m back, and that’s what’s important!!

By now, many of you have likely heard about MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry being uhh very REAL with one of her show’s panelists (Melissa Mehta).  The discussion at the time centered around welfare, and this notion of class mobility. Mehta insisted class mobility was enabled by “taking risks,” to which MHP emphatically declared – while slamming her hand on the table, “What is riskier than living poor in America?! Seriously, what in the world is riskier than being a poor person in America?! …I am sick of the idea that being wealthy is risky. No! There is a huge safety net that whenever you fail will catch you and catch you and catch you. Being poor is what is risky.” MHP later apologized on air for her outburst. But the damage had been done – she got your girl Gemmie FIRED UP!! I thought, Melissa girl speak on it!!!! Don’t apologize for being passionate and enraged by the bullsh*t! EXCLAMATION POINT!

Now, this post isn’t about what MHP said so much as it is about how she said it.

A friend of mine wrote a post on her blog about this very situation. The following excerpt really stuck out to me:

 After I posted the clip to my FB page, a former student of mine, simply commented that this was an example of “eloquent rage.” She knew I would get the reference, because the first time she ever used it was in reference to me, and my impassioned style of teaching students about the politics of race, class, and gender. My first reaction to being characterized in this way was denial. “I’m not angry,” I told her. “I’m passionate.” And then she looked at me with a tell-tale knowing honesty and said simply, “You know you’re angry, Brittney.” (Sometimes in some places, I let my students call me by name.)

It was one of the most transformative moments in my teaching because I realized a.) that it was anger, and not merely passion b.) that I was bringing it with me into the classroom c.) that I had a right to be angry about the injustices that I teach about  and live daily and d.) I could resist and deny my anger or use it to make me better at what I do. I chose the latter.

After reading this, I was inspired me to write this post. So often I think black women (especially) are made to believe that being angry about something is a problem. There is this stigma of “the angry black girl/woman” that many of us educated black women try to avoid. (Maybe all the single black women who angrily claim there are no good single black men started it? But I digress…) We don’t want to “go off” or express our true angry/disgruntled/upset feelings for fear of being labeled in a negative way. I notice that white people often get really offended or uncomfortable when a person of color speaks out in a passionate or enraged way about an issue that is of particular importance to them.

And in all fairness, maybe it is scary when some one gets noticeably upset at something you say but aren’t aware would warrant such a response – elevated voice volume, tensed neck muscles, flared nostrils, waving hands. But if this isn’t their default demeanor or communication style, it’s probably an isolated event and no need to panic.

That said, sometimes that’s needed. I, for one, am so sick and tired of having to tip toe around the fact that certain issues that are being improperly addressed, or not addressed at all, in this society are ENRAGING. So you’re damn skipping I’m angry, and I may just have to let you know in a not so subtle way that it pisses me off! I’m not always going to cloak my discontented feelings about certain hateful/ignorant/dismissive attitudes and policies because it makes some one uncomfortable.

I have a right to be angry and to show my anger. My outward expression of said anger isn’t usually intentional or calculated, and certainly not meant to demean or bully anyone. For me, it just happens, when I can’t hold on to those feelings anymore. And I combust.

Being angry (in certain contexts) doesn’t make me bitter or hateful or unreasonable. It just makes me angry. And I’ve finally reached a point in my life where I’m comfortable with possessing that emotion and expressing it. It just beez like that sometimes. Being angry isn’t who I am, just how I feel. So I LOVED that MHP said what she said the way she said it – because it was TRUE (even if just to her), and it needed to be said at that very moment.

Can anyone else (male or female) feel me on being angry sometimes? Have you been told you’re angry because of your position on certain things?

A black woman who can be angry,
Gemmie

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For the video of the entire segment, you can see it here.

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17 Comments

  • Reply simplysope September 10, 2012 at 9:50 am

    I think the reason why many people of color have issues being openly angry, is that often other people use your skin color to negate your anger. Its as if, “Oh here goes old angry black person. Their anger can’t be legit because it stems from some irrational race anger”

    I think I’ve gotten to a point where I’m not going to let anyone nullify the legitimacy of my anger. Weirdly, at this point in my life, it seems that 2520’s (at least the ones I meet) don’t seem bothered by it. On the contrary I’ve actually had people in my graduate program who have told me they just “want to hear everything I have to say”. I’d love to say this is because the climate is changing and people are just being more open, but I think I’m just lucky. In either case, I’m not going to let anyone tell me that my feelings aren’t valid, and if that makes me an “Angry Black Women” then so be it.

    BTW => “EXCLAMATION POINT!” <= I'm going to start typing that to punctuate points.

    Great post Dr. Gem, and thanks for featuring one of my top girl crushes MHP. 🙂

    • Reply gemmieboo September 11, 2012 at 12:11 am

      I think I’ve gotten to a point where I’m not going to let anyone nullify the legitimacy of my anger.

      EXACTLY!!! me being black and openly angry should not negate the fact that the issues bringing forth this anger arent important or worth discussing. well said, chica!

      and yes, in many circles my ranting and enraged outbursts are welcomed and encouraged. some ppl dont mind it but still feel offended, like im personally attacking them and then we have to have a “this isnt about YOU” convo. and after that song and dance we’re good again. haha

      lmbo sometimes typing out “exclamation point” is more effective than a long string of them. at least thats how it comes out in my mind lol

      thanks for reading and commenting – good to know you feel me!

  • Reply AfterMath September 10, 2012 at 9:54 am

    When I saw this, I immediately thought of Chris Matthews recent outburst on Morning Joe talking to the RNC chair about the racist tactics of Romney talking about Welfare. I think that the reaction to his “outburst” compared to that of MHP is quite different. Given, he did make some people uncomfortable by using the ‘r’ word, but people say stuff like “he just likes to argue”, or “he was picking on the little guy. He wouldn’t say that to Rush”. But with MHP the conversation immediately questions her authority and rights to speak in such a tone.

    Honestly, I was mad that she apologized. Its like if I were to grab a piece of candy off your desk and you go and take my car keys out of my coat pocket and take my car, then say, “Well we both did wrong”. And I’m supposed to smile and have a polite conversation trying to explain that a fifty cent candy and a ten thousand dollar car are not in the same universe. But this only matters if I’ve got certain characteristics because if I’m a white male then people understand the rage of the situation, but otherwise its like “why are you so mad”

    • Reply gemmieboo September 11, 2012 at 12:19 am

      ah man, i wish i could have seen that Chris Matthews outburst! im gonna have to google it. but you’re right, the person going ham (probably both a gender AND race thing at play) will dictate how its received by the larger public. but really, its not surprising. no matter what authority a black woman media personality has.

      we – black women – are always charged with being humble, gracious, and willing to take a step back when we feel an emotional response coming on. and i think its BS.

      i understand WHY MHP apologized. but obviously as a person who understands and who has been there before, i dont feel it was necessary. she didnt disrespect anyone or say something out of line. she simply spoke from the heart. and i will forever love that tv moment.

  • Reply Wu Young, Agent of M.E. September 10, 2012 at 12:57 pm

    The rules are different for sisters at the job which is more than unfair. It’s not so obvious at my current job (Oddly, enough the one sister at the job gets treated a lot different because she’s not a black -American. She’s from Zimbabwe so it’s almost as if she get’s a pass and all of her opinions are heard by the good ole boys.) but I’ve seen differences and perceptions in action.

    Can anyone else (male or female) feel me on being angry sometimes? — Being that I’m the only male Negroid type in my office(I’m also the only non-attorney male in my office too. #doublebonus) I’m overdue for a good outburst. Chris Rock once joked that America will have truly become a land of equality when a black person and suck at his job just as bad a white person and KEEP their job. I’ll take it one step further– America will have reached its equality apex when a black person can flip out on their job like their white counterparts and KEEP their job!

    Have you been told you’re angry because of your position on certain things? — Due to my office demographics above the words “You’re angry, Keith!” have never been uttered toward me in that particular order but it damn sure has been implied… and that implication is a m*****f***er.

    Honestly, I could care less most times but I too am a m*****f***er.

    • Reply gemmieboo September 11, 2012 at 12:25 am

      as for black men dealing with this problem – im certainly sure yall do! esp around your white counterparts. but often black women are labeled “angry” for their outbursts by black men too. which is why i think we often just get a negative look all around. but all that to say – i know yall got it bad too.

      I think I’ve gotten to a point where I’m not going to let anyone nullify the legitimacy of my anger.

      you aint neva lied!!!!!

      i would pay good money to see you go Angry Black Keith on the job. like, seriously. lol

  • Reply madscientist7 September 10, 2012 at 1:44 pm

    i commend MHP for attempting to put ole girl in her place. i say attempting because she was so far removed from what struggle is she didn’t get the point that MHP was trying to make. the look on her face was priceless though when MHP banged on the table.

    i feel you Gem. being labeled the angry black man is in my opinion just as bad as being labeled an angry black woman. this is especially true when you’re the only black person (like I am) in your whole department. any sign of emotion or divergence from the norm is attributed being the typical angry black man.

    quick story. sometime last year my LB came to visit me. he wanted to get some food that he could only get in harlem so i took him to sylvias. i had pork chops, mac and cheese, green beans and cornbread with the most delicious red velvet cake you could imagine. i could only finish about half of my food so i took the rest to work the next day. the next day was REALLY busy so i didn’t get a chance to eat lunch. i left my food in the fridge and the cake sitting on top of the fridge. i was like well i’ll eat it as an early dinner. why someone ate half my cake and left the other half? like took a bite out the cake. didn’t even use a fork. i was so heated but if i would have sent out an email i would have been the angry black dude. grinds my gears.

    • Reply Wu Young, Agent of M.E. September 10, 2012 at 1:49 pm

      I’ve actually sent a similar e-mail like that work because people screwing with my food is a rage trigger that I don’t ignore.

      • Reply madscientist7 September 10, 2012 at 2:45 pm

        i don’t usually bring my food to work but that day? i was pissed. i was like i’m gonna make a cupcake with exlax and see who has to use the bathroom frequently.

      • Reply Wu Young, Agent of M.E. September 10, 2012 at 3:23 pm

        Cupcake with exlax would be a nice look. I love the asymetrical warfare aspect of that.

    • Reply gemmieboo September 11, 2012 at 12:30 am

      yeah, Mehta didnt even TRY to hear what MHP was saying. she just wanted to reiterate her point. which was irrelevant and poorly supported by whatevs… to hell with ppl like her. smdh.

      I think I’ve gotten to a point where I’m not going to let anyone nullify the legitimacy of my anger.

      its never a good look to be the ONLY black person because you are automatically “angry” if you arent the epitome of sunshine and rainbows. there have been times that when i didnt smile (not frown, but just be expressionless while working) that ppl thought i was ready to go postal. like what? im minding my own damn business and doing work, why are you asking me if im ok?!?! i dont have a problem but its bout to BE a problem!!

      ummm i would have sent out an email. actually no, i would have made a VERY LOUD announcement to the entire lab how un-OK that shit was. well, old-Gemmie would have done that. new-Gem wouldnt need to do that cuz muhfuggas already know NOT to take me there…

      • Reply madscientist7 September 11, 2012 at 11:20 pm

        i couldn’t be THAT loud or demonstrative because i was still sort of new there. i want to say i was still in my probationary period. i think i would say something now.

        as far as people asking me if i’m ok a lot of times i don’t even give them the chance to because i stay with headphones in my ears. i know its antisocial but i don’t care. a lot of people in my department speak to each other in chinese or japanese which i think is rude so its an even trade off.

  • Reply Cheekie September 10, 2012 at 4:48 pm

    “eloquent rage”

    Your friend’s former student nailed that term because right after I watched that MHP clip I was tryna come up with a term to describe how MHP was able to draw the line between full-out batsh*t outburst and classy professionalism. Because she was truly right there in that perfected medium. The part of her that is HUMAN first was expressing pure emotion from whats going on in the world and at the same time, she was able to express such in such an eloquent fashion that it still seemed professional, in a way.

    I totally feel this post, Gemmie and it’s a great one. Oftentimes when someone expresses an extreme emotion, folks are quicker to judge the emotion instead of assessing WHY said emotion exists. And to me, that’s a problem. And said problem gets bigger, depending on the issue and its severity on society, because it leads us further and further away from solving it.

    “I’m not always going to cloak my discontented feelings about certain hateful/ignorant/dismissive attitudes and policies because it makes some one uncomfortable.”

    Yop! How is one, who is BEYOND uncomfy in their status supposed to put theirs aside in order to appease someone else’s uncomfort? That makes little to NO sense, and yet social norms dictate this to us… especially if you’re an oppressed group. It KILLS me, yo. SMH…

    • Reply gemmieboo September 11, 2012 at 12:38 am

      The part of her that is HUMAN first was expressing pure emotion from whats going on in the world and at the same time, she was able to express such in such an eloquent fashion that it still seemed professional, in a way.

      100% agree!!

      Oftentimes when someone expresses an extreme emotion, folks are quicker to judge the emotion instead of assessing WHY said emotion exists.

      precisely this. and part of wanting to write this post is to say, we can still have a very civil conversation and grow from this even if i am angry. because WHY im angry is what’s bringing about this emotion. and the WHY is what we should focus on. and unfortunately with Mehta, she wasnt even trying to LISTEN to what MHP had to say – she was too focused on making her point – which was completely besides the damn point!

      thanks for commenting cheeks. great insight.

  • Reply fourpageletter September 10, 2012 at 10:59 pm

    great post dr gem.
    its funny that only certain people get to be angry and express it. freedom of speech is only allowed for certain folks.
    privilege and entitlement rearing its ugly head over and over again.

  • Reply Kim February 11, 2013 at 7:02 am

    IDK. As a black woman I feel there is a social disconnect with whites. Being a professional,I deal with lower class whites thinking I have the same ghetto issues they do, so I can relate to them (when they find out I don’t have their issues, they don’t like me) or I deal with whites that are on my level that feel the need to compete with me to prove that they are better. This is the majority of whites I deal with, but there is a category, a very small category of whites who get the bs. They know what it is…but quite frankly to them and to me(at times) the system is set in stone. People like the status quo of our society because it benefits them. It’s only when they are poor and suffering do whites understand the plight of poor blacks or atleast they try to relate. But truth be told even poor whites have a better chance of making it than poor blacks.

    They only people I know that get is are other minorities and first generation Africans, Asians, and Europeans. Whites at best are good acquaitances at work/schools, while my real friends are other minorities adn first generation people. They just get it. For some reason there is a disconnect with whites of all social strata.

    I find the best way to not deal with the bs is to get a profession that pays well so you don’t have to deal with white societies bs.

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