Rapper Grand Master Flash has a song called “Close to the Edge.” The lyrics are, “Don’t push me cause I’m close to the edge, I’m trying not to lose my head. It’s like a jungle sometimes. It makes me wonder how I keep from goin’ under.”
Black women are often stereotyped as aggressive and angry. For decades we have worked hard to refute this caricature of who people portray us as. We are told to tone it down when we are passionate about something. Told to smile more because our frowns are intimidating. We are not afforded the grace of having a bad day as our white counterparts. We were taught from childhood that we had to be more prepared, more under control, and to maintain a stoic resolve.
Recently, my brother recommended a book to me by author, Brittany Cooper, Ph.D. The book’s title is “Eloquent Rage.” Dr. Cooper states in one section that resonated with me, “Black women know what it means to love ourselves in a world that hates us. We know what it means to do a whole lot with very little, to “make a dollar out of fifteen cents.”
We know what it means to face horrific violence and trauma from both our community and our nation-state and carry-on anyway. But we also scream, and cry, and hurt, and mourn, and struggle. We get heartbroken; our feelings get stepped on, our dreams get crushed. We get angry, and we express that anger. We know what it means to feel invisible.”
In her book, Dr. Cooper shares a story of Maria Stewart, A Black female abolitionist. Ms. Stewart challenged an audience of Black and white men and women in the 1830s, with the question, “How long shall the fair daughters of Africa, be compelled to bury their minds and talents beneath iron pots and kettles?”
According to a 2014 study by the National Center for Education, Black women make up 12.7% of the female population, but consistently make up over 50% of the African American population who receive post-secondary degrees.
Despite being termed the most educated group in the United States, Black women still only make 63% of what non-Hispanic white men are paid. Even Black women, who are highly educated, such as physicians and surgeons, make fifty-two cents for every dollar paid to their white counterparts.
US Bureau of Labor Statistics report that Black women employed as full-time minimum wage workers is higher than any other racial group. These women, during the COVID19 pandemic, are now considered essential workers. They do not have the luxury of working from home. Many working with co-morbidity conditions making them high risk for contracting the Covid19 virus. They are working for minimum wages, while 40 million people are home, collecting unemployment benefits with an additional stimulus of $600 a week from the federal government.
According to the African American Policy Institute, the stress of racism and sexism, combined with the stress of serving as the primary caretakers of our communities, takes a toll on Black women’s health.
We are the mothers of Emmett Till, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Philando Castile, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. Mothers, where too often, no one is ever held accountable for the deaths of our sons and daughters. We are mothers that when our sons and daughters go out the door, we can’t breathe until they return home safely.
I recently watched an interview with Rev. Bernice King, the youngest daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and Coretta Scott King. Bernice talked about being angry at God, angry at white people, and even angry at Black people. She said she traveled with that anger all of her life, and it eventually turned into hate, particularly toward white men.
Bernice talked about seeking counseling, which was necessary and essential for her own self-care. She described hate as someone drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Bernice also talked about the danger of suppressed emotions turning into physical illness. She said that we need to visit those emotions, but we should not reside there.
As I put my thoughts into words, the title of this piece changed from “Embracing Being an Angry Black Woman” to “Righteous Anger.” I understand that we must not let our anger control us but let it fuel us.
During his Commencement Speech to the 2020 HBCU’s graduates, President Barack Obama said to them, “The fight for equality and justice begins with awareness, empathy, passion, and even righteous anger.” He reminded them of the words of Fannie Lou Hamer, who said, “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”
I began to think about some of the powerful Black women, who did not let their circumstances keep them from forging ahead and fighting for the change they desired to see. I thought about Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Shirley Chisholm, Black Lives Matter Founders, Patrice Cullor, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi.
In 1963, Fannie Lou Hamer was beaten within an inch of her life while in custody of the Winona Mississippi Sheriff’s Dept. That did not stop her from attending the 1964 Democratic National Convention. She and others demanded that their Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party be seated as delegates, instead of the all-white Mississippi delegation.
Fannie Lou never stopped her fight for civil rights. In 1994 the Ruleville Mississippi Post Office was named the Fannie Lou Hamer Post Office, by an Act of Congress.
I think about my own circle of strong Black women–Women who are letting their own righteous anger propel them to do the work necessary to make the American ideal of a fair and just society a reality.
These sisters serve in the state assembly, on the city council, on the school board, on the park board, on the county board; they are lawyers, doctors, teachers, preachers, law enforcement, entrepreneurs; they run newspapers, run non-profits, they work 9-5 jobs, they are PhDs, and they are community activist. Because of the work Black women are doing, change is inevitable. We Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Us Around.