We Must Name Our Anger

We’re told that our anger is the real problem — but maybe it’s a tool that should guide us.

This story is featured in Issue №1 of Anxy, a fresh magazine that takes a creative perspective on the inner worlds we often refuse to share.

I am an angry black woman.

I used to work very hard to avoid that descriptor. I used to busily reassure people that no, I am not angry. I used to force smiles and swallow pain and reassure everyone that I was fine.

But I am not fine. I am angry.

And I have a lot to be angry about. I am angry that I have to see so many black men and women murdered by police without any justice. I am angry that my 15-year-old son is already terrified of cops. I am angry that black households have, on average, 12 times less net worth than white households.

I am angry at the unchecked rise of racism, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism in America.

I am angry that this country elected an ignorant and unqualified bigot into our highest office.

I am angry that my 9-year-old son feels utterly failed by the adult society that was supposed to protect him from racist hate.

I am angry that the color of my skin is one of the biggest indicators of not only the quality of my life, but also of my life expectancy. I am angry that my son’s transgender classmates are being told by our federal government that they cannot use the restroom in safety. I am angry that this administration is gleefully deporting brain cancer patients and domestic violence victims. I am angry that my fears look so similar to the fears that black people had in the 1950s.

I know why I am angry, and I know who I am angry at.

I am angry at school systems that refuse to treat implicit bias and the criminalization of black and brown youth as the emergency that it is. I am angry at politicians who knowingly activate and exploit voter bigotry with phrases like “black-on-black crime” and I am angry at the voters who fall for it, despite all of the scholarship out there that shows such dogwhistling to be a racist trap.

I am angry at media that constantly portrays my people as violent and unpredictable. I am angry at business and community leaders who will stoke xenophobia to distract from their exploitation of the poor. I am angry at those who value their comfort so much that they’d rather call me a liar than face the truth of how this country treats so many of us.

It would be appalling to not be angry at these things. To ask me not to be would be to ask me to divorce myself from reality.

I wake up angry, I eat lunch angry, I go to bed angry. I am even more angry than the white people who complain about angry black women think I am. I am seething with every cell of my being. People try to silence that anger.

People try to tell me to let it go, for my own good. But even if I die from a stress-induced heart attack at 45, it is not the anger that will have killed me. Anger is the appropriate response to violation, assault, oppression, exploitation. It cannot be willed away, and it cannot fade as long as the situation remains. And it should not fade. My anger is rooted in seeing what I love and cherish abused and threatened. My anger, acknowledged and focused, fuels my fight for justice.

There is a lot to be angry about in this world, but you wouldn’t know that on the surface, because we are told the opposite. We are told to not be angry about the exploitation of labor, the inequalities in our system, the brutality of capitalism, the subjugation of women and POC, the erasure of the disabled, the destruction of our environment. We are told that our anger is unproductive. So we do not acknowledge our anger. We smile and say that everything is fine. But the situation remains, and so does the anger, unnamed and unfocused.

I have come face to face with those who believed that they were not allowed to be angry at their place in the world. I have seen that anger floating behind their eyes, searching for a respectable place to pour it out. I’ve seen the release and relief in those eyes when someone comes by to name their anger for them, even when it is not the right name.

I’ve seen them unleash a lifetime of pain onto those deemed acceptable receptacles — women, children, immigrants, people of color. Still unaddressed, they search for more targets, more places where they can focus this rage, other than the rightful places, places they’ve been told they can never blame.

We’re told that our anger is the real problem. We are told that our anger has no source other than our own lack of self-control. We are told that we are incapable of understanding our own anger, that what we are experiencing is not to be trusted. And so, instead of becoming a tool that can guide us to the source of our oppression, our anger becomes a weapon in reserve for others. Our anger waits to be claimed by those who would rename it and use it to commit atrocities in that name. Our bloodiest history has been made with armies of anger exploited.

Claim your anger.

Hold it up to the light and look at it.

Give it a name.

If you are angry, you are angry for a reason. Investigate what you think you know about your anger and ask yourself, “Who have I allowed to define this?” We become truly angry when that which we love is harmed — in our communities or in ourselves. Trace your anger back to that love and see that it is worthy of study and care. Do not let any pundit or politician or online personality define something so precious for you.

My anger is righteous and true. Yours is as well. You just have to find it.

This story is from Issue №1 of Anxy, a new magazine that takes a creative perspective on the inner worlds we often refuse to share. The inaugural issue examines anger from a range of perspectives, featuring Margaret E. Atwood, Matt Eich, Melissa Spitz, and many more. Buy your copy now.

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