I’m an angry black woman. For the first time, I’m not apologizing.

I’ve always loved turning heads when I enter a place — but this is not what I had in mind.

Chanda Daniels
Jun 18, 2020 · 8 min read

When I enter a room, there’s a sensation that hits me immediately, like putting your hand under a boiling hot faucet or stepping outside into the bitter cold. It’s a discomfort that I’ve almost always felt, but never quite adjusted to. I can’t help but think, “I’m the token black woman, again.”

I learned the world wasn’t built for black people through my love of performing. I adore the theater, costumes, and larger than life dances — spending hours practicing choreography in my room until it became part of me. When I was 13, I auditioned for my first high school play and was cast as a lead dancer. I ran home to tell my mom the good news along with a list of items I needed for practice. My excitement peaked when we made a special trip to Capezio, a high-end dance outfitter. I dressed for my first practice in my new attire — a pure black leotard with dance shorts, a fresh pair of tights, and newly broken in character shoes — feeling like a true performer.

As I entered the theater for our first practice, I joined a group of friends chatting on the stage while warming up. One mentioned how she couldn’t choose between two tights because she didn’t know which one matched her skin tone better. An echo of agreement rang around me and I looked down at the beige tights against my medium-dark skin, embarrassed.

When I was in the store, all the tights and shoes looked the same, varying from pure white to a deep tan. I assumed it was arranged by type or fabric, but never considered skin tone since mine wasn’t an option on the wall. We started practice and I took my place in the back of the group, scanning the girls in front of me to recognize that I was the only one without tights that melted seamlessly into her legs.

Me at 16 — center stage — at my first theater showcase.

Most people think Black people’s anger is based solely on major tragedies like the horrific murders of George Floyd or Breonna Taylor. While that’s part of the pain, my anger is built layer by layer, on a foundation of hundreds of small microaggressions so casual, when you call them out, it’s dismissed as trivial. White people retort, “‘Oh it’s just tights, it’s just a band aid, it’s just a magazine, it’s just a joke.” But it’s not just something when it amounts to the constant reminders of how your skin tone, culture, needs don’t matter, so the anger simmers.

It was a typical 15-year-old-in-2010 hang out: ordering pizza, blasting the Jonas Brothers, and of course, talking about our love interests. This night I was hanging out with my then best friend B, a strawberry-blonde freckled girl who always had a wild story that I only half-believed. I was sitting on the sofa behind her, scrolling through her crushes profile on Facebook, when she asked me, ‘Are you into blondes or brunettes? Green eyes or blue?’ I took a beat while sorting through my confusion at the question.

Most non-white people, like myself, have brown eyes and hair, but I realized this is a moment those lessons were preparing me for. Just like I learned I didn’t have a choice of tights — Black and brown people often weren’t factored in white people’s perspective of the world.

When you’re Black, you’re taught different lessons than your white friends. Lessons on how to adapt to the white world around you. Things like how to pack for trips because hotels won’t have shampoo for your hair type and how to cope with the subtle suggestions from white peers on how you can be ‘prettier,’ less ‘sassy,’ or more ‘professional.’ Things that could save your life, like what to do when a cop approaches you. I was angry that everything seemed so complicated, but I listened to these lessons, because at the end of the day, all I wanted was to be accepted.

The scene is often the same.

I enter a room lit by harsh fluorescent lights; I pull up a seat to a large boardroom table and sit across from a series of white people. They hold all the power. Advocates who claim they were fighting for Black people but never stepped foot in majority-Black zip codes or made big statements that clearly excluded my community’s needs ­– the political equivalent of ‘green eyes or blue.’

As most Washingtonians know, working in politics is nodding and agreeing when necessary to get things done, but I raised an eyebrow at the bullshit I saw around me. I was mad as hell, but I stayed silent — because I thought the only way to make change was to climb the ladder and eventually secure a spot at the top.

Me attending a networking event during peak political life time.

But after being weighed down by all the layers of microaggressions and snide comments, I started to shrink, becoming less of myself and more of what the world around me wanted me to be. I kept myself in check to make sure I wasn’t falling into the trope of the angry Black woman, an archetype who is loud, rude and worthy of dismissal, because I wanted to prove everyone wrong.

Eventually I settled into another trope, as the token Black woman, but with a deep resentment. I began to wonder why there weren’t spaces for people like me. I began to collect new lessons from my experiences, mapping out a path to inform a vision of the kind of community I hoped could exist in the future.

Over time, acting how I was “supposed to” just became part of me. I found my niche in gender advocacy, eventually landing a position at an international gender equity organization. Mobilized and ready, I attended an event about advocating for women. I walked up to the group and the wave of discomfort washed over me. I felt like I was back on the stage with those beige tights on. I pulled up a seat across the table. I was the only Black woman in the room. Again.

For a long time, I took the rush of anger in those moments as a warning to stop. I misinterpreted anger as pity, shame, or isolation. A way of saying my blackness and identity might not be accepted, that it was time to shape shift once again.

But when I settled into my place at the table during the advocacy event , I had a moment of clarity. Anger can remind you of your values, what’s right and wrong. Anger is an emotion you have when you have been mistreated, let down, dismissed, or overlooked. Anger is what you feel when you’ve felt like enough’s fucking enough.

Anger mobilized me to decide that no one deserves to feel that way when they walk into a room anymore. Anger is what made me dream of a space for all women — a place where no one’s identity was an afterthought, like I felt mine was for so long. So, I made one.

Me, left and my co-founder Ellen, right.

I met Ellen Miller, my now co-founder and friend, one night in the most DC way: we were both attending the Women Making History Awards Ceremony. We spent the entire evening together and shared our visions for the future. “I feel like every space makes me feel like I’m a checkbox in the diversity list versus being celebrated and valued,” I disclosed to her. ‘I’m tired of it. I just wish there was a place where we can get women together — I mean all women — not just the ones who can pay 200 dollars a month to be part of a community. A place to talk about real issues and do something about it.”

Ellen completely agreed and responded, “I’ve always wanted to do this too. I have a folder on my computer titled ‘Salon’ full of ideas. But you know we can do this, and we make it an actual thing.” Maybe it was the sangria at Barcelona or maybe it was just meant to be, but we became partners. With Ellen’s savvy and strategic mind, plus my enthusiasm, the seed for The Reclaim was planted.

When creating The Reclaim, we wanted to build a place where people could be who they are, learning from my lifelong experience of feeling the opposite. A community to meet other women who are tired of the same conversations about inclusivity and in a setting where we can all safely speak. When ideating on how to build a community, we decided to flip the standard event model on its head, choosing a small, intimate choose-what-you-pay model. A typical event brings together twelve women-identifying folks for a community hour to connect about shared passions rather than resumes, then Ellen and I facilitate a group discussion that digs deeper on an issue — think self-care or the wage gap — ending with an advocacy action each person can do then and there.

We’re over the status quo. But not just us — women, Black people, people of color, LGBTQIA+ people, undocumented people, overweight people, poor people, and so on and so forth, are pissed off. And rightfully so.

I’ve decided that I no longer want to climb a ladder that wasn’t built for me to get to the top. I want to tear it down, create a new ladder, and insert new voices in the rungs. And fuck anyone who want us to shrink ourselves, mold, conform, and be complacent. I’ve always been mad as hell — how could I not be? After a lifetime of never feeling like I can be honest, safe, or truly myself. We all see the repercussions of being Black and not complying in a white world — for a lot of us — it can cost us our lives, but nothing’s going to change unless we take action and do it.

I’m an angry black woman, and for the first time, I’m not apologizing.

I’m owning my voice now, unapologetically.

When we launched The Reclaim, I finally walked into a room and pulled up a chair at the head of the table, and for the first time, I wasn’t the only Black woman or woman of color sitting around it.

The Reclaim’s launch event where we tackled the wage disparity.

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