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It is a sad time for black women in this country. I would love to say that this time is unique and unlike many times our foremothers faced after being stolen and brought to this country, holding their souls and dignity like shreds they were determined to never release. But we know this is not true. Today, as we carry rage and sadness and feel an insurmountable distrust of the legal system because of the death of Sandra Bland, the abuse of young girls, and hundreds of black women who have died in police custody, I know we are not so different than our foremothers who experienced similar emotions related to systemic racism in their time. This sadness/anger seems to be a frequent visitor in the lives of black women who choose to be conscious of the injustices of racism, and even some who don’t choose.
I frequently hear black women say they are tired or exhausted because of the burden that consciousness entails. We are indeed tired of hearing about our sisters being mishandled, mistreated, maligned, and murdered. We are tired of hearing about our brothers being gunned down by cops and vigilantes. We are tired of worrying about our children and whether they will grow up with the fact of their humanity constantly under attack. I see the fatigue, the depression, and the lurking helplessness that sometimes creeps around the corners of our eyes.
I recently asked a fellow black woman about the angle she takes when talking to her daughter about race. In response, I was treated to the most elaborate circumvention of a question that I have ever seen.
After looking at my confused eyes, laced with disbelief and sadness, and realizing that I was disappointed with her response, she gave up and said with a sigh, “I guess I just don’t want to raise her to be an angry female.” Those words rang in my ears. I wondered if being labeled an “angry female” is all that conscious black women have to look forward to.
I asked her what is wrong with being angry if black people are being systemically oppressed? Then, I told her that the knowledge about the history of black people in this country that I was entrusted with as a child has done more than make me an angry woman. It has given me pride, a sense of identity, and a rich cultural heritage, among other things. The anger that resides in me is primarily due to the constant injustices and cases of cultural racism that I witness. There also resides in me an undying joy and love for life.
Nonetheless, her comment got me thinking.
Can joy and anger fully reside in one being? Does one negate the other? Can we fully express our rage as well as nurture our joy? If I take a moment to feel the sun on my skin and laugh a belly laugh with a girlfriend over ice cream, does that mean that I have stopped crying inside for Sandra Bland? If I enjoy dinner with my husband and decide to not talk about what’s going on in the news, does that make me less aware?
We have too many cultural images of black women that paint us as perpetually angry or as inhumanly helpful and subservient. In these racially charged times, we will frequently reach our boiling points. We may become depressed. We may feel suffocated by the insidious racism we witness. To feel and express this rage is our right. Indeed, any change that has come for black people in America has been due, in part, to the widespread outrage and anger that mobilized a people to fight and demand change.
More Radical Reads: 4 Ways White People Can Process Their Emotions Without Bringing the White Tears
Sadness is natural, but we cannot let ourselves despair for long. If you are dealing with what feels like depression, get help. Reach out to people who love you unconditionally. Get therapy and make spending time with positive people a priority. Explore your creativity—write a poem, paint, spend time taking photos and make a project out of it…the possibilities are endless. If we are to heal as a people, we must heal and nurture ourselves as individuals. Our spiritual, emotional, and mental health is not optional in this movement.
I am convinced that some of our foremothers mastered this. We know instinctively that our rage and our joy are not mutually exclusive. I just think that sometimes the anger gets so heavy that we forget that joy is always there underneath it all.
As we will undoubtedly continue to witness injustices that bring us to our respective boiling points, we each must examine what joy and rage look like in our lives. Each has its place and we cannot (nor should we) suppress our anger in attempts to appear “happy.” It doesn’t work that way. As we give our rage its rightful place, we give ourselves the freedom to express the full breadth of our joy. This is our right—the fullness of our humanity, which no one can take.
I am bubbling with rage underneath
My pot may even boil over
But I am laughing
And raining tears of joy
[Feature Image: a black and white photo of the profile of a person from the shoulders up. The person has a large curly afro. A dark colored tank top is partial visible. The person’s mouth is closed and they have a small smile on their face.]
Joy Notoma is a graduate of Temple University with a degree in theater. She is a performer and writer in NYC. She is passionate about the stories of individuals who have been affected by religious shunning. Her current work involves reviewing writings of incarcerated people for a radio program dedicated to airing the stories of incarcerated people around the country. Check out her travel blog truthandtravel.wordpress.com and follow her on Twitter @joy_notoma.