It is a sad time for Black women in this country. I would love to say that this time is unique and unlike that which our foremothers faced after being stolen and brought to this country, holding onto their souls and the shreds of their dignity they were determined never to give up.
But we know this is not true.
Today, as we carry our rage and sadness, feeling an insurmountable distrust of the legal system because of the death of Sandra Bland, the abuse of young girls, and the hundreds of Black women who have died in police custody, I know we’re not so different from our foremothers who experienced similar emotions in response to the systemic racism of their time. This sadness and anger seem to be frequent visitors in the lives of Black women conscious of the injustices of racism, and even for some who aren’t.
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.
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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 I’ve ever seen.
After looking into my confused eyes, laced with disbelief and sadness, and realizing 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 was wrong with being angry if Black people are being systemically oppressed. I told her that learning the history of Black people in this country 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 residing in me is primarily due to the constant injustice and racism I witness. There also resides in me an undying joy and love for life.
Nonetheless, her comment got me thinking. 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 good friend over ice cream, does that mean I’ve 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 depictions of Black women that paint us as perpetually angry or as inoffensively helpful and subservient. In these racist times, we will frequently reach our boiling point. 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.
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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 are 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 sometimes the anger gets so heavy 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 must each examine what joy and rage look like in our lives. Each has its place, and we cannot (nor should we) suppress our anger in an attempt 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 from us.
I am bubbling with rage underneath
My pot may even boil over
But I am laughing
And raining tears of joy
Joy Notoma is a a freelance writer and multimedia journalist based in Benin, West Africa. She is passionate about the stories of individuals who have been affected by religious shunning. She is the co-creator of The Shunned Project, an online collection of stories of former Jehovah’s Witnesses impacted by shunning. Follow her on Twitter: @joyinstillness.
[Feature Image: a black and white photo of the profile of a person from the shoulders up. The person has a large curly afro and is wearing a dark tank top. The person’s mouth is closed and they have a small smile on their face as they look upward.]