One day I walked into the classroom and to under the awkward half-attention of a male geography professor wrote the words ANGRY BLACK WOMAN across the entire chalkboard. As the students came into the classroom they talked about what those words brought up for them. As the students spoke, I wrote their words “my mother,” “what black women are capable of,” “madea,” “men,” “mules of the world,” “mothers on the bus,” “power and how to use it,” “adrenaline,” in the crevices left by the slanted words.
In class we read Audre Lorde’s short essay on the Uses Of Anger (you can find the full essay in Lorde’s Collection Sister Outsider). Here are some of the quotations that stood out to us:
“Every woman has a well-stocked arsenal of anger potentially useful against those oppressions, personal and institutional which brought that anger into being. Focused with precision it can become a powerful source of energy serving progress and change. And when I speak of change, I do not mean a simple switch of positions or a temporary lessening of tensions, nor the ability to smile or feel good. I am speaking of a basic and radical alteration in those assumptions underlining our lives.”
“But anger expressed and translated into action in the service of our vision and our future is a liberating and strengthening act of clarification, for it is in this painful process of this translation that we identify who are our allies with whom we have grave differences and who are our genuine enemies.
Anger is loaded with information and energy.”
“Women of Color in america have grown up within a symphony of anger, at being silenced, at being unchosen, at knowing that when we survive, it is in spite of a world that takes for granted our lack of humanness, and which hates our very existence outside of its service. And I say SYMPHONY rather than CACAPHONY because we have had to learn to orchestrate those furies so they do not tear us apart. We have had to lean to move through them and use them for strength and force and insight within our daily lives. Those of us who did not learn this difficult lesson did not survive. And part of my anger is always libation for my fallen sisters.”
Our discussion of anger was one of the most generative classroom discussions I have ever seen. While as black women we are often associated with anger, it is rare for black women to have a chance to discuss what anger means to us. Our definitions of anger are very diverse. What would happen if the anger of black women were used, not as an excuse to ignore our protests, but instead as an imperative to look at the specificity of our situations, a transformative force in the world?
What is your definition of anger? What information and energy does anger provide for you?
Taryn on Anger:
What is anger? I do believe anger is a symphony of instruments, with violins, cellos, flutes, tubas and saxaphones. Each instrument makes a different sound, telling a different story. The notes may be the same, but the sound is different and the stories are so complex, sometimes spanning through time, places and people. Anger is a song all by itself and the song can be joyful, or mlancholy, but even the song changes because anger is a journey through an everchanging life. What really matters is how the song is ended. How has your anger ended? Dramatically, peacefully, or simply static? What will the last note of your symphony be?
Sara on Anger:
Anger is dependent upon one’s upbringing, culture and self-inflicted morals. How one person expresses their anger will most likely not be how another person expresses theirs. It can be the hottest of fires or the coldest of ice. It is bitterness, sweetness, energy, creativity and change. Anger can become anything and tkae on any form if used carefully and respectfully. Anger can blow the tops off mountains or tear the softest of paper. It should not be approached with fear, rather with caution and respect for its power.
Anger is power to change, to shape, to control, to be free.
Abina on Anger:
Anger is a release of our emotions. A state of accepting yourself and believing yourself to the exclusion of who/what you are angry with/about.
Anger is a way to focus, a way to follow your path. To stay determined.
Anger is fire, not good or bad, in itself, but can be used for both good and bad.
Anger is not shy. It is bold–boldly proclaiming my right…my right to stand.
Anger is not bad, it is the lubricant to ease us through life’s challenges and disappointments.
Ashley on Anger:
Anger is a side of people that comes out when they are extremely mad, causing destruction and a completely different person to arise.
Robyn on Anger:
Anger is a sense of letting out frustration. We try to keep anger behind the scenes, but is has escalated over time from build up of anger on top of anger so that when you let it out it is over the top. Yelling, cussing, screaming is what a man would say about an ANGRY BLACK WOMAN, but where did that anger start from? Women get angry because they powerless, shut out of society and just silenced, so since they think they cannot do anything the get ANGRY.
Anger is not heard. So when a woman gets ANGRY the man thinks “That’s just another ANGRY BLACK WOMAN” she’s just like the rest.
Raye on Anger:
The definition is how you express it. Sadness, frustration, unsure of clarity. When anger comes about it has arrived because of situations that are not wanted. Emotions and sadness because you cant do anything about it.
Monica’s Definition of Anger:
supposed repercussions or results. No one ever sees it as a positive
entity that can be used to create change or hope for the future. In
this sense, anger can do neither harm nor good because it is silenced
by other people. For example, disabled people are often told not to be
angry because they should be thankful they will be in institutions
that will provide whatever they believe is best for them. But how can
we not be angered? Our parents are trusting total strangers to care
for us, to love us, to provide for us because our own communities do
not have the means to do what is required of us. Can someone tell me
what happens when the strangers do the total opposite of what their
job titles say they will do?