Why You Always Gotta Be So Mad?
fourth year myah paden
“I’m mad because racism, sexism, patriarchy, misogyny, and colourism at the same damn time.” -- Imani Cezanne
There is an emotion that permeates the lives of Black women in America that is difficult to describe. It is a discomfort that is hard to place because its source is not one but many.
As a Black woman, I am constantly finding myself angry.
To be a Black woman in America is to sit at the crossroads of compounded marginalization and systematic oppression whilst being expected to be agreeable and nice, and it. is. exhausting. I am taught not to “show my teeth”, as my mother says, at a leering stranger because it may spark something in men, whatever that means. Simultaneously, I attend a university that lures students of colour–particularly Black students–to their campus with tales of opportunity, only to realize that Black students are to be seen on a diversity pamphlet and unheard as we watch our painful histories be quietly buried beneath the foundation of this institution. To be a Black woman is an extremely complicated and nuanced process of decision-making: when, where, how, and why you’re going to hide away your anger/disdain/annoyance/frustration/identity--in favor of respectability.
Not only are Black women expected to resist the stereotypes that befall Black people as a whole (lazy, rude, angry, sexually unrestrained, etc.) but also those rules of femininity that encompass women (don’t be too loud, don’t take up too much space, be “polite” enough not to refuse a man’s sexual advances, but if you enjoy sex, you’re a slut). Those together make an entirely new and sinister cocktail of oppression. Roxanne Gay writes on the expectation of respectability in an essay from her book Bad Feminist titled “The Politics of Respectability.” “We should be black but not too black,” Gay writes. “Neither too ratchet nor too bougie.” These standards society hold Blackness to insinuate that to be respected we must be palatable to an implied White ideal without forgetting that we can never live up to the White ideal.
And so we have the Black woman: an acrobat when it comes to bending over backward to fit into these expectations. Don’t be too loud. Don’t be too angry. Don’t be too Black. Don’t be too woman. Black women are constantly told to put aside our Woman-ness or our Blackness at any given moment for the greater cause, as if we can change our focus of experience like a pair of sunglasses. And still Black women do the work. And yes, Black women are angry.
I am angry and frustrated and disappointed because I exist in a society that tells me my anger is unwarranted, that I must not be following the rules of Blackness or femininity correctly. Society says it’s my fault and that I should just calm down. Stop being angry about “racism. sexism, patriarchy, misogyny, and colourism” and just get over it. But I wholeheartedly rebuke that noise. It’s time that the Angry Black Woman™ was unapologetically angry.