HOW CAN YOU NOT BE?
What I see most often in response to the protests, is people, often white people, saying Black folks have to be peaceful right now. We have to be calm because anger detracts from our message. We can’t be angry because then the racists win. We can’t be angry because it snuffs out our joy—as if joy is a limited thing that can only be bought with a special coupon.
What I see most, are platitudes that erase the validity of Black emotions.
“You’re better than this.”
“Being angry solves nothing.”
“They don’t deserve your anger.”
On the contrary. Racists deserve every sharp word my Black brothers, sisters, and I have to give. And then some. There is so much to be angry about, that to instead paste a neat smile across my face, and pretend that racism, murders, and systemic oppression haven’t happened, would be delusion.
I’m grieved by the Black mothers, fathers, cousins, aunties, brothers, and friends that have died at the hands of police. Sorrow shakes my every bone. So, I swallow it down and when I do, the sunburst of anger aching in my chest rises to replace it.
I’m angry that I had to tell my four-year-old last week about the protests, and the people “hating Mommy’s skin.” I’m angry that I then had to tell her that their hatred is also tied to her biracial heritage. Her face slackened, her eyes furrowed, and I could see the worry building inside her. I’m angry that I had to snatch away a little more of her innocence.
I’m angry that people who supposedly love me have turned their backs on me. Their ignorance and silence is only kindling.
I’m angry that it has taken so long for our distress to be heard. I’m angry that it has taken so long for our history to be considered. I’m angry that this is happening now. That it didn’t happen in 2016 or 2014, or end with all the stomping and marching my grandparents participated in.
I’m angry that it has taken near economic collapse, a pandemic, and quarantine to force people to sit with this nation’s raggedy truth.
To say that I should not be angry, means you don’t understand. To say that I should not be angry, means that you cannot empathize with me.
To say that I should not be angry, that I should be. . .
. . . anything else, something you can agree with, something more palatable to you, is you asking me to be submissive to your needs.
Saying that Black folks shouldn’t be angry is admitting that we have disturbed you. It’s as if we spoke too loud. We interrupted your favorite television show, upended a coffee table in the safe confines of your home. Where once there was serenity, we’ve marred it.
Good. This means our anger has upset you. It has nipped at the thing inside of you. Would you rather us go away? Prefer our silence so that you no longer have to experience discomfort?
To tell me to not be angry, that it doesn’t have a place in protest, that it should be filed away, muted, is to invalidate it — is to invalidate me.
Perhaps you only equate anger with violence, and not what else it could be: grief, pain, or righteousness.
Let me ask you this: Why should I not be angry?
Should I not be angry that I’m policed in grocery stores, and have been since I was a child? Should I not be angry that window shopping means something different for me than it does for you, that it means enduring surveillance and restraining my actions in the store so that no one thinks I’m a criminal?
Should I not be angry that job opportunities have been denied to me because of how I looked? Or given to me, not because I was qualified, but because in the words of employers, I was Black and made them look “good”? Should I not be angry that I’ve had to smooth down and rein in my Blackness so that I could be acceptable enough to earn a meager paycheck?
Should I not be angry at the folks who have called me n*gger, Black bitch, monkey, and whatever foulness shaped their lips?
Should I take the unjust deaths of Black men and women, Black queer folks, Black activists, and Black innocents with a smile on my face? Should I turn the other cheek and say, “Oh well. Time to keep on living! Gotta keep being respectable!”
How can you not be angry?
How can you see people dying on your television, on your phones, on your computers, and not be disgusted? How can you not see that the folks whose lives are being stolen are friends, loved ones, people who deserve to live?
How can you not care?
Or, maybe, you don’t.
By Claude McKay (1889-1948)
Your door is shut against my tightened face,
And I am sharp as steel with discontent;
But I possess the courage and the grace
To bear my anger proudly and unbent.
The pavement slabs burn loose beneath my feet,
And passion rends my vitals as I pass,
A chafing savage, down the decent street;
Where boldly shines your shuttered door of glass.
Oh, I must search for wisdom every hour,
Deep in my wrathful bosom sore and raw,
And find in it the superhuman power
To hold me to the letter of your law!
Oh, I must keep my heart inviolate
Against the potent poison of your hate.