Anger as a Site of Struggle

Reading Time: 11 minutes

Do you remember a time you were critiqued for being angry?

I’m guessing it isn’t hard to conjure up a recent memory.

Because we know how racism particularly exploits white fear of black anger.

Historically, black anger is the “ultimate” nightmare. And, it’s from this which ‘we’ “protect” white innocence.

 The expression of emotions, particularly ones such as fear, anger or sadness, have always disproportionately affected women but women in minority groups remain particularly vulnerable. Socially, western society categorically associates these emotions with unreliability, flightiness, weakness and poor leadership.  

It’s the masculinity box concept all over again. But this time with a racist edge. Consider characteristics associated with masculinity. In a (problematic) workshop I attended last Spring by Bryan Hurt, I found myself intrigued by the idea that society socializes men to portray characteristics within a certain masculinity box.

  And, if a male displayed characteristics which were not in the box, society would socialize/punish him back into the correct box by utilizing language like
“Man up” “Don’t be a sissy/baby/girl” “Don’t be gay”
It is constructive to also think about femininity in similar ways. Certain characteristics are “acceptable” and even expected for women. I don’t have to think very hard about ways in which my behavior is often ‘critiqued’ and sexualized by my peers. Not only do I, like other black women, remain vulnerable to critiques about femininity but because of our inherent intersection, critiques rely on racist tropes as well.
For example, in a recent display of frustration with a colleague, I said “I feel frustrated because…” before my early 30’s, white male colleague abruptly cut me off with the following humiliating 

*quick 3 finger snap* “Oh no you didn’t,” and “Tell me how you really feel”

My emotions were being critiqued vis-à-vis overt racist tropes of stereotyped “ghetto” black anger. And, these tropes were utilized in order to

1) Inherently devalue me as a black woman  

2) Invalidate my anger

3) Humiliate and degrade me as a black woman

4) Reduce my own (and black female) emotions as irrational and unregulated

If I could be reduced to a simple stereotype than it was easier for him to “validate” his inherent “white innocence” because I was being emotional/hysterical/unreasonable.

If I could be reduced to a stereotype than I could be dismissed.

If I could be reduced to a stereotype than I didn’t matter.

This logic remains inherently problematic but often goes without challenge primarily because the realm of emotional validity remains firmly fixed within that yet murky and tense site of colonization, struggle and political resistance. It is important to situate the ‘validity of black anger’ in clear juxtaposition with white colonization since historically and contemporarily political actors ultimately create and perpetuate policies and practices which further devalue, decenter and denigrate black and brown communities. In a hark to bell hooks’ Choosing the Margin as a Space of Radical Oppression, I offer this overt leitmotif: anger is also a place of struggle.

The use of anger as a site of emotional colonization and political resistance is not inherently unique. I am familiar with the experience of emotional colonization, with the friendly white modifiers, the reminders to ‘behave like a lady,’ to ‘smile more,’ to ‘behave like a young lady,’ to ‘not let anger cloud my judgement.’ Anger is also a place of struggle.  

I have been working to change the way in which I allow my anger to travel through me. Anger in the western world often smacks of individualism rather than corporate, communal, remembering. Often the radical one utilizes the act of anger as a practice of holistic historical remembering rather than as an act of individualistic reaction. For is it not radical to consider location of voice, place of struggle as a historical act of remembering rather than to struggle alone?  It is no easy task to incorporate or even always locate multiple voices within the struggle, but this task remains critical towards intersectional liberation.

My anger as a woman and my anger as a black person are consequently vulnerable to critique because of my inherent intersectionality. But indeed, my anger as a black female is also critically intersectional with the experiences of other black and brown women. As I think about my own experiences navigating racist emotional inequities, I also remain acutely aware of the dog whistle politics embedded within the recent racist caricature of Serena Williams by Mark Knight. The caricature in itself does not employ any new strategies. Instead, the caricature relies on historic Jim-Crow era overtures vis-à-vis the animalization of the “big scary black woman,” the reliance on the trope of white innocence and the debase, inhumane, bestial locality of black and brown women. Anger is also a place of struggle.

James Baldwin offers this particularly powerful insight:

“To be black and conscious in America is to be in a constant state of rage”

Photo obtained from The Herald

In an excerpt from The Root, “When Australia’s [right wing] cartoonist, Mark Knight, tweeted an image of Serena Williams disagreement with Umpire Carlos Ramos in the finals of the US Open, he responded to public criticisms of racism by asserting that ‘it has nothing to do with gender or race,’ according to Melbourne Australia’s Herald Sun.”

Anger is also a place of struggle for black and brown communities precisely because it remains a site of present day aggressive white colonialization practices.

When speaking about the difficulties of expressing oneself in the language of oppression, bell hooks offers this awareness in her essay, Choosing the Margins as a Space of Radical Openness.

Often when the radical voices speaks about domination we are speaking to those who dominate. Their presence changes the nature and direction of our words. Language is also a place of struggle. I was just a girl coming slowly into womanhood when I read Adreinne Rich’s words, ‘This is the oppressor’s language, yet I need it to talk to you.’ This language that enabled me to attend graduate school, to write a dissertation, to speak at job interviews, carries the scent of oppression. Language is also a place of struggle. The Australian aborigines say ‘that smell of the white man is killing us.’ I remember the smells of my childhood, hot water corn bread, turnip greens, fried pies. I remember the way we talked to one another, our words thickly accented black southern speech. Language is also a place of struggle. We are wedded in language, have our being in words. Language is also a place of struggle. Dare I speak to oppressed and oppressor in the same voice? Dare I speak to you in a language that will move beyond the boundaries of domination – a language that will not bind you, fence you in, or hold you? Language is also a place of struggle. The oppressed struggle in language to recover ourselves, to reconcile, to reunite, to renew. Our words are not without meaning, they are an action, a resistance. Language is also part of struggle.

It was particularly powerful for me to consider this passage rewritten in the context of anger. Consider this reworked passage: Dare I show anger to the oppressed and the oppressor in the same voice? Dare I rage to you in a language that will move beyond the boundaries of domination – a rage that will not bind you, fence you in, or hold you? Rage is also a place of struggle. The oppressed struggle in anger to recover ourselves, to reconcile, to reunite, to renew. Our rage is not without meaning, it is an action, a resistance. Rage is also part of struggle.

Part of my practice as a Jesus follower relies on considering the politics and interconnectedness of faith as the practice of resistance and liberation. My experiences of anger and faith, while not exclusive to only these characteristics, are also inherently connected to my experience with location and space.  As a part of this practice and as a part of my own self-critical process, I have considered and reconsidered my own life choices, space and location in a practice of remembering. Or, as bell hooks so aptly states, “our struggle is also a struggle of memory against forgetting.” For too often we remain complicit with a system of that easy yet persistent practice of forgetfulness.

I have often found myself rethinking my own journey from small, rural, Pennsylvania Mennonite-town to Waldorf and Mennonite education to small churches to a small, ‘sheltered’ college in Kansas to a large, public, state university in Pennsylvania. From places in which I was called all sorts of racist words to places and spaces in which I was first introduced to liberation theology, critical theory, womanist and feminist scholars like bell hooks, Lorde and Harris-Perry, to spaces in which I now educate and am educated.

I vividly recall efforts to quell my blossoming racial awareness as well as tone deaf efforts at best, racist at worst, efforts to appeal to my sense of ‘white practicality.’ This practice of remembering remains critical to the practice of cultivating space for a more holistic and strategic plan for liberation. And, this practice of remembering also invites other voices and memories into a space where healing can occur.

For me, the art of remembering is inherently interconnected with my faith as well as connected with the practice of allowing space for and validation of my own anger and rage. When I remember, I can also name and notice. When I remember, I find space to give voice to truth. When I remember, I find space to heal. Remembering is also a site of struggle.

Historically, who’s memories do we remember?

This practice of remembering also compels difficult personal truths as I consider my own political evolution. Not all of which are easy to name or to notice. And yet, I have found that it is wise to consider how various modes effect Faith practice particularly in regard to archetypes of anger and rage.

The experience of space and location, like the experience of anger and rage are not reliant or exclusive, nor are these experiences identical from one black or brown person to the other. Indeed, postmodern modes as well as statuses color each persons lived experiences. Some folk must continually engage in actual political struggle against and within their communities. Some folk may ‘enter universities or privileged cultural settings, unwilling to surrender every vestige of who [they] were before [they] were there.’ Not all oppression is the same but all oppression is the same. This is logical and right. And yet, all of members of these communities are visible symbols of Otherness. “Our very presence is a disruption.”

It is important to notice and name the reality of this physical disruption when considering how black bodies are located and situated within white frames of location and space.

It is reasonable to suggest that Serena’s physical presence on the tennis court, regardless of her verbal confrontation, was a disruption despite her historical presence as a tennis legend.  

It is reasonable to suggest that Serena’s presence was a disruption because of the very nature of her being: black and woman, the same two entities in which was demonized and degraded for in the now infamous Australian cartoon (and, because each of these characteristics have been discussed at length, I will not spend time articulating the inherent racist overtones in the cartoon, nor will I spend time articulating why the cartoon is offensive). 

And, it is reasonable to suggest that from the margins, Serena’s insistence, her physical ‘no,’ her cry of wrongdoing came from a deep down place of resistance. Remember, anger also is a site of struggle.

It is this broken cry cast deep into the struggle which I believe holds universal tenants that resonate within black and brown communities of color. And, it is this broken cry that I believe is equally important to link with faith and liberation theology. For Faith is also a site of active resistance and struggle.

And anger can, too, when emboldened by love, be an effective agent of social change, political resistance and liberation. Let me be clear. When an action is completed out of anger rather than love than the offense is committed not only by the offender but also that in which whom is carrying out the offense. For love is the greatest gift in which we have been endowed. Doesn’t the Bible instruct us to love our neighbor? How then can we struggle for liberation if we are still yet shackled? How then can we break the other’s chains if we are still fastening chains of our own created by chain maker? No, I tell you truly, social change will only move into fruition when this comes to pass: when those of you whom are struggling for liberation struggle out of the deepest love that comes when one fully knows that one’s own liberation is interconnected with the other. This, to me, is the love for the neighbor.

I am often reminded of Jesus’ anger in the synagogue. And, I imagine, in present day, what would that look like?

·         Are there groups of people in which we anger do we find acceptable?

·         Whom do we expect to be angry?

·         Are there any specific adjectives we would ascribe to people whom are angry, and why?

While, this deep down cry is one in which often feels lonely and alienating. And yet, I am heartened by Jesus’ reminder that “in this world you may have struggle, but take heart, I have overcome the world.”

While it may seem like a false equivalency to link Serena’s verbal confrontation with the global struggle for racial and social justice (ie: isn’t she an elite black woman with some privilege and white adjacency?), I think that training ourselves to practice noticing the similarities within the struggle for liberation equally liberates and reinvigorates our commitment towards intersectional justice.

Indeed, Jesus calls us to be forces capable of announcing justice. We are transformative beings created for such a time of this: to announce injustice by being intentional radical agents of healing and transformative change.

When I intentionally adhere to noticing and naming problematic patterns of my own Racial Justice praxis, I find myself inherently convicted that the work of Jesus happened predominately from the margins. Situating the work of racial justice then into a marginal frame, I find myself able to then ask a new set of questions. Instead of wondering what is the risk, I find myself asking a ubiquitous Lorde phrase: what is the worst thing that could happen to me if I tell this truth? Today, when my boss pulled my extensions, I found that I could respond to her from a place of love rather than a place of anger situated in resentment.  

By owning my own marginal status, I liberate myself to do the work without the shackles of disillusionment. When I step into my own anger and my own rage at ‘the system,’ with love not only do I validate my own experiences and truth but I also empower myself do to the Jesus work of the radical struggle.

And yet, for far too many, this work often feels isolating and lonely. When we live at the margins, one may be quick to consider the risk. To assess whom will be lost. For, there will be losses. And, the risk is great. And sometimes the losses are great. This is accurate. And yet, I have found that if we continue to center fear as the way, then we have already lost our way. We have already lost the struggle. For there will be risks. In fact, the ways in which we locate ourselves and in whom we locate ourselves will change. To borrow from bell hooks:

Indeed, the very meaning of ‘home’ changes with experience of decolonization, of radicalization. At times, home is nowhere. At times, one knows only extreme estrangement and alienation. Then home is no longer just one place. It is locations. Home is that place which enables and promotes varied and ever-changing perspectives, a place where one discovers new ways of seeing reality, frontiers of difference. One confronts and accepts dispersal and fragmentation as part of the construction of a new world order that reveals more fully where we are, who we can become, an order that does not demand forgetting.

This experience of living on the margins effects the way in which we anger and rage. And, this does not effect a person or a community universally or equally or identically, although there may be similar themes. Anger and rage are unique qualities in which may affect one but may equally silence another. And yet, anger and rage are often indicators of deeper truths and sadness’s. Anger too is a site of struggle.

I am speaking to you from a place of anger and love. I am speaking to you from the margins. I am asking you to consider what it means to be angry and to love. I am asking you to consider what it means to be black and woman. I am wondering if you can hear me.

There are those whom speak but do not listen, and those whom will ask you to tell you your pain so that they can rewrite your pain, bestialize your pain, debase and degrade you until you will not recognize your story but it will be called your history. It will be your story, but only if you let it, they will tell you. They will tell you that you can choose your calm. I am telling you that it is okay to be angry. I am telling you that it is okay to love. I asking you to locate both. 

 It is okay to be angry in love. You can hold this duality. You can see both ways of being.

This is an intervention. This is a call to anger and love and to awareness.

 This is a call to do the human work of loving one another. 

On the Subject of When You Need to Trash Your Mantra

Reading Time: 3 minutes

What drives you to panic and despair? What keeps you grounded?

In a world that is increasingly polarized, hate rhetoric and intentional polarized positioning are often unconscious defaults. Compounded by internalized media messages and individual bias, it can be hard to keep a positive individual mantra. Does your subconscious mantra need to be trashed?

This week, as I have been meditating and practicing self-care, I found myself revisiting recent events that haven’t quite healed yet. My mind kept returning to them again and again, and I found myself at one point, leaning over, hugging my knees tightly to my chest as I felt this huge weight in my stomach.

I was carrying all of these things that kept reinforcing my own innate propensity of relying on old lies.

Somehow, I was still carrying the foster care Bonita with the you are all alone and nobody cares.

I was the little girl whom didn’t know why her mother left.

And, I realized that I needed to re-trash one of my unconscious mantras.

See, while I thought that relying on individual self-care and self-healing were critical pieces of my own self-care journey (and they are), I was acting like these characteristics were solely enough to buoy and support me. And, I had to investigate the underlying truth that a journey into racial strength and self-care and healing cannot be an individual journey. It requires community. And, community, like the self, can be hard, messy and hold that ever-fun possibility of pain potential.

This past weekend, when my friends reached out to me and listened after a rough conversation with a family member. I realized again that my community could hold and carry my imperfect truths and I could hold and carry theirs.

I wasn’t alone and I could say that to all the old parts of me and all the old hurt in me. 

My community cares and loves me.

 I speak those truths to the foster care Bonita and to the girl wondering why her mother left her. 

My community cares and loves me.

I speak these truths to the Boni who is hurt and disappointed in and by family members.

I speak those truths as I read the paper and as I commit to doing the work of racial reconciliation. 

I declare these truths when I am feeling frustrated and drained and unconnected.

I declare these truths with and to my community so that my community can remind me of these truths when I need a gentle reminder.

However, I also speak this truth as well: I am known and named and loved by the Creator.

I speak this truth and breathe.

I speak this truth and, when I find I have the space to in a stressful disagreement, I try to intentionally ask a clarifying question.

I speak this truth and I lean in.

I invite you to speak your own truth too.

What are your own truths that you use to reconnect and ground yourself?

When we speak truth over ourselves and to others, I think we intentionally center ourselves into the sacred space of healing. And, this reorientation fundamentally impacts our capacity to be effective positive change makers. 

Reorientation isn’t easy. And, speaking truth isn’t always easy. Sometimes we get stuck in a rut. Sometimes the lies can sound like truths. But, when we intentionally commit to learning and knowing what truth is, it becomes easier and easier to pick out the lie.

For me, the lie will always be abandonment. That nobody-loves-you-nobody-cares-about-you-you-are-all-alonetype shit.

While, I couldn’t declare that it was shit as a ten-year-old, or even as an 18-year-old, I can declare that as shit now. Because, I have learned to strengthen myself with the truth.

Part of this strengthening required that I had to investigate the ways in which I heal.  For me, I had to own that I was picking up so much grief and pain and trauma that instead of finding the capacity to heal, I was actually re-traumatizing myself and convincing myself that it counted as healing. 

I needed to be able to take a step back and acknowledge the good work that was already taking place as well as distance myself from the constant intake of trauma, which – for me – includes the constant exposure of violence and trauma to black and brown bodies. I had to own that the daily trauma I live didn’t and doesn’t need to be intensified with or by national violence. Instead, I needed to take a step back and heal. And then, re-strategize how to practice affirming, self-care and self-love practices while staying intentionally engaged with national events. 

What have you learned about how you hold trauma? What mantras might you need to trash?

I can’t wait to hear how you affirm and trash your own unconscious mantras.

Shalom always,

For Black Women Whom Are Considered Aggressive & Other Ruminations

Reading Time: 11 minutes

“If you’re telling a non-black person about something racist that happened to you, make sure you are not bitter. Don’t complain. Be forgiving. If possible, make it funny. Most of all, do not be angry. Black people are not supposed to be angry about racism. Otherwise you get no sympathy. This applies only for white liberals, by the way. Don’t even bother telling a white conservative about anything racist that happened to you. Because the conservative will tell you that YOU are the real racist and your mouth will hang open in confusion.” 
― 
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Americanah

I used to think about losing things a lot. Losing my job. Losing my friends. Losing my community. Losing my family. I convinced myself that if I could just stay quiet enough

 when the men came and…

 when the white people came and….

when the racist person came and…

I could protect myself. I could keep my head down. I could rely on English and a vernacular cultivated and handed down from adoptive ancestors so white you can trace them back pre-1840, pre the line where my black ancestors were just known as numbers, pre-colonialism and massacre and slavery and…me.

But, I kept losing sight of someone else.

Me.

This invisible woman. You can see me, but you can’t really see me. See, here is my face. See, here is my mouth. See, here are my legs. See, here are my hands. Can you see me?

Or, did you blink?

I have tested this theory, you see.

When the men came and ….

                                                                When the white people came and…

                                                                                                                                When the racist person came and…

My voice said no.

Body tense,

Legs closed,

Arms raised.

My mouth said – I am a human. My body said, I am enough. I am enough. I am…

But.

They just kept on coming.

This black body never looked white flag

Never looked white house,

Never looked anything but

3rd world baby & white woman smile

Never looked anything but

Mud hut in need of aluminum

Never looked anything but

Ground ready for a snowstorm

Never looked anything but

This Cherokee African American

In need of colonialism

 See, I had convinced myself that if I could erase that tight feeling in my gut, if I could erase enough kinks in my hair, if I could erase my skin with bleaching creams, if I could erase my natural instinct to scream when the people touched my hair, touched my skin, touched my body…again and again…I would be able to somehow transform myself back into approval and acceptance and goodness.

The first time I was called the N word was in 3rd Grade. My white classmates and I were playing kickball, and I was dominating…. until I wasn’t. I stepped up to the plate to kick and a classmate yelled the N word.

When you think about balls deflating, it always seems as if they deflate just a little at first and then, suddenly, everything goes really fast.

You know, like that balloon that you meant to fill up but suddenly it is whooshing all over the room making those indelicate sounds that you know absolutely sound like a fart, but you never actually say because you are too busy staring at the ground wishing away your sudden interested audience.

I think that sometimes degradation works the same way. At 9, I didn’t know what the N word meant, but I remember thinking that it had to do with me and my skin and the way in which I was different. And, I knew different. As the youngest in a family of 8, different meant that when I wore hand me-downs to school, someone noticed. Different meant holey shoes and beads and braids and a backpack that wasn’t LLBean. I knew different. But, before – different was always monetary. That day, something deflated in me but, unlike balls that are often either trashed completely or found by some benevolent gym teacher and refilled, I didn’t bounce back. I wasn’t found by a benevolent anyone and refilled.

Instead, when I finally got home, I searched all of my parent’s dictionaries (yes this was the early 2000’s and the age of dial-up internet…or at least, the age of dial-up in our house) for the word. I remember climbing into my father’s office chair and spinning in circles, tears streaming down my face as my mother hurried into the living room.

I don’t remember what she said. Maybe it was a conglomeration of reasons why the word wasn’t in there. Maybe it was reassurances that I was enough. Maybe, it was all of the above. To be honest, the only thing that I remember was the beginning prick of my own black consciousness.

And, while I didn’t have the vocabulary to articulate the concepts of my own double consciousness, I remember thinking about the imagery of a white woman holding a black child and the enduring continuitiesof racism.

How could I possibly be enough?

Growing up, we avoided those conversations. A mostly conservative farm family in rural, white America, living in the heart of the Lancaster County Bible Belt, we didn’t talk about racism or shootings or systemic oppression or Black History Month. We didn’t talk about police brutality or the invisibility of the black female body or how generational poverty creates a 7-generation inequity between impoverished white and black families.

We didn’t talk about why it was easier for strangers to assume that I was “fresh air” or a “poor African foster care kid” than a black girl from Philly. We didn’t talk about why white people asked me if I was a crack-baby, or if I could describe what living in the ghetto was like or if I was an orphan.   

We didn’t talk about how black women are usually regulated to three stereotypes: Jezebel, Sapphire and Mammy.  (Quick back history. A Jezebel is a fiery, overtly lascivious, sexually insatiable plaything. This stereotype was used as a justification for rape and sexual relations with white masters.,  The Sapphire is a fiesty, unabashed, always rude and loud angry black woman. She is a harsh nagger and displays irrational anger. She is a harsh critique of black women whom are vocal about systemic injustices and is a mechanism employed to punish black women that violate societal norms teaching them to be passive and docile and pleasant. The Mammy is the ideal enslaved person – she is happy to be a slave and she is often pictured as obese and well mannered. She enjoys the domestics and servile lifestyle. She is the caricature used for the Aunt Jemima and is the prominent figure on more the enduring racial caricatures of black women.)
We didn’t talk about the racist family members, the strangers that complimented me on my English and told my adoptive parents they were “saints, just saints,” or that looming, haunting terror that, perhaps, all adoptees experience of wondering when they will be left. Again.

I have made myself a policy not to tell other people’s stories in my space of writing, so I will not elaborate or speculate on the reasoning behind why those strategies and skills were not developed at a young age.

Instead, I hope to share a few examples of my own childhood and adult experiences in hopes to convey alternative suggestions in regard to teaching white fragility, racism and how white tears, particularly white women’s white tears, continue to propagate and perpetuate systemic and institutional racism and oppression.

First, white women are uniquely positioned in society as both oppressed and oppressors. As oppressors, they benefit from white supremacy and institutional and systemic racism. And, as women, they remain
subordinate to men in regard to –to name a few –  gender pay-gap inequities, employment contracts, 
health care benefits, etc., However, this duality remains unequivocally interconnected with white women’s ability to carry a perpetual “get out of jail free” card. 

While many POC’s can relate with mistreatment at the hands of a white woman, and while (some) white women are, perhaps, learning that not all tears matter, it is important to note the important historical framework of white supremacy and white tears. While, many racial justice advocates will use Emmett Till as a starting point when discussing white, female tears and racial violence, I think it is important to note that while white tears in conjunction with white supremacy can also be used to track multiple genocides and mass murders in the last 3 centuries, the behavior which supports white tears and supremacy is learned.  And, this behavior is learned at a young age.

Indeed, consider the following excerpts from bell hook’s “Ain’t I a Woman” in regard to power structures between white women and black women.

In Once a Slave, a book which contains a condensed body of information gleaned from slave narratives, the author Stanley Feldstein recounts an incident in which a white mistress returned home unexpectedly from an outing, opened the doors of her dressing room, and discovered her husband raping a thirteen year old slave girl. She responded by beating the girl and locking her in a smokehouse. The girl was whipped daily for several weeks. When older slaves pleaded on the child’s behalf and dared to suggest that the white master was to blame, the mistress simply replied, “She’ll know better in future. After I’ve done with her, she’ll never do the like again through ignorance.” White women held black slave women responsible for rape because they had been socialized by 19thcentury sexual morality to regard [black] woman as sexual temptress….” (pg. 37).

Or, considered this additional excerpt from “Ain’t I a Woman:”

…rape was not the only method used to terrorize and de-humanize black women. Sadistic floggings of naked black women were another method employed to strip the female slave of dignity…a Kentucky slave recalled: The women are subjected to thes punishments as rigorously as the men – not even pregnancy exempts them; in that case before binding them to the stake, a hold is made in the ground to accommodate the enlarged form of the victim.

…Yes sir, the most shocking thing that I have seen was on the plantation of Mr. Farrarby, on the line of the railroad. I went up to his house one morning from my work for drinking water, and heard a woman screaming awfully. On going up to the fence and looking over I saw a woman stretched out, face downwards, on the ground her hands and feet being fastened to stakes. Mr Farraryby was standing over her and striking her with a leather trace belonging to his carriage harness. As he struck her the flesh of her back and legs were raised in welts and ridges by the force of blows. Sometimes when the poor thing cried too loud from the pain Farrarby would kick her in the mouth. After he exhausted himself whipping her he sent to his house for sealing wax and a lighted candle and, melting the wax, dropped it upon the woman’s lacerated back. He then got a riding whip and, standing over the woman, picked of the hardened wax by switching at it. Mr. Farrarby’s grown daughters were looking at this from a window of the house through the blinds. This punishment was so terrible that I was induced to ask what offence the woman had committed and was told by her fellow servants that her only crime was in burning the edges of the waffles that she had cooked for breakfast.

It takes little imagination to comprehend the significance of one oppressed black woman being brutally tortured while the more privileged white women look passively at her plight” (pg. 38)

America has been sexualizing, demonizing and degrading black women for decades. And, while I will leave the black women/white women dichotomy for another post, it is critical to understand the historical interconnectivity between America’s contemporary framework and the roots of American racism. (If you want to brush up on this dichotomy, I would suggest here and here as some intermediate level resources).

America has been killing black children and black youth long before Emmett Till and continues to kill black children and youth today. From Ferguson to Flint, black children are killed, exposed to polluted water and disappeared in rapid numbers. 

And, while racism more often than not creates a POC body count, racism relies on latent strategies as much as it does on overt ones.

Do we always recognize them?

As a newly minted college freshman, I began to intentionally lean into my ever-emerging double consciousness. As a black woman, my identities fundamentally position me as a political figure both by nature of being black and woman but also by nature of being alive, black and woman.

And, I began to notice a trend. Something began to happen to me when I switched as an incoming 7thgrader from a private Montessori School to a Private Mennonite School. I knew something was different, but I couldn’t quite articulate it. Instead, I’d stand in line for Picture day, my hair pressed straight from hours of fighting with the hot iron to new classmate’s hands and laughter tugging and pulling and….poof, my curly afro emerged again like magic.

But they were just kidding.

Right?

I was the funny girl. The girl who you were “supposed” to be able to ask about slang. The girl you were “supposed” to ask about dance moves. The girl who was “supposed” to sing the gospel solos. The girl who…

was that weird black girl who wasn’t at good at basketball as they had hoped.

was that weird black girl who wasn’t as funny as they had imagined

was that weird black girl who never laughed at any of the Oreo jokes

In my predominately white high school, when I would manage to muster up enough courage to speak my own truth to power, I was labeled as mean and aggressive and, the ever-blossoming catch phrase: ratchet.

This compounded my own awkward inability to verbalize the lack of support I felt from my mostly white friend group. Friends support friends, right? Friends believed friends, right? Why did I have to articulate that being called ghetto wasn’t a compliment? Why did I have to verbalize that touching my hair required a verbalized agreement.

How could I be enough if I had to explain my “enough-ness?”

Once, when I approached a white male classmate, convinced by others that he seemed like he was interested in me, I was told that he and his other friends preferred “Swedish” girls instead.

And that was that. I never mustered the courage to ask him what that meant. My white girlfriends never questioned him because he was a Missionary Kid. He grew up in South Africa. He was supposed to be woke. He was supposed to be Jesus loving. He was supposed to…not be a racist.

Right?

Recently, I overheard my coworkers standing outside of my office with this adorable little conversation:

Becky1: So, what did you do this weekend?

Becky 2: I went to the Harrisburg Walmart. I love that store. I could spend all day there. I just find so many things there and I could watch the people there all day…so interesting.

Becky 1: *laughing* “You mean, you could watch the people in their pajamas and slippers all day. (another colleagues name) calls Walmart Scarymart. Ya know, because of all the Hispanics and the Blac – (looks in my direction) – I mean, city folks. You practically need a body guard when you go there…

Becky 2: *long pause*

Becky 1: Just kidding. I was just kidding *weak laughter*

Becky 2: Yeah, but it is pretty amazing what you can find, don’t you think?

 See, the way racism works is that it shows up in our conversations. It shows up in social circles. It shows up on our bookshelves and in our television and in our churches and in our politics. Racism is not relegated to cross burners and bedsheet wearers and Nazi lovers. Regular people chose to wear them. Regular people remained complicit

When the men came and ….

                                                                When the white people came and…

                                                                                                                                When the racist person came and…

And, this still happens all the time. Consider the people you seek as truth tellers. Consider the people you consider as the “fake news” wielders. Consider the people you have on your bookshelf. Consider the people you listen to on the news. Consider whom you call aggressive and whom you call innocent.

Relying on a culmination of adolescent and adult experiences, I quickly learned that my voice and my body were often relegated to the sidelines in regard to racism and sexual harassment and sexism.

When the men came and… attacked me and sexually abused me, my voice was ignored. My body was sexualized. My story was buried.

When the white people came and… attacked me and sexually abused me, my voice was ignored. My body was sexualized. My story was buried.

When the racist person came and…verbally attacked me and sexually harassed me, my voice was ignored. My body was sexualized. My story was buried.

And, while these experiences are not specifically unique, I have found that these experiences have emboldened me to speak up and out regarding the unique positioning of black women and invisibility.

As a black woman, I am used to thinking about losing things. I think about losing my job. I think about losing my family. I think about losing my friends. I think about losing my church and my community.

But, I also know that as a black woman and as a follower of Jesus, I am convinced that I am empowered to use my voice in regard to racial and social justice. And, I am empowered to use my stories and experiences because I believe that truth telling and speaking truth to power are core tenants of what Christ has radically empowered to all whom choose to follow Him.

How often have I been forced to swallow my feelings in the workplace in order to allow room for white fragility?

How often have I been forced to apologize to a white woman utilizing white tears for her benefit?

How often have I been forced to keep silent in order to maintain the status quo?

How often have I lost myself? How often have other black women?

How often have you?

What if speaking up doesn’t mean losing anything? What if speaking up means finding someone?

And what if that person is great?

You probably know that catchphrase: and still she persisted. Maybe you find the phrase irritating. Maybe you have it glued above your bed, I don’t know. But, I have found that simple phrase to have so much power. Still she persisted. When I look back at my story and I notice the timeline and I notice all the details and elements, I notice a story of persistence. And, some days, I even notice a story of enough.

I wonder, when you look at your story, what you see. I wonder when we look at America’s story, what do we see? I wonder, when we look at when the men came and the racist person came and white person came…what do we see. Because, stories matter. The stories we tell, matter. And the stories that are yet to come, matter.

And, I hope that as we write this story of now, together. It will be the story with the happy ending. It will be the story of reconciliation. It will be the story that finally doesn’t end with…

When the men came and ….

                                                                When the white people came and…

                                                                                                                                When the racist person came and…

But maybe, I’m just naive.

Or, maybe I’m not.

Here’s to hoping.