This Women’s History Month, we’re focusing on rage, though if you read our monthly newsletter, you know I’m an advocate for revolutionary joy. But joy doesn’t exist apart from chaos—even I get angry. Joy is my posture and hopefulness for better days, but rage is equally a part of my song.
Long before the COVID-19 pandemic, Black women had a lot to be mad about. Day in and day out, my colleagues and I work on campaigns to disrupt harmful narratives, practices, and policies harming Black women and girls. With the disparities across NWLC’s issue areas facing Black women and girls, from sexual violence to safety in schools, I—like many others—am rightfully outraged.
On her 2019 album, LEGACY! LEGACY!, Jamila Woods has a song entitled “Basquiat,” in honor of the late artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat. The singer explained the meaning of the song in an interview with Pitchfork:
“… in an interview I saw with him, he’s asked about what makes him angry, and Basquiat just pauses for a long time and says, ‘Oh, I don’t remember.’ Basquiat didn’t present as someone who was angry all the time; he was a radiant child, the genius child. It was almost like that interviewer wanted access to this interior emotional space, and Basquiat was like, ‘I’m not actually going to grant you that,’ or ‘There’s so much shit that could make me angry, I can’t even make a list for you.’ I related to that because I feel people have often said to me, ‘Oh you’re so nice, you’re so quiet, you’re so shy,’ almost like it’s a compliment to not be angry. But I don’t think it should [sic] a compliment when there’s so many things to be angry about.”
I think this is something many women, particularly Black and Latina women, know too well. We have rightful indignation about injustices against our communities, not just from the past year but for generations. Yet people—whether they are perpetrating injustices or complicit to the impact on our communities—have thee audacity to ask why we’re angry. Read. The. Room.
Questioning our rage is unproductive, particularly by people who have the power to challenge or change systems facilitating our oppression. Yet, we aren’t given the freedom to be angry. In fact, our anger is criminalized far too often when we’re protesting or needing help from violence. Yet, remaining silent or suppressing our anger to protect ourselves from scrutiny or criminalization can have grave impacts on our physiological and mental well-being—putting us at risk for serious health conditions.
I recently held a creative writing workshop for my colleagues where we discussed the importance of safety and belonging to our mental and physical well–being. Not feeling safe can contribute to depression and anxiety, as well as physiological issues with our digestive system and lower extremities. However, safety takes on a different meaning when considering a country that has long demonized, terrorized, and criminalized your existence as a Black woman. And the impact is only greater when compounded by a global pandemic that has disproportionately impacted Black people.
“You should be able to not shrink yourself and speak your truth. You deserve that much.” – my wonderful therapist.
Holding in our anger and rage will not lead to justice and will only further impact our well–being. I feel the rage in my shoulders being released as a write this blog. It’s the rage I feel when I think about the growing list of survivors who have spoken out against T.I. and Tiny. Or when I turn on the news and learn there are still no signs of justice for Breanna Taylor.
Some may think Black women’s rage is off-putting, but imagine how tiring it is for us to hold it in. Imagine how it feels to be bound by respectability politics, with the hopes that you will be understood and cared for, only to watch systems fail you time and again. If sitting still and looking pretty won’t bring justice, then here’s a little rage for the powers that be.