There is power in anger; but who gets to be angry?

Anger. It’s an emotion that, from a young age—especially as women—we are told doesn’t have a place in our lives. Like other emotions (such as sadness, disgust, fear, and vulnerability), anger has to be shut away and shoved down. As women, we are unable to access these sides of the emotional spectrum. This affects certain aspects and people of society, but none so much as the women of Black and Brown communities. We’ve all heard of the angry black woman or spicy latina tropes we’ve see so much of in mainstream media and entertainment, even today. Both are overtly racist stereotypes used to describe women of color (WOC) and how they handle their anger or, more so, how they “fly off the handle.”

I can think of a very recent example of a WOC becoming angry in public and being attacked for it, not just monetarily but personally: Serena Williams at the 2018 U.S. Open. The referee was making some bad calls on his part, but it wasn’t that. It was the way that Williams reacted that took center stage for many people. She was upset, angry and let the ref know. She even became emotional and broke her tennis racket. So many negative things have been said about Williams’ outburst, whereas John McEnroe, retired tennis player, has been praised for being an outspoken angry man on the tennis court; he was still fined for his actions but definitely treated differently than Williams. There is a huge difference between why Williams is vilified for being angry and why McEnroe is praised for it: he’s a white man.

An angry white man is inspiring. He’s called passionate and a leader. Men are even encouraged to be angry. White women (WW) also have a way of getting away with this. Today more WW than ever are stepping up, becoming “feminists” and standing as “allies” (I use these words in quotations for a reason) and becoming angry. There is inherent privilege in being able to angrily speak out against the disproportionate systems that have been in place for so long and this privilege is mainly possessed by WW.

WW are quoted as saying that they “feel defeated” and “don’t know what to do” and “can’t believe that things like this happen” when they see a WW call the cops on black youths or when another Black person in gunned down in the streets due to police violence, or when our president sends armed troops to the border after women and children. Well, welcome to the world of Black and Brown people in this country. Things like this happen daily. And the only reason you’re in the know now is because a Black or Brown woman is letting you in on the secrets.

Moreover, these WW take platforms away from activists and feminists with black and brown skin attempting to do the same thing. WW make it all about them and forget that there is actually a WOC making the same statements. Instead of supporting the platform of a WOC, other WW support and raise up the white feminism instead of taking a backseat and being an ally or to support a WOC feminist attempting to do the same thing. WW can also be one of the main culprits when calling out WOC for speaking out. I have seen way too many Instagram posts where a WOC is calling out and attempting to dismantle a system created by white people and the whole comment thread is WW talking about how this WOC is being divisive, racist and plain old angry. This is not an anger of divisiveness. This is an anger of passion and wanting these systems to change.

I am not buying it. I am tired of using this as an excuse before I talk about the problematic relationship between white people and anger.

For years, WOC have called out racists and pointed out racial problems in the U.S. They are called divisive, angry, aggressive, hostile and a myriad of other terms. Whereas, when you have a cute, skinny, WW saying the same thing, they are praised for being “so brave and confident,” “changing the system” and—the worst one—“a hero.” And rarely are they called angry. This isn’t anything new I am talking about. White feminism has been such a pervasive entity to the plight of the WOC feminist.

I remember during my time in grad school, when I began my activist work, how hard it was for me to be taken seriously as a Latinx feminist and how angry I was because of it. And how hard it was for me to find feminist views that aligned with mine. I was always given white feminists to read and look up to and it all just…fell short for me. There was never any fire or passion seen in the writings of white feminists. Never any anger, no rage. I could never seem to find a voice that suited mine until I read Living a Feminist Life by Sara Ahmed.

She was the first woman that I read that I could relate with. She talked about growing up half Pakistani/half English and how that had a profound impact on her life. She spoke about being so angry. Then I started to see myself more, researching the works of Aurora Levins Morales and Dolores Huerta. Then I found the others, who gave not only a voice to me but to Black women: Roxane Gay, bell hooks, Audre Lorde—to only name a few of the heavy hitters.

These WOC rounded out my universe, not the universe of the white feminist that had been fed to me for the two years I was in grad school. I know, I know, some think it might be as simple as googling “latina feminist” or something to that effect. But even bringing up such issues I experienced in my life as a Latinx woman, I was repeatedly shut down and explained to by WW that since they have never experienced the same things I had in my life that therefore it must not exist! Even some white men got into the conversation, explaining to me that I was playing into the Latina stereotype by being loud and outspoken and that maybe I should soften my image to get others to listen to what I have to say. As you probably guessed, that only made me angrier.

I am angry. I have been angry for a long time. I am not only angry at these backwards systems that keep people of color in check, but also at the WW who can’t seem to take a back seat and let the WOC lead. I am angry at the white people who call cops on black youths, angry at this systematic racism I’ve seen for years and see daily from our president and others he has gaslighted to lock up immigrants I am angry because when I show my anger, it’s met with disdain.

I believe there is power in being angry. The rage the culminates within can make great change happen. Anger and rage can be one of the most important resources we possess as WOC. This anger is not only justified, but can be a part of the solution. It can be harnessed to facilitate change and give you that slow, low burn to ignite passions. I like being angry as long as the anger is fueled into the solutions. Anger should be a part of a WOC toolkit for fighting against systematic racism, and we should not be made to feel bad about it. It’s an honest and vulnerable emotion, letting you and others around us know how we truly feel and that we’re sick of the systems in place. This rage isn’t about hate. It’s about change. It’s about being sick of the systems that have been set in place for so long.

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Taking my experience as a sexual assault survivor to better understand racism

In some ways, this latest post from Heather Denkmire carries echoes of a couple other recent posts, so I’ll link them here: Me Too by René Goddess Johnson and How about we examine what’s really likely with Kavanaugh? by Samuel James. -BGIM

If you’re anything like me—and most women (of color and white) I know are—you’ve survived some kind of sexual violation. My own history includes 12 traumatic sexual abuse, assault, and harassment experiences, eight of which were with boys (teens) and men with backgrounds similar to Brett Kavanaugh.

Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony echoed my own experiences closely, and I knew boys from my preppy Connecticut high school who told me they participated in assaults like those described by Julie Swetnick. Since the 2016 elections, I have been careful about my intake of the news, as Donald Trump’s vile behavior is also very familiar. To say that mid-September through early October was difficult for me is putting it mildly.

Many people came together to object to Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, and they are still protesting. There were amazing and powerful protests of Kavanaugh by survivors like me, and survivors with very different stories, and people who know and love survivors, or simply people who have empathy and understanding. But in these protests, we white women have done harm to women of color.

It’s true that it wasn’t only white women protesting Kavanaugh, that’s for sure. And, believe me, I’m not suggesting the protests were a mistake. But, just like with the women’s march—see I’ll pass on “Unity” and the Women’s March and Black Girl In Maine’s The path to unity requires honesty, or Beyond the march—too many of us white women were driven to outrage because of our own experiences and the potential impact on our own lives, which, regardless of our intentions has the impact of telling women of color their lived experiences effectively mean nothing to us.

Let me explain what I mean here, and I’ll tell you how I use my own experience to try to comprehend what it must be like for a woman of color seeing the protesters dressed as characters from the Handmaid’s Tale, or (understandably!) crying about losing ground in women’s rights.

Let’s start with this article by Melayna Williams, “For black women, The Handmaid’s Tale’s dystopia is real—and telling. In her piece, Ms. Williams points out that the show “doesn’t offer a vision of an America where democracy has collapsed. Instead, it shows white women subjected to the conditions under which their country was born. The thing that, tellingly, has proven the most alarming to audiences.” The characters are “find themselves captive, were bred against their will, and were tortured and even killed for attempting escape,” as Black women were for centuries.

The way we white women are full of rage and fear because Roe v. Wade is likely to be overturned is reasonable. What is harmful and not reasonable is for us white women to act like all women’s bodies have had safe and affordable access to medical care and only now are those rights being threatened. Black women have not had the same access to abortions and other necessary medical care that we white women have had. For example, Black women are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than are white women.

So, if you are a survivor of sexual violence as I am, and you see or hear another survivor like Dr. Blasey Ford go public with her experience, how does it feel when people don’t believe her? How does it feel when a survivor’s accusations are treated as if they are not evidence? How did it feel when you saw people demand Dr. Blasey Ford offer up more proof, more proof than her own lived experience? How many times are harassment, abuse, and assault survivors told they must’ve misunderstood? (Some claim they believe Dr. Blasey Ford was assaulted but think she must be mistaken about who the violent teen boy was.)

Now imagine being a woman of color saying to us white women, “My life is not protected by the current system like your life is protected. The current system causes me harm every day.” And our response is, “Why are you bringing up race?” (I hear, “Quit complaining. Quit making a big deal about nothing! You’re missing the important point!”)

Imagine being a woman of color saying to us white women, as Melayna Williams did, “White supremacy, weaponized to protect white women’s bodies, is not new. Liberal and conservative women have collectively struggled to acknowledge the ways in which mainstream feminism has served to undercut and erase the voices and struggles of women of colour.” And our response is to say women of color should work toward unity with us white women? Would we tell Dr. Blasey Ford she ought to shake hands with Brett Kavanaugh and make nice?

No. I’m quite sure the white women activists who are puzzled by the anger women of color at their Handmaid’s Tale costumes, or at their suggestion that people “take a knee” to protest rape culture would never tell Dr. Blasey Ford that her lived experience is not evidence, or that she ought to find common ground with Brett Kavanaugh.

When it comes to our activism, fellow white women survivors, we must listen to the truth tellers, the women of color who are understandably saying, “No. I will not work with you.” We must work to understand why. We must listen to the women of color who are telling us to acknowledge the harms we’ve perpetrated against them. We must change. We need to believe her when she tells her story. We must not cause harm to women of color in the way abusing, assaulting, harassing men have caused harm to all of us.

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Me too

In this time of #MeToo being very much in the public awareness, what follows below are the shared experiences of one of BGIM Media’s contributors that illustrate how, unfortunately, the idea that sexual assault, rape and sexual oppression are just the doings of a tiny number of “bad apples” in a huge bunch of “good men” is not accurate. That isn’t to say there aren’t many good men who do right, but there still remain a huge number who do not, and think it their right to do as they will sexually without proper consent. – Shay, aka BGIM

Before I could speak, before I understood my body is mine alone, before I had the words to say stop, before my family caught him, I was molested by an uncle, in my bed, for years, less than two feet away from my twin.

First grade. A male teacher is inappropriately touching himself at his desk, fully aware that I see him. There is no one else there; my female teacher is outside for recess with the rest of the class. I never tell anyone. After that I never allow myself to be anywhere in the school with him alone. Over a decade later he is caught, in that school, with a child in the bathroom.

Sixth grade. The nicknames given to me by my peers—the “the coolest of the kids”—are prude and ice queen. I won’t drink alcohol, and I won’t have sex with boys. I wear those names as a badge of honor, externally. I never talk about how much shame I feel because of them, internally.

Seventh grade. A male classmate I like asks me to be his girlfriend. I’m elated; I say yes. We “date” for several months, attend a school dance as a couple, hold hands when all our friends are together, and giggle when we talk about kissing each other. Then the day comes, he asks “can I kiss you?” “Ok!” I say with a big smile, and close my eyes, happily waiting for what will obviously be the best thing ever!

As his lips press against mine, his right hand cups my undeveloped left breast. Before I can think I separate from him and punch him in his face as hard as I can. The blood pouring from his nose freaks him the fuck out and, he starts screaming, crying, calling me names, and runs off.

Freshman and sophomore year of high school. I find out, in my 20s from a male “friend” that there was a pact among several boys to “break René’s virginity.” One of the boys found the money and contacted everyone else to ask what they should do with it since “No one won.”

Freshman in college. My friends and I walking into the Shugga Shack in Boston. Small town kids in the big city, ready to be grown. Over the next two hours we are keeping men and women out from under our skirts, literally. Several men actually begin sexual play with their finger between my legs without my consent in the midst of dancing. Like it was normal for them to just pussy pop someone in the club. I was mortified.

Then seemingly out of nowhere, there is this flawless contempt and disgust with me the minute I push them off, the minute I advocate for myself and say no. By the end of the night, for safety we friends decide we are all coupled up lovers, just to get some dancing in.

Early 20s. First violent rape. I tell no one.

Mid 20s. Second violent rape. I tell no one, develop agoraphobia and a serious drinking habit. I attempt suicide for the second time in my life. I discover therapy.

Late 20s. I am seeing a guy. No titles, but we are spending a lot of time together. I’ve spent the night without sex for weeks; no issues. Nudging a little, joking about it a bit, but not pushing. Then one night, I’m ready for bed and climbing in to his and he is bottomless. No warning. We talk about my surprise, but I’m game. I appreciate the bold move in the language of building trust and healthy sexual report. In the dark we make out, I allow myself to explore his body with my hands and my body as he willingly explores mine. For sweet delicious moments we are excited and curious. I feel safe.

I perform oral sex, and enjoy watching my partner feel pleasure. I am excited to guide him through pleasing me, I think to myself. We take a quick water break, and I lay down on the bed. He wraps his body around mine and proceeds to penily penetrate me. I stop him and inform him kindly, gently, how painful this experience will be for me without proper internal lubrication.

He ignores me and continues to try to penetrate me. I no longer feel safe.

I squeeze my thighs together as hard as I can, keeping him out of me, while reminding him this is about both of us, not just him. He tries to whisper sweet bullshit in my ear like I haven’t told him I’m not into this. I tell him to stop and get off of me. He tries one more time to “calm me down.” I get louder, so he lets go of me.

I get dressed, and start packing my things to go home. He begs me not to leave. He apologizes profusely as I tell him how fucked this whole thing is. He apologizes some more. I decide not to leave; I sleep on the couch that night. I don’t immediately leave him alone.

Thirty-three years old. I find out a male friend whom I trusted has been telling people in my city for years that I offered my naked body to him as payment for rent when I, for whatever reasons, couldn’t afford it. I was shocked—visibly shook—as my female friend informed me of her interaction with this man, just a few weeks back. It was her first time ever meeting him.

I called him and asked for a meeting immediately. When he said yes and he asked why, I told him, “I don’t trust you or feel safe around you any longer. I need you to know why so you will leave me the hell alone.” He denied everything until the very end, eventually apologizing for breaking my trust. I remember laughing at his pathetic apology text message the next morning as I happily deleted all digital traces of him from my universe.

He is a scumbag, a low-life, a criminal, a meticulous wolf in sheep’s clothing pretending to be a gentleman. Like every man who violated me before him, a coward who should fear the harm they have caused because it will come back to them. Know our names and our faces, the days of us keeping your secrets are over.

If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support. Want more BGIM? Consider booking me to speak with your group or organization.

Comments will close on this post in 60-90 days; earlier if there are spam attacks or other nonsense.

Photo by Stefano Pollio on Unsplash