The impetus behind the Notes on Anger series, which I guest edited for Zora Magazine’s summer issue, came from the desire to know how other black women emotionally and psychologically experienced and expressed their anger, while navigating the stereotype of the angry black woman. A stereotype that portrays black lesbians and women as irrationally angry, loud, harsh, and emasculating, all of which serves to silence her and dismiss her legitimate response to social forces that create unequal circumstances.
As with all stereotypes, it serves the needs of others, and the individual who is being stereotyped is misrecognized and misunderstood. And not being seen clearly, makes it difficult, when going through an emotionally challenging time, to be held vulnerably. When I would go to others with my sadness, with my frustrations about racism and sexism, I was often told to be strong or advised to attack back and be that feisty black woman who can overcome anything. I was quickly discovering that our culture, at large, has an inability to hold an empathetic space for black women who are sad, which is often the primary emotion when the anger is charted to its source.
What if we allow ourselves to be compassionate witnesses to a black woman’s sadness? To listen to her openly, without expectation or judgment, for what she goes through daily?
What is it that we can learn from her? What needs to be let go to open to a black woman’s humanity?
To counter the media portrayals of the angry black woman, I needed intimate portraits of women learning the dominion of their anger, allowing for its expression in ways that are authentic and restorative to the dynamics around them. Essays by Tara Betts, adrienne mae brown, Monica A. Hand, Angelique V. Nixon, Metta Sáma, Joshunda Sanders, Idrissa Simmonds, and Mecca Jamilah Sullivan were prompted by the following questions:
- What is your definition of anger? How did you learn to be (or not to be) angry?
- What is your anger portrait?
- What has your anger taught you? What has been personally uncovered?
- How have those lessons affected your relationships, your sense of self, intimately and socially? How have your perspectives changed?
- How did you grow from a time when your anger resulted in feelings of shame, guilt, sadness and/or fear?
- What comes to mind when you think of the angry black woman stereotype? Do you relate to her; do you not? Has that stereotype impeded or bolstered your expression of anger?
- How do you inhabit your anger so that it works to restore and heal the dynamics (intimate relationships, community, physical environment, community, politics) around you?
And the Audre Lorde quote, “I want to speak about anger, my anger, and what I have learned from my travels through its dominions,” was important for setting the tone for Notes on Anger, because the series is about reportage, sharing field notes, and checking in about how it is going. Doing so is recognition that we are connected, that I see you, and you are not alone.
ARISA WHITE is a Cave Canem fellow, Sarah Lawrence College alumna, an MFA graduate from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and author of the poetry chapbooks Disposition for Shininess and Post Pardon. She was selected by the San Francisco Bay Guardian for the 2010 Hot Pink List. Member of the PlayGround writers’ pool, her play Frigidare was staged for the 15th Annual Best of PlayGround Festival. Recipient of the inaugural Rose O’Neill Literary House summer residency at Washington College in Maryland, Arisa has also received residencies, fellowships, or scholarships from Headlands Center for the Arts, Port Townsend Writers’ Conference, Squaw Valley Community of Writers, Hedgebrook, Atlantic Center for the Arts, Prague Summer Program, Fine Arts Work Center, and Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2005, her poetry has been published widely and is featured on the recording WORD with the Jessica Jones Quartet.