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Can we talk? Can we?

In my List of Demands, I said this was a special moment, a chance for some non-black people to have their first real conversations about race. I meant that. I mean that. But there’s more to the story, more in the picture than is visible at first glance. Because I also said I wouldn’t be doing anyone’s homework for them in order for them to join the conversation. And I meant that, too. But maybe I need to be clearer about what that means.

When I read Brit Bennett’s excellent essay, “I Don’t Know What to Do with Good White People,” I felt myself exhale. The essay had the warm, deep resonance of familiarity — my excellent, supportive supervisor … who assumed I’d been born out of wedlock, my generous, volunteered-in-Africa-every-winter doctor … who assumed I must have plenty of children — and her tone echoed one I hear in my own voice as I try to have conversations these days.

I don’t think my white friends are looking for any kind of kudos for being the nice, intelligent, funny, caring, supportive people they are. I don’t think they expect me to thank them for not being racists. I don’t think any of that. But I do find myself running aground in some conversations, and I’m struggling to figure out what to do about it, how to keep the conversations going while keeping my friendships going.

People have told me that reading my latest writing has pushed them to think about their responses to things in new ways, to think about issues of race in new ways. That seems good, like something I’d want to be an outcome. At the same time, my writing, and the articles I’ve chosen to post on FB, have been seen as challenging, have been met with responses that fall into the “But what about me?” category, that seem to want direct acknowledgement of individual goodness. I had a two-hour phone call last week that started as a discussion of structural racism and quickly got mired in “what about me?” talk.

So I’ll say again that I don’t think my white friends are looking for a cookie, or a medal, or any of the other patronizing prizes folks have mentioned in response to the “what about me?” conversation. I believe the pushback is coming from a sincerely honest place of “You can’t possibly see me that way!” … but that place bothers me in a way I have yet to fully articulate.

Several white friends — And can I say here how strange and unkind and false it feels to be identifying any of my friends in this way? Still. — have prefaced their comments to me in a way similar to my two-hour-phone-call friend: some version of “I don’t want to talk about black people and white people. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather just be referred to as a person, not as a white person.”

Yes. I hear you. I get that.

But I want you to see the luxury of that. The privilege. I’d like to be referred to as a person, too. Living in a society that is normed on white experience, however, robs me of that right. It means that 99 times out of 100, what I am is added as a modifier to whatever other way I am perceived. I am a black writer, a black shopper, a black tourist. And I am all of those things. Of course. But you, my white friend, are described as a writer, a shopper, a tourist. And the fact that you can’t see that, can’t think that, before you tell me you want to be referred to as “just” a person? That’s a problem.

It’s a problem that makes my conversations with you difficult. But let’s be clear: it’s your problem. I cannot fix it for you. And if I could fix it for you, I wouldn’t. Because this is what I meant when I said I wouldn’t do your homework for you. This is your problem to fix.

I want to have this conversation, but more and more I have been wondering if I can, if I am able to do this without convo-killing displays of my anger, without me telling some of my (white) friends to step off, that I cannot be the lantern that guides them through this forest.

Last night I had dinner with a dear friend, and we tried to talk about some of this. we did talk, and it felt good and real and honest, even if I couldn’t put words to all the things I was thinking, even with my tangential digressions.

That gives me hope.

Had an audio flashback yesterday that’s still playing its tune today. I was sent back in time to the first time I heard Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. “Breakdown” was an instant favorite for me. Something about the way Petty sang those first lines:

It’s alight if you love me.
It’s alright if you don’t.
I’m not afraid of you running away, honey.
I get the feeling you won’t.

I’d never heard anyone sing like him. The sound of his voice, the sound of that lyric. They just clicked so hard for me. I was young and unworldly enough that I didn’t fully understand what Petty was singing about, but the song communicated with me all the same. Fox (my younger sister) and I used to sing this song all the time. I was Petty, she was the Heartbreakers. If we’d grown up Irish, “Breakdown” would have been one of our party pieces.

Heard five seconds of the intro guitar behind a promo for a news show on my way out the door yesterday … and I was cast back, back upstate, standing in the living room in front of the stereo, singing with Fox.

Woke up with the song in my head today. First thought, before “snowmageddon 2015,” before conscious thought. Thanks, NPR, for that musical time travel magic.

Something inside you
is feeling like I do.
We’ve said all there is to say.

Baby –

Breakdown, go ahead and give it to me.
Breakdown, honey, take me through the night.
Breakdown, now I’m standing here, can’t you see –
breakdown, it’s alright.
It’s alright.
It’s alright.


It’s Tuesday, friends. There’s snow on the ground, and it’s a Slice of Life day. Head over to Two Writing Teachers to see the rest of the day’s slices.

SOL image 2014

Yes, still reporting from the heart of my anger, the anger in my heart. This is a difficult challenge for me, allowing myself to stay present in my fury. Staying present in my sadness and bewilderment has been easy. I have far more experience with that.

I have a long and troubled history with accessing and accepting my anger. This is a legacy of solid, good-girl training, a set of lessons that were reinforced by nice-black-woman training. While both courses of study have surely been extremely helpful to people with whom I’ve had to interact, neither has been particularly useful to me. I have learned to keep my mouth shut and my head down. I’ve learned to smile when I’d rather be doling out dope slaps. I’ve learned how to keep conversations well-oiled so that we’re able to move smoothly (ish) from safe ground to politically incorrect racist/sexist/heteronormative gaffe to safe ground. I’ve learned how to get along. Often at the expense of my heart and soul.

“Getting along” seems like a worthy enough goal, doesn’t it? If everyone could just make nice, wouldn’t the world would be a better place? I’m actually not so sure. In my life, “getting along” often means breaking my own heart over casual ugliness that I let slide simply to avoid conflict. Casual ugliness, the kind born out of and supporting a system built on my othering, on the assumption of my lesser status. Alone at home after these moments, they bubble up, replaying again and again as if some irksome sportscaster in the back of my head keeps saying, “Let’s go to the video tape!”

Maybe you’re thinking this is my problem, that I just have to stop dwelling on these things. Okay. How good are you at that? Let’s try some role-playing. In this scenario, you’re Italian.

You’re having a discussion about developing programming for young people to help prepare them for college and work. The conversation has been interesting and productive. And then someone says, “All this sounds great, but we’ll have to do something different for the Italian kids. You know how they are. There’s no way we can get them ready for college!” And then that person looks at you and says, “You know I’m not talking about you, but you know I’m right.”

You might brush it off in the moment so as not to derail the working session. But would you forget it entirely? Would you put it out of your mind only to find yourself ambushed by it as you’re about to make an important presentation? Do people really think Italians are troublesome or unteachable? Do people think I’m difficult, I have trouble learning? Do they think I can’t do this job well, that I was hired as a token or to meet a quota? What does my supervisor really think of me, of my capabilities?

Let’s regroup. How did that feel? Were you surprised that someone would say something so foolish and cruel about Italians? Could you see how a comment like that might bother you beyond the instant of hearing it? Can you imagine finding yourself getting angry about it at odd moments of the day? And can you imagine getting angry with yourself when you caught yourself wondering if some aspect of it might be true even when you know perfectly well that it isn’t true?

Sometimes, it’s really challenging to swallow the casual ugliness, to set it aside and keep things moving. Sometimes the casual ugliness has amazing dig-in-and-stay power. And maybe that’s because the ugliness is particularly ugly. And maybe it’s because I’ve heard these things so many times that I’m full, don’t have room for one more, so they keep hovering around my brain, keep poking at me.

And all that poking makes me angry. Leaves me with a simmering-under-the-surface anger that is almost constant, always one microaggression away from tipping me into the hot zone.

So, how to deal with this anger. I’ve never known. There has been so much pressure not to deal with it, to stuff it down, to ignore it, that I’ve never learned what a healthy response might be. Early in this blog’s life, I wrote about two instances from middle school in which that angry-making ugliness pushed me to violence. But here’s the problem: neither at the time of those incidents nor now do I  think my response was inappropriate. Yes, I said that. Slamming John in the head with my book not only felt good in the moment, I was good forever after that moment — he never spoke to me again — and it still feels good now, almost 40 years later, to know that I shut him down so effectively. The same is true for my present-day feelings about Michael. Although I would probably respond differently today if the same situation were to arise (probably), I cannot find any fault in those long-ago responses.

But that kind of lashing out can’t be the all-the-time answer. Not just because I am a peaceful person at heart but also because a) eventually a violent response is going to get me into real trouble and b) violence doesn’t leave room for conversation, for change, and that’s what I want. Yes, hitting John meant that John stopped talking to me, and that was a change that worked just fine for seventh-grade me. But hitting John didn’t magically make him understand what was wrong with anything he was saying, didn’t make him change how he thought or felt about black people. More likely, it confirmed some other things he thought and felt about black people.

I don’t think it’s my job to change the minds of racists, but not all people who say racist things are racists, and lashing out closes the door on them looking honestly at their words and actions. My support for non-violent action isn’t as much about the fact that I’m a “nice” person as it is about my desire for real dialogue. So, violence. Not always the best answer.

And aside from being taught that my anger is “bad,” or “dangerous,” or “unladylike,” there is the fact that anger makes me a stereotype. Here I am, yet another Angry Black Woman. And my nice-black-woman training means I’ve tried to avoid seeming angry, being angry, precisely to avoid fitting and feeding that stereotype.

But there’s still my anger. I have a LOT of it. It’s here and it’s real. And avoidance doesn’t do anything for me. Except make me more angry.

The world is harder now. Cracking some wannabe bully in the face with my out-of-date history book worked in middle school, but there are no handy villains to slap around today.  New times call for new tactics. Using my words instead of my hands has sparked some conversations, has felt right even if it hasn’t felt like enough. Staying public with this anger has shown me that I can be furious, that I can give voice to this fury … and the world continues to turn, nothing bursts into flame, no one drops dead. And that’s good. It’s at least a start.

My anger and I are on a first name basis today — finally, after all these years — and this feels like the start of a long relationship. I’ll have to keep my eye on my anger. She’s far more beautiful than I am and is incredibly seductive. But as much as she needs watching, I have no interest just now in reining her in. I’m getting comfortable with Angry Stacie. I suggest you do the same.

__________

* Once again mining Rage Against the Machine lyrics for my titles. This one is from “Wake Up” … which is exactly what I’ve been doing these last weeks, rousing the sleeping giant of my fury.

Safe as Houses

Last night I locked my front door.

If you’ve read this blog for a minute, you know that I don’t lock my door. I do lock the big iron gate in front of my door, but not the door itself. This is part laziness, part habit from when the lock wasn’t working properly, part foolish, Pollyanna-ish insistence that I don’t need to lock it.

But then sometimes I do.

A few years ago I was reading Francisco Goldman’s The Art of Political Murder, and it was killing me. I was terrified all the time, most especially so when I entered my house at night because that was when Bishop Gerardi was murdered. I wrote about my fear here, and Fox — my intelligent and often-snarky younger sister — responded that I might feel safer in my home if I locked my front door.

(Yes, my family — as may be true for some of you reading this — are horrified by my crazy, not-door-locking behavior.)

Fox was right. I locked my door, and I immediately felt safer in my house, slept more easily. When I recovered from reading Goldman’s book, I stopped locking my door.

Since then, door-locking has been the barometer of my feeling of security and comfort.

So let’s start again: last night I locked my front door.

There could be any number of reasons for that. I’ve been binge-listening to “Serial,” and have definitely felt whispers of fear running along my spine. I hadn’t thought it was too serious, but I could be wrong. So it could be Adnan Sayed … but maybe it’s something more.

I am feeling decidedly exposed and vulnerable, which makes sense, given how public I’ve been in the expression of my anger and sadness and frustration. Is that scary? I guess it is scary. Is it lock-the-door scary? I wouldn’t have thought so, but it could be.

There were a few moments last night — as I fixed dinner, as I twisted my hair — when I could feel unease rising in my chest, that I had to remind myself that I had locked the door, when the knowledge of the locked door dissolved the fear and enabled me to carry on calmly with my night.

And if this fear is about my feeling exposed and vulnerable, that actually seems like a good thing. Opening myself like this has been very powerful for me, has helped me see that I can be angry — ragingly angry — and the world doesn’t crumble, no mountains fall into the sea.

Of course, it could also be just plain, straight-up #AliveWhileBlack fear. I’ve been so focused lately on all the times and all the ways I have felt unsafe on the street. I’ve been thinking about Aiyanna Stanley Jones who should have been perfectly safe — asleep in her home being a regular seven-year-old child — and yet wasn’t safe. And maybe weeks and weeks of acknowledging and giving voice to this painful truth that I don’t control is finally manifesting, channeling through my fingers, turning that cylinder, sliding that bolt.

I’m curious to see what will happen tonight. Sometimes, just acknowledging my fear is enough to dispel it, enough to let me return to my unlocked life. And if the fear persists, it makes me more glad than usual that I’ll be heading home for Christmas. In that house full of family and dogs — to say nothing of locked doors and an activated alarm system — I will sleep soundly every night.

But whether in my family’s home or in my home, I know that — fear or no fear — I’m going to keep writing, keep posting.

List of Demands

Oh yes, because there are things I want, things you will need to give me to ensure our easy interaction. And yes, I could say that respect is what you need to give me, but I’ve been saying it for years and have finally accepted that it doesn’t mean the same thing to you as it does to me.

So I’m making my demands known. Demands, making me sound like a hostage-taker. Maybe I am. My hostage is this moment, this moment that has flipped a switch for me, for so many people. I’m holding it and holding it. Holding it as if there’s a forever-fermata hovering overhead just now. Holding it and holding it, stretching it and myself. Will I post other things? Of course I will. At the very least, I’m only halfway through my 30-stories run, so there will be stories. But for today there are demands. Listen up.

1. Stop telling me slavery ended in the 1860s. Stop. Because, obviously, I know that. But — and this is the big bit — slavery’s end doesn’t mean slavery never happened, doesn’t mean all of the social and institutional constructs that were put in place to keep me in mine never existed, don’t still exist.

2. Stop telling me your family never owned slaves. Mostly you should stop because there isn’t ever a reasonable context for telling me this, and you just sound ridiculous. But also, it’s likely that you don’t know this for a fact, so you should just stop. I know you want to tell me this maybe-fact about your family because you think it explains something. You think it will help me see that all this “racism stuff” doesn’t have anything to do with you. You never owned a slave a day in your life. Yes, well …

2b. I am no longer going to do your homework for you. Go look up “white privilege” for your own self.

3. Stop telling me I need to “get over” slavery/Jim Crow/racism. Let’s play pretend: You have debilitating arthritis that causes you pain nearly every day of your life. Every once in a while, the pain is so severe, you complain. And when you complain to me, I say, “Oh Lord, not with the arthritis again! Can you give that a rest already and get over it?”

Wasn’t that a fun game? Didn’t you feel heard, valued, cared for, understood? No? Well, get over it! (See what I did there?)

Racism isn’t something to “get over,” like a cold or a broken leg. Would that it could be so simple. And, even if it were something to be gotten over … I’m actually not the one who needs the cure. Just let that sink in your mind for a minute.

4. From this point forward, I will no longer entertain any sentences that include the words, “not to be racist, but …” or rephrasing of same. You and I both know that when you say these words you’re thinking they excuse whatever racist thing you’re about to say. They don’t. Period. My hand is up in your face as you try to defend yourself. Stop.

5. Just as I will no longer do your homework for you (see item 2b above), I am no longer willing to be your understanding of the monolithic body of Black People. I represent myself. I talk about things that piss me off. The things that piss me off may also piss off other black folks, but I don’t speak for them. I don’t need you to listen to what I say and then follow up with some nonsense about how you “didn’t know black people felt that way.” I want you to fix this, but I’m willing to understand your confusion. You may be thinking of “black people” as a collective noun, and we all know that collective nouns are singular. Absolutely correct. However, collective nouns — the glee club, the army, the prom committee, the senate — are made up of individuals. Individuals who may all be part of that collectively described group but who rarely think and feel the same way about all things (please refer to, ahem, the senate). So you are welcome to be surprised that I feel some kind of way about something, but you need not assume that what I think is what all black people think. After all …

5b. I am equally unwilling to listen when you try to convince me that what I feel and think is somehow wrong or invalid because you’ve heard of some other black person who doesn’t agree. I can easily accept that there are plenty of other black folks who don’t get pissed off by the things that piss me off. When I tell you that something is irking the crap out of me, when I tell you that a particular comment is racist, I don’t need you to hold up for me some random other black person you know (or know about) who disagrees. Do you agree at all times with every other person in your particular racial or ethnic group? In your family group? I’m guessing not. Also, please refer to item 3 from the grievance list. Those folks may be singing the song you’d rather hear. That’s on them. That’s on you. That has nothing at all to do with me and what’s on my mind.

Maybe you think pointing out what you perceive as dissension in the ranks is just some friendly Devil’s Advocate playing, helping me see perspective. You got no takers here. And the devil? Already has more than enough advocates. You need to sit down. Maybe read something while you’re keeping your mouth shut.

6. Stop telling me that police officers have difficult jobs. You’re right, of course. They do have difficult jobs. That’s one reason most of us can’t and don’t want to be police officers. That’s also why police officers all went to the Police Academy to be trained to do their very difficult jobs. By telling me how hard it is to be a cop, are you saying police work is so hard that it’s impossible to properly train officers? Are you suggesting that police officers have no ability to assess the stressful situations they find themselves in while doing their difficult jobs? Are you saying that the situations which have led to numerous armed, actively-violent white people being arrested and not killed were somehow less difficult than being faced with an unarmed black person? Again, I have to tell you to take a seat. Take several.

7. Stop telling me you’re colorblind, that you don’t see color, that you don’t see me as black. No one believes you. Even you don’t believe you. Being colorblind isn’t even desirable. If you can’t see color, you can’t see me at all. If you can’t see color, you’re negating all the work people of color have done to make this country. And maybe that works for you, but I’m not interested. Seeing color isn’t the problem. Seeing color and deciding that mine is “wrong” or “bad” is the problem. Seeing color and telling me the job is already filled, or the apartment is no longer available is the problem. And really: the idea that you don’t see me as black? Come on, people. Let’s never, ever go there again.

________

It’s a lot all at once, isn’t it? And this is only a piece of the list! But we’re at a good moment now, a chance for you to step into the national conversation, to listen rather than jumping in with your convo-killing, “We need to stand together,” business. Maybe you really want us to stand together, but remember what I told you last time: all of us standing together to face racism means you coming to stand over here with me, not vice versa. That’s not up for debate. For many of you, it may also mean keeping your mouth shut for a while.

In this moment, you have an opportunity to have what may be your first real conversation about race in America. You can do this. And you have to.

Gratitude and Grievances

Thanksgiving isn’t usually a struggle for me. Even at my lowest, I always feel gratitude for certain things. And I am grateful for them now. Grateful that I can have a delicious meal with my family, to celebrate the day and each other.

I give thanks for my born-into family, who love me all the time, even though I am so different from them, even though I’m strange, even though I cry a lot and keep a messy house, and sometimes forget to pay my bills on time. I give thanks for my family’s love of books and learning, for all of our houses full of books, for all of our trips to the library, for the understanding that worlds can be put into words and are meant to be discovered and savored.

I give thanks for my friends, who have stood up for me, stood up with me, stood beside me, and who also love me all the time. I give particular thanks to my writer friends, my musician and artist friends, who get that part of me and encourage and push me with their confidence in my work and the example they give me of their own work. I am grateful for having discovered VONA, having found a warm, comfortable home for y big, sappy heart, for finding the power to call myself a writer, for the way VONA gives me life.

There’s more. Of course. I am lucky enough that there are always things in my life to be grateful for. But this is 2014, and gratitude can’t be the magic elixir that gets me through. Not today.

I could say that I’m grateful I’ve never been stopped and frisked. I’m certainly grateful my brother and nephew are alive and safe. But what is also true is that I am sick in my heart, that I can’t set aside my pain and anger simply to enjoy my sister-in-law’s amazing mashed potatoes.

And so here I am. With all my Black, all my fat, all my nappy hair, all my being so articulate, all my speaking before I’m spoken to. I said I was going to be the truth of the Angry Black Woman, so I’m starting a list of things that are pissing me off.

1. I am angry that the system in power in this country works on a daily basis to hold me back, hold me down, devalue, dehumanize and disappear me. Every time a black life is cut short, my life is cut short. Every time a black girl or woman goes missing, a piece of me goes missing. Every time one of these outrages happens and there is no broad-based energy behind solving the crime or prosecuting the culprits, some of my teeth are kicked in, some of me is erased. The decision to dismiss manslaughter charges against Detroit cop Joseph Weekley for shooting 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones to death as she slept is a letter-bomb from this country saying, “We don’t care about your babies. We don’t care if you are innocent or guilty. We don’t care if we’ve broken into the wrong house. We don’t care if you pose a threat or if you are sleeping on the couch. We only care about adding to the tally. One more of you out of our way.”

It’s the truth I’ve pointed to before, the truth of Rage Against the Machine’s lyric:

Three million gone
Come on
Cause you know they’re counting backward to zero.

2. I am angry that when I talk about my anger, my grief, my frustration, there is always and always someone ready to slap me down:

“But terrible things happen to everyone. You can’t make everything about race.”

“How can you say there’s still racism? We have a Black president.”

“When you talk about race, you’re the one perpetuating the racial divide.”

“Not everything is racist. We need to stand together and not apart.”

I’ll just take that last one as an example. When you tell me we need to stand together, I agree. I want you to come stand over here next to me, to be an ally. But that isn’t what you mean. You want me to put away my little racism nonsense and go stand by you. Why does standing together have to mean forgetting everything I know, everything that’s been done to me, everything I’ve seen and take your position? If I am talking about something that is true for me as a Black person, about something I have seen to be true for many, many other Black people, why are you so comfortable telling me I’m mistaken, telling me I need to ignore my evidence and embrace your fairy tale?

If you really believe #AllLivesMatter, prove that to me by caring about mine and the lives of people who look like me. I can’t pretend any interest in your, “We’re all one, kumbaya” claptrap if you can’t shut up long enough to listen to my experience, to acknowledge and accept that my life may have played out differently than yours, that what I feel when I see a police officer walking toward me may be completely different from what you feel even though my life has been as crime-free and upright-citizen-y as yours.

3. I am angry that when I talk about race, there is always someone ready to share a video or quote from some random Black person (or not so random … I see you Bill Cosby, Allen West) talking about how we need to pull our pants up and get over this business because it’s 150 years since slavery, and weren’t none of us slaves, so STFU.

Right. Right.

First, let’s be clear. It’s not even 50 years since the last public lynching. And only three months since a man in Mississippi was shot after calling in a burning cross in his yard. Talk to me about how it’s all in the past. Talk. I’m listening. I’m listening as I compile my personal catalog of experiences with racism, as I compile the Library of Congress-sized catalog of other black folks’ experiences from the last decade alone. Talk to me. Then STFU.

Yes, there will always be Black people ready to sing the song you want to hear (I see you, too, Don Lemon … and still seeing you, Messrs. Cosby and West). Always. They need to sing that song. Need to. It helps them validate themselves, gives them the false comfort and security of believing that the more closely they align themselves with you, the more they will be you, be able to claim the privileges you are afforded. So yes, there will always be Black people who will sing that song. But there will always be more of us who won’t, who will deconstruct that song chord by treble clef by measure by grace note.

4. I am angry because I’m not allowed to be angry. Ever. If I raise my voice, if I ask a clarifying question, if I make a sternly-worded request after you’ve been ignoring me at the deli counter … I’m told to calm down, and told fearfully as if I’m out of control and half a second from combustion.

Well, guess what? I am half a second from combustion. Maybe only a nanosecond. And sometimes I may come to you after I’ve already hit critical mass. You know what you have to do then? Deal with it. Deal with me. Get over yourself and out of your (or my) way. Yes, I may be angry, and maybe I’m angry at you. The world won’t implode. Anger isn’t a crime.

Anger is natural. It’s healthy. And — to look once again to Rage Against the Machine — it’s a gift. A gift that is fueling this change in my stance, my choice of how I will position myself in this world, my willingness to accept or not the ways people decide to come to me. I am not walking around spitting in anyone’s face or slapping random strangers (this is still me we’re talking about, and can you imagine?). And I’m not actively at my boiling point every moment of every day. But neither am I shying away from or forcing down my anger, smoothing my edges to be accommodating, biting my tongue when folks need to be told to take a seat. When I get angry, I will be angry, and I will let it inspire me to move forward, to keep pushing. When I get angry with you, I will tell you. I will also be open for conversation about whatever has angered me. But when I say I’m open for conversation, I will not mean that I’m open to you taking on any of the troll roles that are filling up my soon-to-be-blocked FB feed. Taking that option will just make things worse.

________

This is just the current, knife-blade edge of my anger iceberg. I have so much to be angry about. You have no idea. None.

It’s 2014. The last tired days of 2014. I am no longer that soft, biddable girl you knew. I am no longer willing to go along to get along. I will no longer laugh if, when I’m at the water fountain, you tell me I can’t drink there because it’s whites only. I will no longer bite my tongue when you tell me Mick Jagger would be better looking without his nasty nigger lips. I will no longer bow my head at your command as if I owe you the freedom to touch my hair. I will no longer waste my breath educating you when you ask me why, if I wash regularly, my skin is still so dark.

It’s 2014. It’s 2014, and we are all grown up now. And I have grown into a woman who speaks when she has words, who believes in the value of that speech and refuses to clog her throat choking down all the things she’d like to say. I have grown into a woman who won’t let her voice be taken. I will say what is in my mind, what is in my heart, what is burning through the lining of my stomach after so many years of holding my tongue to make nice.

It’s 2014, and I am tired. More tired than 52 years warrants, tired like almost 400 years of rape and murder, like 400 years of holding my tongue, swallowing my truth, waiting my turn, waiting for the society I live in to finally-and-for-all accept that I am here, that I am who this history has made me and who I have made myself, that I am worthy, that I can think, that I have a heart full of love, that I am beautiful, that I’m not going anywhere.

It’s 2014, and I am not going anywhere. I won’t be put down, I won’t be made small. I will take up every inch of the space that I need. And then I will take the inches and feet and miles of space that I want.

Michael Brown is dead, and I can’t change that. Darren Wilson will never have to pay for killing Michael Brown, and I can’t change that. But I can honor Michael Brown, I can honor Tarika Wilson, Eric Garner, Eleanor Bumpurs, Ramarley Graham, John Crawford III, Tamir Rice, Kimani Gray, Oscar Grant, Yvette Smith, Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo. I can honor all of those lost by being here, by opening my mouth, by saying their names, by remembering, by taking up space, by being the truth of the Angry Black Woman. Because I am angry, angrier than I am tired, angrier than I am sad. I am angry, and you don’t know me angry. You only know my smile, my shyness, my willingness to let you be right, to let you go first.

It’s 2014, and that girl doesn’t live here anymore.

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