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 my 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.

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7 thoughts on “Gratitude and Grievances

  1. Tim cataldo

    Well I am not as gifted as you with your words and I can not know the anger in you as you write about. As I am a white male 53 from Albany now but grew up in Rotterdam for most of my life and you were a classmate of mine.
    And knowing you in class i recall how smart and gifted you were back then and you seem even more gifted know.
    Again I could never understand your anger but it is everyone right to voice one mind, weather it be about anger,race,sports,tv,movies or whatever.
    And in this post you voiced your being angry in such a way it brought a tear to my eyes.
    So thank you for sharing and it is always good to share one thoughts weather it is a lifting up story or a story that is sad.
    All the best

    Like

  2. Sarah Piazza

    What’s enraging me particularly over the last few days is people arguing that Mr. Garner could not have been choking because he was able to say, “I can’t breathe.” WTF?! He DIED. Isn’t that evidence enough that he was having goddamn trouble breathing?

    Like

    1. Thanks for reading, Sarah. I totally hear you on this. Sadly, for so many folks, it’s easier to make Eric Garner’s death his own fault than to deal with the broader implications of the reality of his being choked to death by Pantaleo.

      Like

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