This post contains spoilers about the first Avengers movie. If you haven’t seen that movie, and you hate spoilers, don’t read the section bracketed by bold red text.
(Of course, if you haven’t see the first Avengers movie, I honestly don’t understand your life, and I don’t know what to say to you. Really. Get on that.)
To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.
— James Baldwin
I used to teach teens and young adults. I loved teaching, and I loved my students, and both of those loves were fairly obvious. Nevertheless, with every new class, we would reach a moment when someone would comment loudly to the group that they hoped they’d never see me angry. And everyone would enthusiastically agree. This in the face of my daily showering of love and affection on their silly heads. When I asked the reason for this dread of my anger, I got the same answer: if I could be as nice as I was, if I could be in such a good mood every day, my anger must have the force and destructive power of a hundred-year storm.
I laughed at that assessment, but the laughter was for show. I knew they were right, that they had seen me much more clearly than I might have liked them to. My anger was so powerful, I actively worked to keep her straight-jacketed, chained, and locked in a sound-proof cell.
Most days, this plan succeeded. Anger might have been burning through my insides, but outwardly I appeared calm. So calm, in fact, that I developed a reputation for my ability to remain unruffled in response to bullshit.
The swallowing of my anger didn’t work all the time. She found ways to slip her chains and rampage freely – wreaking havoc as casually as breathing. Relationships, job opportunities, civil discourse in the check-out line at Key Food … all went down in flames. As my exes what my anger looks like. (Seriously.)
I was terrified of what I saw in myself at those times, of what I couldn’t see. After keeping my anger on lockdown for so many years, I’d lost touch with her. I didn’t know how deep she ran, didn’t know just how much devastation she was capable of. I was terrified of her, of the damage she could do, but also of how she made me look, of what other people would think of me if they saw her.
Because we know where this path leads. Me being labeled an Angry Black Woman.
And that would be the worst. As a Black woman, I’m not allowed my anger. Not if I want to be heard, to be respected, to be believed. The moment a Black woman shows her anger – unless it is directed at other Black folks, particularly Black men and boys – she is dismissed or violently subdued.
So I worked hard to swallow my anger. But I live as a Black woman in this world at this time, and there’s only so much swallowing a person can do. I found myself choking down rage again and then again and then some more.
I started opening the cell door and letting my anger out here and there. Using what I hoped were controlled bursts like a release valve in an attempt to equalize the pressure of being a Black woman in this world at this time.
It was a risk, being unashamedly, publicly angry. For so many years, I’d believed giving my anger free rein was a danger I couldn’t manage.
And I really couldn’t manage it. Not at first. I did a pretty poor job of balancing the level of anger against the given situation. But, even when I was getting it wrong, I started to feel a lot better. The pressure release worked. I no longer felt as if I was choking all the time.
Equally surprising: the world did not implode. While surely unpleasant for anyone on the receiving end, the expression of my anger did not burn all things to the ground.
I thought about the past, my rep for being preternaturally happy, and I wondered how I had become so angry. And I wondered why, if I was releasing my anger, I was still so angry.
Which was when I had my Avengers epiphany. [SPOILER] Just before the big final battle, the crew is gathered. Black Widow, Hawkeye, Thor, and Bruce Banner – as Bruce Banner, not the Hulk. They’re about to take on a host of Big Bads and one ginormous alien monster thing is coming right for them. Cap looks at Banner and says, “Now might be a really good time for you to get angry.” Banner says, “That’s my secret. I’m always angry,” and instantly morphs into the Hulk. [END SPOILER]
That moment shook me. I looked at Bruce Banner and saw the truth of myself, the thing I’d been swallowing year after year. I am an angry Black woman. One hundred percent. I am angry all the time. All. The. Damn. Time. Rather than being mortified whenever my anger slipped her bonds, I should have been impressed that I hadn’t spent my life smacking people upside the head every five minutes.
Anyone who’s met me or read my work in the last four years will not recognize rage-swallowing Stacie. They know Angry Stacie, they’ve seen what my fury looks and sounds like. I hope they also see how it has moved me closer toward my real self, my true self. I am angry. Angrier than I am tired, angrier than I am sad. I no longer apologize for showing my dark side. I embrace and relish it. And let’s be very clear: when I say my “dark side,” I’m not assigning a negative descriptor to my rage. I mean my authentic self, the one I kept hidden for far too long. Dark, rich, powerful … as the song says, anger is a gift. And I am here for unwrapping it every single day.
In 2017, I took up Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge to write an essay a week. I didn’t complete 52 essays by year’s end, but I did write like crazy, more in 2017 than in 2015 and 2016 combined! I’ve decided to keep working on personal essays, keep at this #GriotGrind. If you’d care to join in, it’s never too late! You can find our group on FB: #52Essays Next Wave.