On Thanksgiving 2009, I hit a man with my Totes bubble umbrella. He was an older gentleman but spry, White, rude, and buzzed off of Beaujolais or some other Turkey chaser. His graying wife on his arm, this man mowed me into oncoming traffic at the corner of Central Park West and 59th street in New York City and kept stepping. I collected myself and marched after him. “Sir. Sir. Excuse me, sir. You just ran me into the street.” His back to me, he mumbled, “Well, sorry” and waved a dismissive hand. I wasn’t having it, so I picked up the pace, called for his attention and whacked him on the arm with my umbrella. A bystander, a middle-aged White male who had witnessed both acts of violence, caught my eye and exclaimed, “You shouldn’t have done that,” and then fended off the retaliation-seized senior and his wife.
I said, “He shouldn’t have run me into the street.” My good Samaritan, and my sister with whom I had just shared a peaceful vegan Thanksgiving meal at a nearby restaurant, were concerned for my safety and chided me for putting myself in harm’s way.
In May of 2010, I yelled at an elderly woman food cart vendor. My mother, who had lost her mother the day before, was parking her rental car in midtown, blocks away from Western Union. As she was backing into the spot, this vendor beckoned her to roll down her window and then asked her how long she intended to be parked there. The hour my mother overestimated was not to the vendor’s liking, as she intended to use the spot to move her cart from the sidewalk onto the street come closing time—so she instructed us to park elsewhere, and my mom nodded acquiescently despite having circled for some time to find the spot in question.
This is where I came in. No one, not even an elderly food cart vendor, was going to stop my mom from parking in a legal public parking spot anytime — especially not the day after she lost her mother, and especially not as she made her way to wire money to her native Nigeria to tend to funeral costs and her mentally ill brother in advance of her arrival. Suffice it to say, this old woman got hers and much, much more. Bystanders, many of whom were certainly her clientele, gave me dirty looks. My mom looked embarrassed but remained quiet. Later, as we drove back uptown, I quipped that my outburst would be perfect for a “Dateline” hidden camera segment on mean people or, more to the point, people who yell at elderly working class immigrants on city streets.
In both cases, I was right. It’s not OK to run anyone into the street, although one damning feature of White privilege is a predilection for running people of color off sidewalks. It’s not OK to stop anyone from parking in a legal public parking spot, but I understand I looked bad expressing my disdain for both transgressions.
These are occasional flashes of anger, directed at those insensitive enough to do me or my loved ones wrong and draw my ire. A few years ago I made a decision to let it all out, to not swallow the fire but to let it burn others. There is something really liberating about expressing anger. There are so many feelings a generally composed, polite, private school-educated, Christian, self-help obsessed, golden-rule charged, person like me suppresses. I don’t do jealousy, having recognized it as a product of my own insecurities. Low self-esteem: I have tried to chuck along with the narcissism that powers it. Loneliness, I don’t wallow in. I either initiate new social situations and meet new people, or spend quality time with old friends and family. With all of this high-minded restraint, I felt like I’d edited myself into a ball of blah, lost all dynamic range—no lows, no highs. So I recovered them—until I got hit with the back draft.
The blow back of being Black, woman, and angry, is that the anger serves no purpose other than reaffirming the stereotype that Black women are angry. I don’t want to be Kita or Monique from “The T.O. Show.” I don’t want to be Rochelle from “Everybody Hates Chris.” I just want to be a woman with some moments of frailty. I don’t have the stamina to always stay above the fray and I work out six days a week. I just want to be myself.
I decided against anger as a tween. I was reading Ecclesiastes for church school, and there was something in there about anger being futile. In fact, I think Ecclesiastes charged all things as futile, but anger’s indictment stuck with me. I’d witnessed anger eat folks up and stress them out. I wanted to be happy, still do, and I see anger as being an impediment to that Mary J. Bligian goal, not because it will eat me up inside—I feel light as a feather after I regulate those in need of regulation—but because it will reduce me to a stale type.
Negresses ain’t perfect, and this one is always trying to be better—but I can’t win for occasional losing it, and that kind of pisses me off. I understand anger is unproductive, but its cathartic. And every now and then there are things I need to expel, to get off my chest, to get out of my heart, so I can breathe. But I’m retiring that part of me. I’m going to hold onto the umbrella because it does a great job of protecting my flat-ironed hair—but I’ll no longer be using it as an instrument of harm. I’ll try not to weaponize my words either. I don’t see it working for me. I’ve picked up running so I can pound it all out on pavement—decimating my gimpy knees, and disproving both the “Angry Black Woman” and “Black Women Don’t Run” stereotypes with singular stony intent.