Punished for Standing Up
In the 1976 movie Network, the character Howard Beale, a white, washed out anchorman perturbed, tells his viewers, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.” He then tells his television audience to go to their windows and yell out that they too are mad as hell and they won’t be taking it any longer either.
Nine years later, in The Color Purple, the character Sofia is a black woman seen with her children in town. The mayor’s wife compliments Sofia on how clean her children are and asks if Sofia would like to be her maid. Sofia responded like most black women would want to reply when experiencing microaggression. She answers, “Hell no.” That reply and an altercation with the mayor become the catalyst to the townsfolk attacking Sofia and her doing jail time. Sadly, under duress she also becomes the mayor’s wife’s maid. Sofia’s life is crumbling all because she gets angry and stands up for herself.
As black women, in most instances, we don’t feel we can lose our cool openly about the societal woes and inequities that seem to attack both our race and femininity at the same time. We don’t get to be the female Howard Beale(s). We take heed to the cautionary tale of Sofia, who became riled up and then lost everything. Our anger often has a high, unfair cost attached to it.
Rage Channeled into a Rallying Cry
And yet, I feel in this era of rampant social injustices, many black women have stopped suppressing what causes rage within them. We are saying to each other; it is our turn to say that we are mad as hell and we will not take it anymore. I think of Tarana Burke, founder of the Me Too Movement, who gave us all a roadmap to ending sexual harassment and abuse in workplace settings. I think of Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi, all women of color who formed the Black Lives Matter movement. After an unarmed teenager, Trayvon Martin, was killed by a security guard who disobeyed his authority’s orders, these women gave us the rallying cry for equality. I can still hear the voice of Darnella Frazier who said upset, “They killed this man, and I was right here!” She is the minor who videoed the George Floyd tragedy. What I know now is that our anger is more so an energy than an emotion. By channeling it correctly, we can do more than yell out of windows. We can knock down doors. Black women should give themselves permission to get mad, because when we do, great things happen.