“Don’t let them people make you come out of character.”
‘Out of character’ is a phrase used notoriously by black women to try to explain displays of public anger or hostility. Recently, during a girls' night out, my friends and I were discussing boundaries. After discussing an event that happened in which I had to establish a boundary with a person, my friend explained how she felt that I had ‘come out of character’ during the situation and didn’t feel that that was healthy and that it wasn’t the way to establish healthy boundaries. Currently, I am in the middle of obtaining my MSW (Masters in Social Work) so I’ve been actively working on, both academically and personally, what healthy emotions look like. One thing I’ve realized is that, despite the fact that it is organic, people (AND especially women) have diminished not only the naturalness of anger but the necessity of it as well.
As a black woman, I live in a world in which I am twice marginalized. The treatment of myself and my people calls for righteous anger. However, as a black woman, I have also been taught and shown by society, that whenever I’m not the bubbly-matronly-sassy-but-loveable-black-woman that my white counterparts expect or want me to be, then I must be angry. The angry black woman stereotype has permeated every level of society. On reality tv, when the token black woman is present on white-washed shows, if she doesn’t provide sage and motherly advice to her white counterparts, she is usually catty or vindictive. Her rejection/dismissal, which is inevitable, is also justified because of her horrible personality. On social media, black male comedians have made names for themselves dressing up as black women and performing the angry black woman trope to audiences that remarked how funny it was not realizing the damage it was doing. Spanish women are celebrated for their fiery, passionate sensibilities but black women are degraded and demonized if we are assertive or firm.
Sadly, we are not even safe around each other. I’d be remiss if I didn’t admit that there were certainly times in which I encouraged my friends not to ‘come out of character’ or cried to myself about letting someone ‘bring me out’. I realize now, however, that it’s time we allow ourselves the same grace we allow other women. I think about every romantic comedy I have ever watched in which the heroine finally gets a little self-worth and moxie and lets out her anger or distaste. Those are the parts we sit up and cheer for. Those parts are equally as good as that built up, long-awaited kiss (sometimes even better). We realize that the character wasn’t truly whole until they were able to defend themselves or speak out against ill-treatment. Shouldn’t the same be said for black women? Shouldn’t we allow ourselves the grace to be angry and, righteously so, stick up for ourselves?
That evening as we wrapped up our girls’ night, I respectfully let my friend share her opinion, and then I took a few moments to think about what I wanted to say. I explained that to say we are “coming out of character” is to admit that we are presenting a curation of self. Authentic, yes, but certainly curated. What we need to do, in an attempt to allow ourselves a full range of feelings and emotions, is to learn that despite the overwhelming burden of stereotypes, black women are ALLOWED to be angry. Hell, I encourage it! We have a history’s worth of injustice to be mad about. Honestly (and I will always be honest), I don’t think we are ever going to heal if we don’t welcome the anger with open arms when it arrives ready to defend us in ways this world has not.
For my sisters, my mother, her mother, and all the black women I’ve ever known: I’m angry. I’m an angry black woman. And no, I’m not coming out of character. I’m being a whole and healthy me. I have a right to be angry and I am.
“We must learn how to explode! Any disease is healthier than the one provoked by hoarded rage.”-Emil Cioran