A Black Woman’s Right to Rage: Liberation through the Reaffirmation of Our Anger
by Muna Mohamed
I found myself caught in the forced narrative that Black women exist to forgive and uplift Black men, when I heard about the death of Alton Sterling. Sterling was a Black man shot dead by Baton Rouge police officers while selling CD’s outside of a supermarket on July 5th, 2016. Sterling was also a convicted rapist. As I and fellow Black women in Ottawa gathered at a vigil to commemorate him and Philando Castile’s life, I felt an emotion I rarely allow myself the liberty to feel: rage.
I stood in solidarity with the movement to seek justice for Alton Sterling, understanding that his death was a result of state-sanctioned violence and the existence of institutionalized racism within that system. I, however, couldn’t deny the pain it brought me to know that this man was a sexual offender.
It brought me anger because it unsurprisingly wasn’t Black women who were speaking of Alton’s past to morally justify his death, it was racists. It brought me anger because it was a vivid portrayal of the way Black women show up for their community while Black men refuse to say the names of the countless Black women who die at the hands of the state each year.
I came across an article, a few weeks ago, that brilliantly framed the effect of the death of Alton Sterling on Black women written by Erica Thurman, titled Black Folks Are Dying and I Just Keep Buying Lipstick. And Crying: On the Emotional and Economic Expense of Existing Through Trauma. In it she writes:
“…For Black women in America, the revolution means that even as you make clear that Alton Sterling did not deserve to die for selling CDs, you know you would have wished death upon him for having sexually abused a young girl. And there you are. There I was. Not breathing. No time to catch my breath.”
I did not feel sadness, in the moments after reading that line.
I felt rage. It was deeply seeded, restless and raw.
There is something uniquely violent about the way anger is stripped from a Black woman. In the place of this emotion we find a forced narrative of forgiveness. I recently decided to search for the brilliance, the beauty and the redemptive qualities of my anger. What did I find? I found that my anger, by the mere fact that it is an expression of a true emotion, has healed me. My anger, by its ability to draw me closer to a community and by extension, a family of Black women, has healed me. My anger, through its ability to provide me with control in a society where I too often feel without control, has healed me. My anger was healing in ways I never credited it for.
In a society that strips Black women of agency, the decision to take ownership of our own emotion is an exertion of power. The choice to feel and channel our anger into something that isn’t destructive to our selves is revolutionary. It has proven to be revolutionary. Anger has fuelled effective community mobilization by Black women the world over. In Ottawa, Black women mobilized and led the justice for Abdirahman Abdi campaign with organization, unity and efficiency. Being a part of this community and sharing space with these women has brought me comfort the collective rage that powers this work. There are properties of our anger that when brought together can be effective in bringing justice to our people. To me, that remains a more valuable outcome than the peace I’m told I will feel when I forgive.
I’ve put pen to paper and written this for Black women who have not allowed themselves that liberation. I ask you to explore what anger has brought you, if you leave this exploration empty, I ask you to imagine what it has brought your community. I above all, ask that you make the choice to forgive freely, without bounds, at your pace or not at all.
I know little of what your journey of unlearning will lead to.
What I do know is that denying my anger has been nothing but self-destructive and reaffirming my anger has been nothing but freeing.
*A contribution to the ‘When Will I Be Free?’ Collection*
About the writer
Muna Mohamed is a 4th year Public Affairs and Policy Management student at Carleton University. She is a provincial mental health advocate with a dedication to implementing anti-oppressive practices in youth serving agencies. Muna has a passion for using creative facilitation and community organizing to empower Black youth in creating a system that best supports their personal and professional growth.