I started writing this when I heard about the Mississippi murder of Jonathan Sanders by police. The Texas murder of Sandra Bland by police is what propelled me to finish it.
Black people, African people, anger is all we have. If we don’t get angry, who will? If our deaths don’t bother us, if our self-hate doesn’t disturb us, how can we expect anyone else to care?
This isn’t one of those “Don Lemon/Bill Cosby/(Insert Nu-Black here)” essays obliviously whirling respectability politics over my head. I just mean plainly- if you are more concerned about HOW YOU LOOK TO OTHERS when your life is in danger, something is SEVERELY wrong with you. If your house is on fire and you stop on the way to the fire escape to do your hair and choose a cute outfit, YOU ARE CRAZY. And all I’ve seen in my life from both Africans and Western Black people is this desperation to “look good” to the shitbags who demean, degrade and murder you. I don’t understand.
I’ve heard it constantly referred to as “Taking the high road.” That is a copout. It doesn’t feel “classy” when someone demeans, insults or humiliates you and you bite your tongue and remain passive and silent. You feel powerless. You feel embarrassed. You feel ashamed. And coddling yourself in the midsts of all those negative feelings with the consolation that you have somehow proven yourself to be “classier” by allowing others to mistreat you without consequence is a delusion. You were afraid to stand up because you didn’t want to stand out. You didn’t want to seem like “those angry Black people.” A Black person in 2015 is more free than ANY Black person has been on this planet in the past 600 years. Why is it that now, when we have more options and access than we have had in 6 centuries, it seems that the majority of Black people are more passive than ever before? If we have less to lose, why are we less likely to risk?
There is no reason to keep your mouth shut if you are disrespected or otherwise mistreated. And anything you have tried to retain by doing so has been automatically awarded the position of being more important to you than you are to you. “If I fight back I’ll lose my job.” Is this particular job worth more to you than your happiness or self-respect? “If I fight back, I’ll seem ‘angry’.” So being seen as affable by racists is a goal you tend to shoot for?
YOU ARE DYING. How can you respond to that so passively? There are marches and Twitter hashtags but that means nothing when one of the biggest media moguls in the US is a Black woman. The president of the US is a Black man. The Attorney General of the US is a Black woman. Yet all we can do is march? There are so many Black people in positions of direct power and in positions to disseminate information quickly and to millions of people with the click of a button. Yet Black people have no power. Because everyone is trying to “toe the line” and “be impartial” and most importantly, not lose their paycheck. Black celebrities and politicians have shown us time and time again that their paychecks and mansions are worth more than Black lives. So why do we continue to support them? Over 95% of Black people voted for Obama and in the days after Sandra Bland was found dead, he was in Kenya wagging his hypocritical finger patronizingly at his own people whilst lecturing them on corruption and equality for women. A Black American woman was found dead under dubious circumstances by law enforcement in the COUNTRY HE IS PRESIDENT OF while all evidence points to a cover-up and he is giving advice on democracy and the value of women to Africans? Am I in the Twilight Zone?
I don’t understand why Black people are so afraid to be angry. Aren’t you tired? Aren’t you tired of grinning and bearing it? Aren’t you tired of laughing awkwardly? Aren’t you tired of standing there, mouth agape, not knowing how to respond to an out of the blue, unwarranted racial attack? Aren’t you tired of being stared at wherever you go? Aren’t you tired of the fact that no matter how honest you are, others are always suspicious of you? Aren’t you tired of the fact that no matter how smart you are, no matter how good a school you’ve attended, no matter how many honors classes or degrees you have, when you walk into that classroom/boardroom/any room, everyone always assumes that you are stupid and has no problem openly treating you as such? Aren’t you tired of no one, even people who look like you, respecting your thoughts and feelings? Aren’t you tired of being treated as though you have no boundaries and others can literally say or do anything they want to you, even touch your hair or body without permission? Aren’t you tired of a media who would paint some rich White moron who gets drunk and blows his own head off with a firecracker as a “tragedy” that actually needs to be explained by science?! while unarmed Black children murdered and publicly humiliated by police are vilified and victim blamed? Aren’t you tired of working SO HARD yet never having it be reflected by either adequate pay or genuine appreciation? I guess what I’m really asking here is:
Black people, aren’t you fucking tired of being treated like shit?
I’m tired. I was tired before I even knew I was tired. I haven’t always been in touch with my anger. I was a girl. I was a Black girl. I was an African girl. We don’t show our anger. We are not supposed to be angry. We are supposed to bear the weight of the world on our shoulders and remain silent. Maybe even be polite about it and say “Thank you for the burden.” I knew this was wrong on some level. But my own personality wouldn’t let me question it. As an individual it was always important for me to be polite. To not make a fuss. To not make others feel bad. I hated my temper. But White, Western socialization took it a step further. I had learned from White people that Black people as a whole were to be ashamed of becoming angry. It was ugly and wrong and we had no right to feel this emotion. If we did we were mocked, ridiculed and painted as “whining, lazy complainers” at best and “dangerous” and “potentially violent” at worst. This feeling pacified me in the face of my own mistreatment. And this feeling continues to desensitize Black people to their own mistreatment and ruthless brutalization.
Anger is a natural human response. It is defensive. Protective. Anger, just like pain, tells you when there is something wrong. If we did not feel pain, we would never know when we are injured. We would then neglect these injuries, worsening them, until our bodies succumbed to them completely. Anger is different, though related. Anger doesn’t merely tell us we are hurt. Anger tells us “You hurt me.” “You harmed me.” “You ignored me.” “You lied to me.” “You mistreated me.” Anger is felt when we perceive a slight or injury that we feel we do not deserve. You are acted upon, which galvanizes you to react. Whether you call the outcomes of these actions “revenge” or “justice” is subjective. But the point is, why do so many Black people feel that it reflects more positively upon themselves to take hits but not only refuse to hit back, but refuse to even portray they were even bothered by being hit in the first place? “No it’s ok! Don’t put yourself out! I’m sure it was a mistake… Oh, no? It wasn’t a mistake? …Well, it’s still ok! I forgive you! … What? I’m a what? Oh, no problem, that word doesn’t bother me! I’m beyond race! … What? Where am I going? I live in this neighborhood, I … Ow! Stop that you can’t! Let go of me! Wait! Someone help! No, you can’t! I’m not Black, I am colorless! AREN’T WE ALL POST RACIAL???!!!”
Why do we not see anger from Black celebrities and politicians when faced with another Black death at the hands of White Supremacy? Why don’t we see anger in these Mothers that are trotted out like prize ponies when their sons and daughters are murdered by police? I’m sure they felt rage in private but on camera, they feel the need to “forgive”. Why do Black people feel this need to forgive when those that wrong you neither repent nor even ask for your forgiveness. Why does Black forgiveness come for free? Why is it handed out with a 2-for-1 coupon after every slight and misdeed against us, large or small? Why does no one have to EARN our trust? Why does no one have to EARN our respect? Yet we seem to feel that we are not worthy of trust, forgiveness, respect, money or even basic human compassion unless we EARN it? If we don’t want to be beaten and murdered, well then we have to dress like this and act like that and speak like this and most of all DON’T SEEM ANGRY. Then they’ll magically realize that you are a person and stop killing you. This is treatment that Black people have to work for? My life doesn’t automatically matter? I have to PROVE to you that it does? By dressing, speaking and behaving exactly the way YOU tell me I should? Otherwise, I deserve to suffer and die? Why are Black people not in the streets just setting fire to the world and watching it burn? Short answer: Because to get that angry, we’d actually have to think we deserve better. And most of us don’t.
We all just sit here, pacified by the dangling carrot of “White Validation” and “White Wealth”. Things we will never have because we were never MEANT to have them. Black people in this world are used. Our continent is used, our bodies are used, our art forms are used, our inventions are used, and we as a people are mocked and discarded. Like eggshells after an omelet. We need to see this. We need to not be ok with this. WE NEED TO BE ANGRY ABOUT THIS.
It is not about politely asking people to stop. It is about letting it be known that you will not allow yourself to be mistreated and if you are mistreated, there will be repercussions, whether large or small. It’s not about protesting in the streets. It is about individual protests at your job. At your school. In your personal life. It is about filing complaints to superiors and filing lawsuits when your rights are violated. It is about standing up to racist bosses or racist professors. It is about dropping “friends” who disrespect you and give you less than what you give them. It’s about boycotting racist businesses, films & t.v. shows. It is about being angry enough about any mistreatment you face that at the very least, you won’t let it go by unpunished.
Black people are not the trash receptacles of the world. We owe NO ONE our peace, our kindness, our trust OR our forgiveness without it being RECIPROCATED. You are under no obligation to turn the other cheek for anyone. Blind passivity does not make you a kinder person. It does not make you a better person. It makes you a sad person. An abused person. A perpetual victim. Granted, everyone has a different personality and some people are just not confrontational. So, be non-confrontational about it. There isn’t only one way to stand up for yourself. All that matters is that you do. Every Black person alive has freedoms we benefit from because Black people we’ve never met fought and died before we were even born. In some way, they were fighting for us but most were just fighting for themselves. For their families. For the life they KNEW they deserved even when the governments whom oppressed them told them they were undeserving. Though we are now benefitting from their struggles, for some reason, under the watch of this and the previous generation, we are regressing. People abuse and disrespect Black people without a thought because there are ABSOLUTELY NO NEGATIVE REPERCUSSIONS for them doing so. People can even murder us and go on with life as usual. Isn’t that worth getting angry about?
But we don’t get angry. Because we don’t want to be seen as “those” kind of Black people. We are worried about how our image appears to people who are brutalizing us. Why do we care what these people think? Or if it’s not image that we are safeguarding as though it is worth more than our lives, then it is money. If I stand up for myself, I won’t make money. True, in the short term, but in the long term? I would disagree. If you have a family to support, pride has to be swallowed to ensure their quality of life. But if you are a young Black person who is not a parent, I can’t see why you wouldn’t go a few years living in a shithole eating ramen if you knew that you’d come out the other end with your pride and maybe even your own business so you would never have to grin and bear a racist and sexist employer again. Because you work for no one. You answer to yourself.
I am not talking out of my ass here. I am literally writing this in a rented room that is approximately 1/20th the size of Mariah Carey’s shoe closet and after this I am going to enjoy a dinner that has the approximate retail price of $3. Because that is the choice that I have made. 10 years and counting. Losing my sense of self and being surrounded by people who smile at me and cut me checks but literally could not give less of a shit about me or my life and will inevitably end up fucking me 10 ways to Sunday by the time it’s all said and done is not worth it. Any Black person today who gets paid a fraction of what their White counterparts earn and literally have NO POWER but stay tap dancin’ for those danglin’ carrots will eventually learn this.
I don’t need to learn it. I’ve seen enough. Going along with a system that was designed to break me and all those like me is not worth it. Fame is not worth it. Being liked is not worth it. Being nice is not worth it. I am worth it. I will not suffer for the sins of others but I will suffer to save myself. Maybe that is selfish but maybe Black people and especially Africans could stand to be a bit more selfish. It is not in our cultures to think of the self above all else but in the current world landscape, if no one cares about us, and we only care about others, who will care about Black people? If everyone you know cares about themselves and you only care about them, who is going to care about you?
White Supremacy, your upbringing or your own personal fear of your own power should not block you from demanding more than what people are willing to give you. You deserve what you want and you deserve respect. And if you are wronged, you are under no obligation to be “nice” to the person that wronged you. In 2015 we’ve managed to “forgive” our oppressors right into our own graves. Is that when everyone will finally wake up? When we are all either dead or back on the auction block? When we can finally SEE the chains again and not just experience them? When we feel the shackles not only on our thoughts, but on our bodies as well?
I don’t believe in God. If there is a God, he’s certainly never been checkin’ for no Black people. I believe our life is what we choose to make of it. We’ve played nice long enough. We’ve asked, we’ve marched, we’ve explained, we’ve protested, we’ve sat in, sat out and sat around. When are we going to stand up? And why are we so afraid to do so?
About the Author: Iféoluwa Babalola is a half Nigerian, half Sierra Leonean writer, musician, filmmaker and actor from Brooklyn, New York. Her one-woman punk influenced rock band, The White Noise Supremacists, has toured the US, Canada, Europe and Asia whilst self releasing music on her own record label, I EAT SOULS since 2006. She has formed her own production company, 1234Films in 2010 and produces, writes and directs short and feature films, serial dramas and music videos. She is seeking opportunities to perform her music on the African continent as well as creative collaborations and partnerships in independently producing film, television and web content that highlights the experiences of Africans on the continent as well as abroad.