Madyson Crawford discusses the whisper of rage into the ears of queer, Black folk, how it has evolved within herself, and the stances it has caused her to take.
I reel back as the long white finger wags in my face. The smells of sweat and plastic that fill the gym where I am currently registering voters is almost as overwhelming as the thin white women with the wrinkly skin standing over me in a tennis skirt. Her hysterical face is contorted to show her disgust at my affiliation with an organization that promotes abortion. “Especially considering it is the number one killer in the black community,” she tells me. The fuck? She fusses and cusses, only at me, despite the fact that I have a registration partner next to me — a white woman closer to her age. Her thin body towers over me and at first felt disarming; but now it is threatening. So I do what society has taught me when in confrontation with anyone white: I de-escalate to the best of my ability. I nod, my voice low and calm; I explain when I can, but do not push. When she speaks I go silent — “listening” to her. Soon, I fade out until her words are background noise. She can’t reach me. She notices and she moves on to bother the “manager”.
My “ally” sits beside me with a look of confusion. She asks me questions afterwards, never stepping in, never taking a moment to let me sit with the violence I just experienced. So I explain to her, to the best of my ability, rhetoric towards violence against black folks has been co-opted by the white anti-abortion regime. She emails me later, but that is a conversation all on its own.
When I share with friends and family, they are angry at me for not reacting, for not fighting back or getting angry. Where is your rage? they demand. Where is the anger you so adamantly claim to have? I’m annoyed that none of them saw it in the story — quick to jump to the conclusion that rage only exists in terms of the defensive — never the offensive. Rage isn’t just a reaction, at least not for me in this moment; it is also a form of protection and a constant presence in my life. My rage was everywhere in that story.
Could you see it?
As of late, my relationship — as well as those of others — with the concept of rage has shifted. What was once my own fear of losing my rage, to my rage towards white women’s ahistorical discussion of rage, has now shifted to a desire to expand upon the way we express and understand rage, specifically as black queer women. My rage has changed and looks different now than it did in the past. It is no longer loud and aggressive. It is not silencing of those around me. It is not a tear-filled response. Now it is silence. It is my immediate concern with self-preservation in a way that is both harmful and helpful. And as those around me find ways to think of rage — whether it be Serena Williams on tennis courts or , the white women calling police officers on black folks, or the rage white women claimed as they watched the Kavanaugh hearing — it is clear we are at a point of concern. How are women dealing with rage?
Are we all yelling and crying? Are we banding together to burn things to the grounds? Are we standing firm in ourselves? Maybe some of us are melting under the weight of it all. Tired of responding and finding comfort in silence and separation?
My own rage used to feel as though someone injected adrenaline into my veins. I was pumped and motivated. It was a warmth that crept up my neck and into my cheeks and forehead. It would sit there for moments as I ranted and raved until I was completely wrapped in the heat of this powerful feeling. The heat felt like tiny beads moving and humming throughout my body. A constant vibration. Something alive.
Currently, rage for me is silent. It doesn’t yell, nor does it desire to. Before the warmth can swaddle me like a newborn infant, it is replaced with an exhaustion. I slowly sink into myself, avoid eye contact, and allow my breathing to become slow and calculated.
My rage whispers. In. One, two, three.
Out. Four, five, six.
My reaction is no longer to fight. My reaction is to take flight — to find a way to hide away and gain strength.
The past year has given us a series of funny memes and stories of white women calling cops on black folks across the country. When I say funny, I mean terrifying given the violence we experience at the hands of police officers. Recently a woman accused a young black boy of touching her inappropriately. Both humiliating him as well as feeding into a rhetoric that see black men as predators. We, and by we I mean black people, saw their rage, others saw fear or a “misunderstanding”.
“Black lives matter!”
The white woman leans over the counter and yells in my face. Her face is twisted and red with spittle flying from her mouth. I remain stoic behind the counter. My resolve is calm and clear, the customer service smile plastered on my face. It is the “shield” I use whenever white women engage with me. If I’m silent and I nod, maybe they will leave me alone. Often they do. I’m not sure how we got there. In one moment she is donating books, the next she is screaming, “I am not a Nasty Woman,” into the abyss; and here we are moments later — a white woman screaming these words into my face. For weeks as I share the story, no one believes that a person would have the audacity to yell those words in a young black woman’s face, but she did. They also cannot believe I did not respond. “I work in customer service. At a feminist bookstore. Of course angry white women are there.” That solves it.
She had nowhere to take her rage. And my body seemed to be a receptacle. In this moment her rage was not towards me; it was, in a way, for me. Her rage, like most of our rage, was messy and uncontrollable. And I was, in that moment, in a space she felt she could unleash it. The only issue is that no matter how her rage manifested it was still traumatic. It was still a rage that forced me to bend my body in protection — to smile and nod in the hopes that it would end.
She partially apologized and promised to return with more books.
God, no. Please. We have enough. I have had enough.
Rage is a privilege for some. For many it is something we must claim and stand in without protection of any kind.
When I think of my own rage I imagine an absence. A ghost of something that was. It is not that it is not there. On the contrary, it is my entire being. It is in everything that I do and is inescapable. But what once was a large vitriol reaction to violence and injustice, is now a feeling of exhaustion and the reflex to protect.
The first time I did not want to get out of bed, I was in high school. I knew I would soon have to spend hours defending my humanity to those who recognized the power they had over it. I knew none of them would understand my fear and pain. My rage. And when pieces of that rage would expose themselves, those around me were clear to point to it in fear and claim it to be aggression.
Years later, I didn’t want to get out of bed, again. Only this time I was at an all-women’s historically black college. None of us wanted to get out of bed. So instead we gathered around televisions in rooms and communal areas. We held hands. We cried. We yelled at the television. For weeks my rage was a force as I stood alongside my friends and fought to the best of our ability. It wasn’t always effective, but it always felt damn good.
Later on, my fight died and my rage was suppressed. I was so tired and had no way of engaging with my rage in a way that did not drain me. If I could hide the rage I could avoid the feeling I got when my family said something homophobic, or when non-black folks around me claimed knowledge over my sense of self, or all the other micro and macro aggressions that those of us sitting on the margins often experience. But my loss of fight and the suppression of my rage did not mean it had been erased.
In fact, it was the warmth that began to creep up my neck and to my cheeks and forehead that made me realize my rage had never left. Once to my head it moved to the rest of my body and wrapped me in its warmth. The heat, or the tiny beads moving and humming throughout. Like something coming alive. Something that had been dormant for a while. My exhaustion is not an absence of rage, it is the realization that the rage is constant. Day-to-day.
I am angry. I am overwhelmed. I am scared. All of these feelings gather together as I immerse myself in every article, tweet, and post about the man shot and killed in his own home. Mistaken apartment. New. Creative state violence. On top of that, articles and blog posts circulate where queer academics and theorists find ways to apologize and bury abuse through jargon. We are not safe anywhere. I’m angry at myself for believing in the possibility of safety anyway.
“You owe me an apology” looked like I felt. We all watched or learned of Serena demanding justice and respect from someone offended that a black woman could believe she deserved as much. She was filled with rage. A beautiful and limitless rage that she earned. That she had every right to. Many of us knew that rage, knew what it meant to release that rage.
Brittney Cooper speaks of rage as a superpower that she has discovered, not only in herself, but in Black women. “Eloquent Rage” is a rage that she learns to employ in order to express her anger, utilize it in her day to day life. It is how she teaches and shares her knowledge, rather than erasing the rage or anger, she uses it as a filter.
As history has shown, black women’s rage and anger is often used against us. It is positioned as a weakness, the thing that keeps us behind. Thus creating a tension around an emotion that is natural. But as Cooper and our foremother Audre Lorde has taught us, it is impossible to exist in this world in a Black woman’s body without feeling anger. And that anger is a right. Rage is a right. One that Black women have every right to feel.
Finding Self in Rage
As the rage settles and hums throughout my body and I am forced to return over and over again to the events of the month in a new way.
Killed in apartment.
Tased in grocery store.
Four trans women murdered.
Returning to rage means returning to the self. An emotion that Black folks, queer folks, women, and those of us who are all and more are not strangers to. The presence of violence and misuse of our bodies and selves in the media is overwhelming. It, in itself, is a violence. Reliving trauma over-and-over again does something to the body and the spirit. It kills it slowly over time. Some of us lean into the rage expressing it whenever and however we feel it, some of us bury it, and others run from it. My therapist once told me that my feelings were always valid, but reaction to those feelings were where self-awareness and responsibility had to be accounted for.
A re-education of rage brought clarity and a new kind of freedom. I did not lose my rage, my rage just looks different. And it feels good even when it feels like everything is falling in on itself. My rage is in my writing. My rage is in my love. When my world is ending it whispers in my ear to stand firm. Rage will forever be a part of me.