Sunday, October 21, 2007

Angry Black Woman

Today I want to praise the inner strength and the external beauty of black women. We’re a strong, patient bunch. Honestly. I suspect if non-black Americans knew how much grief and hurt a black woman carries around – from past hurts and from daily immediate wounds—they would consider us saints ..symbols of patience. (All those singing slaves in old thirties movies notwithstanding.)

It isn’t easy walking through the world where people think you’re always ready to jump down some “innocent” white person’s throat. When I think of all the times I never complained because I feared some white person would think I was a touchy black woman!

It isn’t easy walking into a store and having the cashier follow you around suspecting you of wanting to steal something. Certainly more black women have grinned and borne it than have snapped, “Why the heck are you following me around?” I tell you… we are generally beacons of patience and forbearance.

It isn’t easy walking through a world where people assume you lack the great noble European trait of discipline. I went to a local gourmet supermarket run by a woman from Spain. I told her everything I wanted. She snapped, “I’m really busy. Do you really want to eat all that?” Why it didn’t occur to her that I was buying tons of food for a potluck dinner (’cause I didn’t want to cook) is beyond me. I’m sure she would’ve made kinder less judgmental assumptions about a white woman. And hey, although I was taken aback, I didn’t snap at her. But I didn’t explain myself either…I just kinda cowered shamefacedly and walked away feeling hurt.

It isn’t easy walking through a world where if you disagree with an editor, you are assumed to be touchy because well….”black women are touchy.”

It isn’t easy walking through a world where people assume you’re talking to someone because you want to have sex with him. Yep, I recently met a fallen church brother at the bar and began talking to him. He was drunk as a skunk and in order not to be seen praying on the sidewalk, we went to the parking lot behind the bar. The upshot of that: a Hispanic acquaintance of mine stopped speaking to me. When I asked why, it turned out he assumed I had sex with my church brother behind the bar. News flies fast. I didn’t snap at him. And again I didn’t explain myself. I just made a mental note not to speak to him again. (Yep, sometimes angry black women don’t get angry at all. We just make mental notes to write people off.)

It isn’t easy walking through the world when people – sometimes American but often folks newly arrived from the Old Country– —equate blackness with dirtiness. A Polish acquaintance of mine had a mother who actually believed blacks were dirty because they didn’t clean themselves and the dirt had stuck to their skin. And among many of the Ecuadoreans in my community there is a kind of home-country belief that blacks are naturally dirty. They would probably be insulted to find out that among white Americans in town they are considered uneducated and thieving. But that’s the trouble with prejudices…folks never realize when they’re making assumptions…and yet at the same time they’re assuming things about other people. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been in public malls and movie theaters where I see a Hispanic person avoid an open bathroom stall because a black person has exited it. Sounds old-fashioned, I know. But remember, much of the rest of the world doesn’t go around teaching racial enlightenment.

It amazes me to think that most of the black Women I know are gentle souls saying prayers for sick friends and generally doing good stuff in the world and yet, the world insists on thinking we’re angry people. And it amazes me that when we DO become angry they belittle our racial pain by saying we are “always getting angry.” Come now, we don’t!

Recently, someone sent me a question about the Bible story of Ham. For those who don’t know European history, the Bible story of Noah cursing his grandson Canaan (son of Ham) has been used by many racists to justify slavery against Blacks.

Of course, religion is not the only thing that has been used to justify racism. Science has played its part. Eugenics based on the European idea of perfection has done its part. Many atheists and scientists who blame religion for racism and other evils often forget that Darwin’s book was actually called “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.”

I wish I could blame European racism alone for the problem but other cultures are also racist. When I was younger I used to be very hurt by the tendency in many cultures to equate dark and black with evil or impure. Everywhere I looked it seemed as if some culture was “naturally prejudiced.”

In India, for instance, after years of warfare with different nations rising up against different nations, darkness of skin…especially in women children…was considered a misfortune. When my Goan friend, Veronica, became pregnant, she told me, “It’s okay if a boy is dark but I don’t want to have a dark girl.” To this end, she drank milk every day because that was what women in her culture did. Yes, I know. She was in America and knew about genetics…but still she stuffed herself with milk. This girl became very cruel to her brother’s new wife when she met the woman, a white girl. The venom was amazing. But she did manage to add, “Well at least it wasn’t a black girl. That would have killed my mother.”

But even so, the kind of venom typically reserved for black people is often so feral that it is amazing we black women aren’t more angry than we supposedly are. I don’t think non-black people can understand the crap one goes through everyday. An hispanic person might get a glimpse of it if she feels that everyone she meets think she is an illegal immigrant. A Japanese-American during World War II might get a glimpse of racial hatred because every Japanese person –indeed, every Asain—was suspected of treason against the United States.

Times are changing, mercifully, and so black women are now being seen as beautiful. We’re even getting our first Disney Princess. I even include VH1’s “New York” in my list of black princesses. True, as a lover of science fiction shows I’m always wondering why there are so few black women in science fiction shows but hey, most of the black girls growing up in the United States won’t have the depth of emotional and psychological pain I or their ancestors have had to carry. That makes me happy. And I like being happy.

Dear Father in Heaven, keep healing my heart. Help me to learn to speak up. On the one hand I don’t want to be a touchy angry black woman, but on the other hand I don’t want to be so repressed that I never speak my mind. Make me feel beautiful, Lord. And make me know that no matter how dark my skin or how pudgy my body is…that I am as Psalm 139 says “Fearfully and wonderfully made.” I ask this in the name of my saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.
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