When I was a child, my grandmother warned me repeatedly, “You can’t be like everyone else. You can’t do what everyone else does. You can’t get away with what other people get away with ‘cause you ain’t like everybody else.” I never really understood what that meant until I became an adult and someone called me “angry” for the first time.
Having been taught, like so many of my peers, that anger is bad, wrong and I am not entitled to feel it, I defended myself against the accusation, denying the anger as well as the hurt, pain and confusion I was experiencing. Reared in a childhood that was one step above poverty, being shuttled from one family member to another (with my deceased mother’s Social Security check attached to my name), being sexually violated at age 9, and pregnant and abandoned at 14, I had a right to be angry with a number of people — including myself.
However, because unlike other people, I could not have an authentic emotional experience, feel or express it, I denied my physical and emotional reality. I was a black woman, burdened by dehumanizing stereotypes, laboring under familial expectations and social judgments. This meant I was required to label my experiences with the realities given to me and those expected of me. Yes, I was angry, and that is not all I felt or experienced; anger was the part I was taught to deny or cover up.