Not to beat a dead debate-horse to death, but in relation to Obama's debate performance that many have perceived as passive (and that is probably the kindest way to put it), I have seen many references to the "angry black man" syndrome. Too many. Waaaaay too many. I was talking to a colleague of mine today, who is a black male, and in our discussion of the debate, he brought up the fact that Obama has to be careful to not appear angry. Because you know, black people can't get angry. It scares white people. It feeds into the very basest notions they have of us. Anger trods down the path to violence, and you know what happens when black people get violent, right????
Well listen, I am a black woman. And I am angry that I can't get angry. I am angry that when something happens that deserves my outrage, I must repress it for fear of being misunderstood, for fear of being unfairly judged, for fear of scaring white people, for fear of being discarded as just another "angry" black woman. I bet it makes our President angry too that he even has to think twice before reacting in a way that could be characterized as such, especially when his reputation, record, and integrity are being attacked. I bet it makes him livid when he hears media sources reference his wife in that way. Which leads me to this question - why is anger the one base human emotion common to us all that only black people are not allowed to have?
This diary is not designed to be a dissertation on the history of the angry black person stereotype. It will not be filled with footnotes or cites to authorities who have studied the issue. Instead, this diary is meant to help me understand why in 2012, black people still can't get angry. I want to know why I've seen post after post on this website and others which state that Obama could not fire back at Romney in the debate Wednesday night because being angry black Obama is worse than being passive black Obama. Passive Obama can still get elected, even if it makes us unhappy with him. Angry Obama though? No way...kiss the election goodbye. Are we really saying that only other races have the freedom to get mad? That black people can't express any outrage when it is warranted?
I experience this very unfortunate stereotype in my work sometimes. Every now and then, maybe when I'm in a deposition or something like that, I've had to raise my voice at opposing counsel. I'm not necessarily angry, but I know how to get forceful when I need to be. When I do it, the recoil from the other side of the table is palpable; the look on his or her face is like I'm about to start taking out my earrings and putting vaseline on my face or something like that. If it wasn't so sad, it would be funny. In my little world, it really doesn't matter to me whether someone thinks I'm an angry black woman. I am an advocate and I make no apologies for doing what I have to do to not be disrespected (and many times, I am). But when you are the leader of the free world and the tyranny of evil men besets you on all sides, what in the hell are you supposed to do if by you are a black man who is forbidden from getting angry??
The inability of our President to even have the appearance of anger is disturbing. If President Obama, with all his Harvard education and the prestige of being the first black president of this great nation, cannot seem to escape the taint of black anger, then none of us ever will. But if anyone is uniquely in the position to help try to break that chain, it is him. Lest we forget, for all the negativity embroiled within the emotion of anger, one good thing can and often does come from it....CHANGE. When people are outraged and decide they aren't going to take it anymore, shit starts changing. Every major movement in this country - from the establishment of democracy to the ability of blacks and women to vote, to the passage of civil rights - has started from a seed of anger. That seed prompted people to fight a good fight. A little bit of anger is good - maybe even necessary. But what happens when people of color are discouraged from planting the anger seed? Especially if those people of color are in positions of leadership? We must be careful that our fear of showing anger does not lead us into the slavery of silence. Our leaders need to be mindful that the call for passivism could very well be a back door way to keep us quiet - to keep us mired in the muck of "I can't say that because I don't want to appear angry", "I can't fight for that because I don't want to appear angry", "I can't go on the offensive because I don't want to appear angry". For all these "I can'ts", the result is, we aren't...We aren't changing, we aren't challenging, we aren't defending and we're not doing these things because some people out in the world say we can't. We loosed the shackles on our hands and feet long ago only to have invisible ones now placed within our mouths. That, my friends, makes me angry...
I don't know if any of this ran through Obama's mind on Wednesday night. I don't know if he ever thought to himself, I must be passive or risk being labeled. Or even worse, risk not being re-elected. Well Mr. Obama, if you did think those things, then I would like you to think on this...you've often said to the people that we are the change we have been waiting for. But Sir, I venture to say that you are the catalyst that can light the spark. You are the President of these United States. You are the evidence of what black can now rise to. You can be the example that a black man can get angry, but that anger does not have to invoke fear. That anger does not have to incite violence. But if done right, a little bit of anger can bring us ALL the change we've been waiting for.