Ijeoma Oluo on Women and Rage


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Much of the socio-political discussion of 2016 and 2017 was dedicated to white male rage. Why are white men so angry? What could we have done to make the most powerful socioeconomic group in this country so mad? Why are they punishing us all with Trump? But as a black woman, I’ve always seen white male rage. I’ve had to. It has dictated a lot of my life: my job prospects, my security and safety. And at the root of that kind of anger, I’ve always seen fear.

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Fear of my rage.

Fear of the rage behind Black Lives Matter. The rage at seeing loved ones—babies, brothers, sisters—shot in the street like dogs by the state. The rage at 400 years of oppression and degradation.

Fear of the rage behind the Women’s March. The rage of countless women and girls taking to the streets to voice their anger at the men (and yes, quite a few white women) in their lives who chose to elevate a white supremacist, a blatant misogynist, a bully, an abuser to our highest office. The anger and dismay that this society would think so little of women (and even less of people of color, trans people, disabled people, and immigrants) that the majority of white women voters would vote against their own interests to preserve—even further entrench—their place of subordination to white men, preferring to harm themselves and those with less power than them than dare to chance dismantling a hierarchy of oppression and land someplace unknown.

Fear of the rage caused by centuries of abuse at the hands of men. Fear of the rage that would empower us to risk living without men, and the social and financial hardship that might follow, in order to be free from their need to build their worlds out of our bodies.

You think we might be angry? You have no idea how angry we are.

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But as 2018 begins, national discussion has swung to the rage of women, as they stand up to share their stories of abuse and discrimination; as they band together to not only support each other, but to demand accountability from others. As rich and powerful men are seeing their lifelong careers crumble to dust at the feet of angry women, men around the country are struggling to find a way to contain and deflect this new female rage. Where will it end? How far can it reach? How many men can the rage of women destroy?

To the men scratching their heads in concern and confusion: The rage you see right now, the rage bringing down previously invulnerable men today, barely scratches the surface. You think we might be angry? You have no idea how angry we are.

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Our rage is not born of fear for our positions. It is not born of fear of losing the power we’ve always had, or dismay at having to share the status we’ve always known.

I am a black woman. Every day of my life I was told to place my care in others. To place my dreams in others. Every day, I was told to redirect my frustrations at the limitations placed on my education, my career, and my social standing into the selfless love I was expected to show for my family and my community. All as we battled to make ends meet while making 67 cents on a white man’s dollar. While we cared for our children, who were being stolen by the school-to-prison pipeline. While we feared for the safety of our husbands and sons and brothers at every traffic stop, we stored our rage away. The rage of what we could have been. The rage at what we could have done. We placed it deep so that our hands could stay soft to hug our children, so that our words could be gentle to reassure our bosses, so that the smile strangers demanded of us on the street wouldn’t look like a sneer.

And what do we have to show for it? What do we have for our struggle and sacrifice? We have our babies in prison. We have Trump staffing the White House with blatant white supremacists and incompetents. We have Jeff Sessions placed in charge of our already racist justice system. We have Betsy DeVos working to remove any chance at protecting our daughters from rape on college campuses. We are losing health insurance for our families and ourselves. We have careers derailed by decades of sexual harassment and discrimination—careers that, even if they had flourished, would have brought us far less pay and security than the white men whose unwanted comments and touches and leers we had to endure to get there.

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If you wanted to avoid our rage, perhaps you shouldn’t have left us with so little to lose.

The rage of seeing all that we love, all that we’ve been able to hope for, all that we’ve been told to sacrifice for the “greater good” burned to the ground by white men in a toddler tantrum because for eight years the president didn’t look like them, and because the next president threatened to look even less like them—that is not a rage that consumes, that immolates. It’s a rage that fuels, that arms. We are starting to taste the collective power of our rage. We are starting to see the possibilities of a reckoning and revolution. And, as scary as it is, we have no choice but to risk it.

If you wanted to avoid our rage, perhaps you shouldn’t have left us with so little to lose.

If you think that what you are seeing now, after a few high-profile men have lost their jobs, is the peak of this fury, then hold tight. Because within me, and countless other women across this country, there is a lifetime of righteous rage so deep that the entire white supremacist patriarchy could drown in it. And if there is any justice in this world, it will.

Ijeomo Oluo is the author of So You Want to Talk About Race, out in January 2018.



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