Sexual harassment got you down? Microaggressions become too much? Poverty a pain in the ass? Racism got you fucked up?
Well, black women, there’s now a place to place all of your justifiable but sometimes “problematic” anger, an actual depository to just vent, let loose and scream (or text) your ass off like Nola Darling did in a recent episode of Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It reboot on Netflix.
We know that as African Americans and women, black women face the double dig of both gender and racial oppression. But because of racialized labels like the “angry black women” as well as socialization to just grin and bear it, black women often swallow or internalize their anger, where it festers and seeps out in destructive ways. Or, too often, when we express anger, we’re dismissed as being emotional.
But one University of California, Berkeley, doctoral student, Malika Imhotep, 24, has created a space, the Bank of Hysteria, to deposit (ahem) the wrath that so many of us feel.
Imhotep explains her idea in a callout for participants:
Too often, those angry voices are dismissed as irrational, but we think that anger is valid and should be heard. 510-985-9986 is the number to the Bank of Hysteria Toll-Free Rage Hotline. Call and/or text to invest in your anger. Leave an honest message, say the things you’ve been holding in for fear of being labeled as “angry” or “too emotional.” What angers you? What enrages you? What people, places or things have tried your patience or attempted to silence you? Let us help you invest in your rage.
Imhotep says that the Bank of Hysteria grew out of a course she’s taking on ways of using new media tools to produce socially engaged art projects. Imhotep says she was placed in a group focused on gender.
“And we started to think about what are the ways we could intervene in popular discourse,” Imhotep told The Root. “What is it about women of color, femmes, nonbinary folks that doesn’t get affirmed? Their anger. What does it mean to always be called angry or too emotional or to be written off and not allowed to access that?”
Imhotep says that in light of the social unrest and drama on Berkeley’s campus over the past year, her group deemed it necessary to “create ways to validate and give platform to anger”—especially from women. Particularly from black women.
“As black women especially these days, you’re so worried, you’re so preoccupied with the way people read anger and intimidation before you even say anything, and then when something actually unnerves you, you have to negotiate all these different things like, well, they already think I’m about to pop off, so how do I go about expressing myself?” she says.
Imhotep says that Audre Lorde’s “The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism” speech, given at a feminist conference in 1981 (and also found in the seminal black feminist text Sister Outsider), informed a lot of the project. Lorde gave voice to the fact that often her response to racism is anger, but so often she was not able to express it, which can be destructive to the spirit.
The actual name of the project came from women being dismissed as hysterical, and the creators’ desire for women to invest in that anger, which led to the banking metaphor. It also riffed on “Bank of America.”
“So what we’re doing and constructing, kind of like, is a simulated bank-teller booth, and we’ll be printing out rage receipts,” says Imhotep. “We’ll then be taking all the responses, and so the installation will be a rolling scroll ... of rage receipts of the responses, mixed with some creative use of the receipts on a wall.”
The project creators—Imhotep, Jess Liu, Becca Milman and Phyllis Thai—also made pins and Bank of Hysteria credit cards, and say the first iteration should go up Dec. 6. But that is only the first phase. Imhotep says that the project will live on (so keep calling and texting) and may appear again at a later date.
Initially, Imhotep says, because the campus is where they initially advertised the project, the first commentary was around transgressions in classroom spaces, with comments such as, “People say I don’t look like I major in computer science, but I do and it makes me angry.” But after seeing commentary such as, “I’m still angry about slavery,” she knew she wanted to reach out to black women specifically, who have a complicated relationship with anger.
“What I understand personally and from an academic standpoint is that there are ways that we’re forced to view and interact with ourselves as black people and as black women, which creates a fragmentation,” Imhotep explains. “And that fragmentation has been talked about by people who have experienced mania, seasonal affective disorder or just ‘I don’t feel good.’”
She continues, “I think folks bottle it up, and it manifests in serious health issues; or you see people who cannot bottle it up, and that’s when they get labeled as erratic and problematic. Or, somehow, less than respectable.”
But in a phrase, Imhotep says, “let it out”—like Solange in her song “Mad”—because holding on to anger can be destructive.
“At some level, part of what this project [is] is giving folks the space to vent ... helping black folks put a pressure valve on all these things that get contained,” she says. “At least symbolically.”
To participate, call or text 510-985-9986 for the Bank of Hysteria Toll-Free Rage Hotline.