The Radical Uses of Anger: All White Women Aren’t the Enemy, but White Supremacy Always Is

The Women’s March in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 21, 2016 (Getty Images)

Black women have never labored under the assumption that all womanhood is created equal in a white supremacist society.

We have had to fight for access to the full spectrum of womanhood, to be treated not as breeding chattel but as fully human. We know white supremacy to be a feminist issue on the most intimate and painful level because systemic oppression has always been mapped on the bodies of black women.


Our communities have been covered in sheets of our blood for generations. Our families have been ripped apart with precision by the vicious consistency and cruel mundanity of whiteness. We bear layers of scars, and our anger cannot be washed away or marched away, or defined by knitted, pink pussy hats.

This is the reality, the hot, seething reality, that is being diminished by some people in current conversations around the Women’s March on Washington, D.C.


As resentment and defensiveness swelled during the organizing of the march, there were white women who voiced concerns that some black women were bullies—too angry, too demanding and too divisive.

These were all code words for “the real racists.”

Emma-Kate Symons, writing for the New York Times, called it a hijacking: “It saddens me to see the inclusive liberal feminism I grew up with reduced to a grab-bag of competing victimhood narratives and individualist identities jostling for most-oppressed status.”


This is what white, liberal, feminist racism sounds like—the blatant and self-serving refusal to acknowledge that white women have always been complicit in the oppression of women of color. They have been beneficiaries and perpetrators of a genocidal system that continues to shape-shift in transparent attempts to disguise itself.

The terror that Donald Trump has induced as the dystopian state he promised becomes reality is palpable. And with it comes the expectation that black women must fold our anger, resentment and mistrust into something that will not singe the fragility of white women.


Because now just isn’t a convenient time.

Despite the racially fraught origins of the march, many women of color marched on Jan. 21 to stand in solidarity against Trump; others went to ensure that white women did not control the dialogue and lay sole claim to women’s rights; others went to start that good trouble.


Millions of women across the nation—black, white, Latinx, Asian, indigenous, cisgender and transgender, able-bodied and disabled, Christian, Muslim and atheist—were inspired by the historic show of women’s power and the magnitude of its potential.

However, there are black women who noted that anti-blackness was on full display. This was most clearly evident in the self-congratulatory photos of attendees with police officers rocking pink pussy hats and the triumphant reports that there were no arrests made.


There were no tanks, no clubs and no water hoses. Jovial police officers came out in full force to protect white womanhood, positioning the march as a propaganda tool for the state. The dangerously dishonest contrast being that Movement for Black Lives activists and Standing Rock water protectors must have instigated and enflamed the state-sanctioned violence and continued threats against them.

Black women are not surprised.

“It’s something they almost brag about. ‘No one was arrested. The police gave us high-fives,’” Ferguson, Mo., protester Johnetta Elzie told the Boston Globe. “The people I’ve seen saying that are white women, and that’s really spoken from a complete place of privilege.”


Race, gender and class influence every interaction with police. And this reality places black women in potential danger on a daily basis. With Donald “Law & Order” Trump continuing his antagonist stance against the Movement for Black Lives, fighting back against the violence that black women experience at the hands of the state should have been a top priority. More than likely, though, little thought was given to the fact that women of color often live in occupied territories at the mercy of rapists and killers who hide behind badges.


According to a 2007 report prepared for the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, The Nation reports, “Rape and sexual abuse by police [in the United States] are primarily reported by women of color.”

Sexual misconduct is the second-highest form of police misconduct in the nation after excessive force. 


“[B]lack women are routinely killed, raped and beaten by the police,” wrote Kimberlé Crenshaw, director of Columbia Law School’s Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies and co-founder of the African American Policy Forum, in the 2015 report #SayHerName: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women.

“Inclusion of black women’s experiences in social movements, media narratives and policy demands around policing and police brutality is critical to effectively combating racialized state violence for black communities and other communities of color,” she emphasized.


While women of color, black women specifically, have pushed our issues to the forefront, there has still been too much chatter about white women’s feelings. How they feel about black women “making this about race.” How they feel about being forced to reckon with their toxic brand of Whites-Only Feminism™, the destruction it has caused and the discriminatory institutions it has fortified.


Let there be no doubt: Dismissing the anger and betrayal that some black women are experiencing is violent. Mocking and misidentifying the decision made by some black women to practice self-care this one time by not attending the march as self-righteous performance radicalism is violent.

The recognition that some white women are only as radical as the risks they personally face is necessary. And that recognition does not require lecturing black women on the uselessness or incompleteness of their anger.


Audre Lorde, in her 1981 keynote address, “The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism,” said that women must not be seduced into “settling for anything less than the hard work of excavating honesty; we must be quite serious about the choice of this topic and the angers entwined within it because, rest assured, our opponents are quite serious about their hatred of us and of what we are trying to do here.”

Lorde continued:

Everything can be used / except what is wasteful / (you will need / to remember this when you are accused of destruction).


To those women here who fear the anger of women of color more than their own unscrutinized racist attitudes, I ask: Is the anger of women of color more threatening than the woman-hatred that tinges all aspects of our lives? It is not the anger of other women that will destroy us but our refusals to stand still, to listen to its rhythms, to learn within it, to move beyond the manner of presentation to the substance, to tap that anger as an important source of empowerment.

I cannot hide my anger to spare you guilt, nor hurt feelings, nor answering anger; for to do so insults and trivializes all our efforts ... my anger is no excuse for not dealing with your blindness, no reason to withdraw from the results of your own actions.


It is critical that white women understand that solidarity will not happen on their terms, which too often includes a pre-emptive softening of anger. And women of color should understand that if it does, it will not last.

Black women and white women can—and often do—stand together when there is acknowledgment that whiteness comes with structural privileges and power, but there must be relentless efforts to dismantle it brick by brick.


Of the women who voted in the presidential election, 94 percent of black women voted for Hillary Clinton, some with great trepidation. They deserve space to say that they feel betrayed by the 53 percent of white women who voted for Trump—and the silent accomplices smiling in their faces. Further, the estimated 1 to 2 percent of black women on the left who did not vote for Clinton deserve space to say that a frantic return to the neoliberal politics that Clinton embodies cannot be the goal, or we will continue this ceaseless cycle through different iterations of white American evil.


And we have the right, indeed, the duty, to express anger while we say it.

We have the right, indeed, the duty, to question whether or not this new resistance will outlast the white supremacist and misogynist regime we now find ourselves under.


We have the right, indeed, the duty, to call out the racism embedded in time itself. We lose time with loved ones to the prison-industrial complex. We lose time with our children because many of us have to work tirelessly to make ends meet. We lose years of our lives because of the stress of navigating a world that hates us for our freedom.

And we are constantly told by some white women to just hold on because progress is slow but assured, while they reap the benefits of their whiteness. That is not what sisterhood looks like.


“You always told me it takes time,” James Baldwin said in 1989’s The Price of the Ticket. “It’s taken my father’s time, my mother’s time. My uncle’s time, my brothers’ and my sisters’ time. My nieces’ and my nephews’ time. How much time do you want ... for your progress?”

Protesters in Washington, D.C., during the Poor People’s Campaign in 1968 (Getty Images)

There are black women who are sick and tired of being the mules of the world, sick and tired of holding in anger and hoping that it won’t metastasize and eat us alive.


We may have reached a juncture where progress is measured by liberal white urgency, but their sudden sense of urgency alone is not a sufficient exchange for more of our time—neither is cosmetic diversity. If multiracial, multicultural, queer-led, feminist coalitions rooted in a working-class, anti-imperialist politic is the endgame, then we must not dismiss the transformative and clarifying power of anger because it makes some white women uncomfortable.


In a nation where blackness is often considered a threat punishable by death, anger can be the catharsis that leads to revolutionary action. Indeed, where black folks have been told to be grateful, patient, forgiving, kind and obedient in the face of relentless white supremacist violence, openly and unapologetically embracing anger can be revolutionary. And that anger should not be diluted for a whitewashed progress that has no room or desire to hold it.

It is a fire that needs to be nurtured, not extinguished—and may intersectional and intentional solidarity be forged in the flames.


I urge those white women who are angry in response to black women’s anger to be angry. I urge those white women who are hurt to be hurt. I urge those white women who are frustrated to be frustrated. They need to own their discomfort, become familiar with it, trace its patterns and discover its origin, then decide what they want to do with it. And they need to do so clear in the knowledge that time does not solely belong to them.


They need to be clear that not all white women are the enemy, but whiteness always is.

My grandmother used to tell me, “It’ll all come clean in the wash.” So, what if we discover that the anger, hurt and frustration that some white women feel in the face of black women’s justifiable anger leads them to take their fickle, feminist balls and go home?


Then they were never to be trusted in the first place, and all women committed to freedom and liberation are better off without them.

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About the author

Kirsten West Savali

Mother. Wife. Writer. Journalist. Bubber's Daughter.