« Recommended Books | Main | More from ...serial essays that saved a woman's life »

Stories that save lives: what's anger got to do with it?

The more I write, the more I understand about writing (how to make it better) and about myself (why I wasn’t better in the first place). One of the things I have learned about myself by writing is I AM ANGRY.

When I first started reading my poetry in book stores and coffee houses I was often surprised, and yes ANGRY, that people would come up to me and ask why I was so ANGRY, why was my writing full of ANGER. Often, at least one audience member was thoughtful enough to take the time to tell me they hoped my life would get better soon!

I scratched my head. Sometimes I laughed. I WASN’T angry. What was he thinking? Life is good, sometimes bad things happen. “Oh well,? I would say, and kept writing, and kept living (running would be a more appropriate verb, but that’s another story).

I write to share my experiences because I know my stories can sometimes comfort or strengthen a woman who has carried her burdens alone, unescorted, uninvited, unable to tell her own stories--yet.

The more I wrote the more I realized I had lied. The audience had been right. My stories were, okay, some were angry. I had much to be angry about.

The more I read writing by other women of color I learned many of us are angry. Wang Ping titled a poem, “What Are You Still Angry About.? The poem moves forward by a lengthy rewriting of family genealogy—along maternal, instead of paternal lines.

What are you still angry about? Make a list. Write that story or that poem.

Toi Derricotte, co-founder of Cave Canem, a retreat for black poets, wrote in the black notebooks (Norton, 1987):

" I want to talk about anger, about how important it is as a part of the process of coming to one’s voice, about how it is inevitable in a diverse classroom. I want to talk about how powerful it is, how dangerous it is, how mysterious, about how suddenly real feelings start to emerge. If we don’t recognize anger, if we don’t allow for it, if we’re not ready, if we don’t in fact, welcome it as a creative force, then I think we’re going to end up blaming and dividing people even more. We hesitate to allow it to happen, though anger is a part of life. (So often ‘life’ is not allowed in the classroom.)"

Anger, I believe, has saved my life. It gave me voice where there was none before. The voice of anger can be found in my poems. I give my students permission to write “angry.?

Nevertheless, I felt guilty and shameful when I had finally acknowledged my ANGER. Black women are angry, right—and in your face with their anger? Asian woman, however, are docile, silent, subservient, right? How do stereotypes fashion who we are, when we really are not anyone but our self?

Edén Torres’ stories have saved my life; she wrote CHICANA WITHOUT APOLOGY giving me permission to be angry:

"We have the right to be angry no matter how long ago the original trauma occurred or how different things were then, no matter how much progress has taken place, no matter how ignorant or well-intentioned our oppressors have been, no matter what change is promised in the future. Our fury is justified anytime we are ignored, silenced, negatively stereotyped, incorrectly labeled, or otherwise not respected. Any occasion in which our history is omitted or lied about deserves our indignant dismissal.90 Until equality and justice become reality, we have a right to be angry." Page 41

Torres also says it takes courage to express our anger because of what people might say about us, or do to us (pages 52-43 in CHICANA WITHOUT APOLOGY). Most importantly she says, we’re not crazy or stupid or out of control!

I AM NOT CRAZY. I AM NOT STUPID. Write a list of what you are not.

Write a list of what you are. I Am Black Chinese Woman Writer Mother Grandmother Hero Lover Wise Witty Robust Wild Friend Survivor Dreamer etc. etc., etc.

You might be asking: what is it she is so angry about?

I am angry about a black mother who had reason to make a choice to pass for white and decide for her children they should pass for white because it will be safer and there will be more opportunities for them even though this means distancing her own family. I am angry that there are people who will say who I am and not listen to me say who I am, or try to understand that I am who I am because a history of racism, and sexism has set itself inside my bones, my flesh, my spirit (But, you’re different. You’re not black. Your mother must not be ALL black. Is your husband black? Why don’t you write about being Chinese? If women changed their attitude they wouldn’t be raped.) I am angry that there were white men whose parents were gracious enough to patronize me, but not gracious enough to let their sons marry me, but they could marry women of color from other countries. I am angry that my sons have chosen to be with blonde women with big breasts. I am angry that I have just written something that I didn’t know I was angry about. I am angry that I have so much anger. I am angry that to survive I must get rid of my anger. I am angry that I must continue to write because there is always something new to be angry about.

Joy Harjo wrote the poem, “I Give You Back?-- “I release you, my beautiful and terrible fear / I release you …. I am not afraid to be angry / I am not afraid to rejoice …. But come here, fear / I am alive and you are so afraid / of dying.?

What is it you want to/need to give back? Make a list. Then give it away in a story or a poem.

Clarissa Pinkola Estés writes in WOMEN WHO RUNS WITH WOLVES, “What must I give more death to today, in order to generate more life.?

I give death to anger by writing what I am angry about. Again. Again. And again. Between each death I am joyously alive.

“I died once. And then I died again. And then, death had no hold on me.?

“Complacency is a far more dangerous attitude than outrage.?
--Naomi Littlebear, excerpt from THIS BRIDGE CALLED BY BACK, edited by Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa

© Sherry Quan Lee 10/29/07


I am not an object, wild, hysterical and tragic.
I am a sturdy oak, loyal giver, a listener of problems, an asker of questions and a seeker of deeper meaning.
I am not dumb, shiftless, or a lazy nigger. I am not money hungry, a rump shakin' video vixen, or a pick-a-ninnie.
I am not a whore, part of a gang, or an arguing black bitch.
I am angry, hurt when called names and a black bitch.
I am an individual, an equal and sometimes more scared of you than you are of me.
I am not trying to be white.
I am not speaking for my race.
I am not afraid to be a creator of dreams, a catalyst through my writing and poetry.

Lori Young-Williams

I am still angry that white is right, black step back, brown stick around, yellow be mellow and red, you're dead.
I am angry that this f-in world still works by color. Yet the only color that gets you anywhere is green. The wads of bills the gangsta CEO has in his bank accounts, world wide.
The kind of green I don't have because I'm black, step back. brown, stick around. But my anger is a simmer. Always there under the surface, from what was done to me and my ancestors. When it bubbles and boils over, I am told I frighten people. Scared of the angry black woman. But no one dares to think why I might be angry. Those gangsta CEO were the ones who hauled me to the selling block, away from safety of my home & family, pulled me down, beat me down and raped me. Created me. No, that's not talked about. only the color of the angry black woman...