Iyanla Vanzant is deconstructing the myth of the angry black woman in the first four episodes of the newest season of Iyanla: Fix My Life, and just one episode in the spiritual teacher is already speaking some uncomfortable truths.
For this series, Vanzant invited eight women to co-habitate in what she calls a House of Healing. There, these individuals, aged 22-46, are expected to unpack their anger and, not only confront, but come to understand how they got to a place where they feel more safe showing their anger than their wounds.
As Vanzant plainly stated:
“It’s acceptable for us as Black women to be angry and act inappropriately; it’s not acceptable for Black women to be weak or vulnerable or sad or lonely. Many of us have ignored our own trauma.”
In ignoring those traumas — sexual abuse, divorce, infidelity, dreams deferred, unrequited love, verbal and physical violence — they’ve manifested themselves in other ways over the years: anger, bitterness, and frustration. But what would lead these women (and many of us) to invoke such counterproductive realities? As Vanzant posits:
“We want to matter but we don’t expect to be treated like we matter because we don’t matter to ourselves.”
While the last part of Vanzant’s declaration didn’t initially sit well with me because it felt reminiscent of arguments that the black community won’t matter to police officers until we start mattering to ourselves, I believe the point the TV personality left off of that last sentence is we don’t matter to ourselves because we haven’t given ourselves permission to.
Since the black woman first stepped foot on this earth, everyone else’s needs have come before hers. And while we’ve willfully carried the burden of motherhood and been the sacrificial lamb for black men time and time again, we’ve done so at a cost many of us can’t bear. Sure we may obtain professional success because offices and boardrooms are the playgrounds of pseudo-perfectionists and the emotionally repressed. But when it comes to our personal lives we’re imposters, no longer able to mask anguish with the kind of aggression that’s applauded in the workplace. Our interpersonal relationships require the type of vulnerability that says I don’t have to pretend to be pissed off when I’m actually hurt to the core. But to get to that place you’d have to actually uncover the true root of that so-called anger and believe that when you do someone will care.
That’s a hefty request for women in our community who are not only nurturing black men and children in their own homes, but on a national scale as well, with full knowledge that when we say #BlackLivesMatter, our lives still fall at the bottom of that totem pole in the very eyes of those we’re fighting for. And yet all we want, as one of the house mates, Lira Galore, stated, is for “our black men to value us, and they don’t.” And it’s that realization that sends us back into the cycle of acting out, presumably out of anger, when we’re really hurting inside and asking to matter.
The truth is, we can’t make black men care about us, but we can choose to care about one another. In discussions like these black men are, quite frankly, easy targets. We can go on and on and on about how they don’t, can’t, never have and never will do x,y, and z, while forgetting that we sometimes commit acts that are just as egregious against one another. It only took about a five hours for two 40-something professionals in this house of healing to begin calling one another b-tches over a poorly worded request and an assumption of authority. It’s no wonder we’ve internalized the message that we don’t matter: women who look just like us have confirmed as much.
In this time when everyone from the local street harasser to the city police officer to the national government has either directly or indirectly shown us they don’t care about our lives, we owe it to one another to care. And not just in a tangentially cliche “I’m my sister’s keeper” kind of way, but in word and deed. Instead of dismissing the next sister you see acting out on the street as “ratchet,” consider why she may be behaving the way that she is. Exhibit some compassion for the hurt she’s attempting to mask. Ask her what you can do to make her day a little better and let her know she matters. Maybe when we start to show we matter to one another, we’ll start to expect to matter to one another, and we’ll no longer have to ignore our traumas — we can speak of them freely, knowing there’s no shame in our pain.