My habit of showing my humanity via having feelings, is routinely used by white people as ammunition to discredit anything I have to say.
By Shannon Barber
Don’t call me angry when what you mean to say is: this Black person has full human emotions and I’m uncomfortable. Or if you mean: I feel personally slighted by a generalized statement because who is this Negro is telling me what to do. Don’t dehumanize me because you are uncomfortable with what I have to say.
Before we go further, for the official record, this is not me angry. I am sad. I am exhausted. I am not angry.
One of the downsides to being a writer in the age of the internet are reader comments and being accessible when someone feels some type of way. The function of this type of entitlement is that I am expected to give my time and energy freely, be nice, and show only the face of a Strong Black woman. Any sign of humanity, of emotions, or even simply saying, “no I don’t want to talk to you/further engage” enrages people who exercise this type of entitlement. There is a mix of righteous indignation that I have not made myself available that is mixed with disbelief and dismissal.
Often, people will go out of their way to find me, send me a private message where they explain to me what I’ve already said, explain how I’ve experienced my life experiences incorrectly, explain to me that my anger and aggression are too scary to be given space, how I personally am responsible for racism and sexism still existing – these are just a few of the nicer things. I won’t repeat the rape and death threats verbatim, nobody needs to see that.
This isn’t exclusive to me, I see this everywhere. For example, I was in a long conversation with other Black folks about natural hair, enter several white women who rather than sitting back and watching, decided to inject themselves into the situation. What followed was hours of raging out of control white women who informed all of us bullies that, our talk of the hair that grows out of our heads, was divisive and that we were the true racists for not including them in the conversation.
Most of us involved wound up exhausted. Some of us lost friends, a few of us spent the remainder of the night fielding messages from other white people who either wanted us to validate how good they were in not participating, how we were all expected to give comfort and space to people who told us outright that us talking to each other about common lived experiences was, not fair to them.
For QTBIPOC especially, when we talk about our lives or experiences and we’re vulnerable, many of us need time away from this entitlement. We need to not be grilled, to have time to recuperate and re-energize. Too often, we’re denied that by the level of entitlement that tells people they have the right to invade and take over any space they want. Via these invasions, we’re denied our humanity again because we have to deal with it. Our emotional labor gets disrespected, questioned and ultimately too often serves to cause us to burn out or silence ourselves so we don’t have to deal with it.
In the context of the things I tend to write about, my expertise is not only in the theoretical – I’ve read a ton of books about this – this is my actual life. When I talk about racism, it isn’t because I read about it one time. I have been experiencing it since I was born. The type of work I do relies on my experiences, my ability to take them apart and talk about them. I write the way I do on purpose, it isn’t an accident. Part of my goal when I write about racism or sexism, is to make it personal and nakedly human.
That may be the goal of my work, but, ultimately my humanity and my habit of showing my humanity via having feelings, is routinely used as ammunition to discredit anything I have to say. This is not new. There is a concrete history to this that began more than twenty years ago during my first shy ventures into social justice up through a few days ago.
Let me quote myself from a currently unavailable article I wrote in 2014 (also please note I was still identifying as a woman only in public, I am non-binary):
Over the last few weeks as I’ve seen myself cast as some 50 Foot Angry Black woman out to silence every other woman and single handedly ruin feminism, I have felt by turns amused and completely disheartened.
This was in reference to an article where, I said (and this is boiled down from a few thousand words worth of articles and the reason cited for weeks of harassment):
Shut the hell up for five minutes.
This quote was taken from the middle of an article about ways white feminists can do better in terms of race relations and recognizing the racism problem in feminism. It was used as proof positive of me being personally, a bigger threat than racism and sexism put together. The sharing of my work has caused huge long fights in feminist online groups, I was warned that one “feminist” group was going to dox me and try to get me fired from my job for being a “hate-monger”.
Recently, I’ve gotten emails, Facebook messages etc. to tell me that my racism will be my downfall. That I am an evil humanity hating a-hole for speaking to White people directly, regardless of what I’ve actually said. Worse, I’ve had to debate my own humanity and right to the full range of human emotions with people I’ve known since I was a child.
What hurts the most, is that at some point in the last few years, I realized it doesn’t matter what I say or how I say it. I can say, please stop doing this thing because it hurts me, I can say, knock it the fuck off, and the responses are always the same. The retreat behind the wall of white or male fragility, the threats both subtle and outright, the raging messages, the threats of losing my livelihood or home, will happen.
That being what it is, I want to end with the realest of real talk. When I speak to ways to not be racist, or ways to improve at not upholding white supremacy, or how to make feminism better – it is a gift. It is done because I care and because I want and believe that folks can do better. Second, I know how to use words. When I am angry, I will say I am angry. If what you read is anger because you’re uncomfortable, that is not always my responsibility.
Third, emotionless discourse is not what I do. I am not dispassionate about my life, my experiences or my work. When I write that I am afraid, I mean I am afraid. I don’t mean that in theory. I mean it in the literal sense. To deny that, to use a tactic like dehumanization to discredit what I have to say, is evil.
If my perceived anger is the only thing you get from an article, I’d ask you this: rather than using that assumption to then discredit me, my body of work and what I have to say, what if you ask why is this person angry? The answer is almost always in the work.
Human to human. This behavior is personally harmful–the stress of dealing with it causes everything from hives on my body, to tears, loss of appetite and the worst for me, a loss of hope. Erasure of my humanity destroys me.
Is that human enough? Am I?
Author Bio: Shannon Barber is a 40 year old author who resides in the Pacific North West. They are most often found in their natural habitat, walking very quickly while brandishing a cigarette in one hand and an enormous cup of coffee in the other. They are the author of the forthcoming poetry book, Gasoline Heart by Lark Books this summer. For more of their poetry please see #gorgonpoetics and all the genres at their author site.