Silence or Violence
One of my dearest friends told me recently that I only have two modes when it comes to conflict — silence or violence. More accurately, I default to this mode when I’m insecure in the relationship for which I’m having conflict. In my closest and most meaningful relationships, I am usually quite adept at managing conflict. It helps that there typically isn’t too much of it to start. Yet in relationships that are fleeting, superficial, or artificial, I often freeze up when conflicts arise. I think most people perceive me as being fairly outspoken and clear in my convictions. And for the most part, this is true. The flip side is that I often encounter situations in which my first internal reaction is usually toward violence which is unacceptable so I’m left stuck. How can I be angry as a Black woman and not get cast off as an Angry Black Woman? Here’s an example of a fleeting situation:
A few months ago, Asha and I were in Trader Joe’s enjoying our own company in the long line and being tempted by all the impulse items aligning the queue when all of a sudden I saw a white hand come from behind me reaching out to touch my child’s face. My first impulse was to slap the hand and push the person out of our personal space. This is where the trouble comes in for me. I knew that was not a socially acceptable way to respond. What’s more, is I know that as Black woman — especially in a predominately white and affluent part of the city — that behavior could get the police involved. So, while I’m running through all of this in my head, I have to make a quick and decisive choice about what my realistic options are. It is in those precious few seconds that I have an internal conversation with myself. How authentic can I be and not get arrested? How do I maintain my self-respect, boundaries, and integrity in that authenticity? How much grace can I display in this situation? I’m doing all of this within milliseconds! In post-reflection, I’m always slightly annoyed that I am as self-aware and self-reflective as I am. A different kind of woman would have knocked that hand out of the way and never thought anything about it.
Many times in my adult, post-somebody’s mama life, I long to be her. Now, trust truth and know there have absolutely been times when I have been that woman and will likely have to bring her out at other points in the future. In fact, you could ask some of my friends who’ve known me the longest and they could regale you with some stories, hunni! But in these post-somebody’s mama streets, I have more to lose and often that leaves me frustrated with myself. See, I haven’t fully reconciled old me and new me in this important way.
In the end, I am proud of the way I handled the Trader Joe’s situation. The woman never touched my child, I checked her racist statements and actions about my child’s skin tone, iced her out, and proceeded on with our transaction. I set a boundary, modeled great grace for my child, and did not get arrested. Kudos for me! Yet, as you can tell, the incident is still a stand-out in my memory. However, I’m more frustrated by the times when I don’t react as quickly, relay my vehemence as strongly as I feel it, or establish boundaries as firmly as I want. I’m bothered by this disconnect because, for me, it feels like I’m not being my authentic self. It feels like I’m letting myself down and that’s not a standard I want to ever get comfortable with.
Audre Lorde has a timeless and powerful piece about the uses of anger. While her piece is specifically about the valid reaction of anger and rage by women of color toward racism, there is a kernel of universality about access to anger for women that always resonates with me. She said, “ When we turn from anger we turn from insight, saying we will accept only the designs already known, deadly and safely familiar. I have tried to learn my anger’s usefulness to me, as well as its limitations.”
I think this is the crux of my frustration. I view my anger as a reasonable reaction to a boundary violation, a violation of my personhood. Intellectually, I believe I’m entitled to that anger. I just need more practice in using it effectively. #TheDrIsN and I want to hear from you. How do you use your anger? How do you establish personal boundaries in relationships?