Angry Black Male Living In Post-Modernity
In a recent post, I discussed my bouts with depression as a teenager, and how I all of a sudden “overcame” them and adopted a more cheerful disposition. If a naive understanding of joy was what I let define me through my late teens, it was in my early twenties that I allowed myself to become angry. It was in high school that I played the part of the entertaining Magical Negro, talking about racism in jest as if it were a thing of the past. Public education had taught me well. Race is both story and performance. According to Drew Hart, the Magical Negro is a black person who exists for the Dominant culture, submissive, never to interrogate the dominant culture’s oppressive mythologies and practices. Uncle Remus. Bagger Vance. God in Bruce Almighty. Senator/candidate turned President Barack Obama. The Magical Negro is a production of the dominant culture’s fantasies for the simple maintenance of social supremacy.
And yet, even as the Magic Black, I still played another role: that of the Angry Black man. This guy did not show up too often, but he normally appeared at about 2:30pm each day during fourth period, just in time for U.S. Government class. It was in this class that I would be regularly harassed by (I kid you not) a student from San Diego who identified as a Skin Head. Every day our arguments were intense as I had to endure microagressions, white supremacist taunts about the inferiority of Africa, and color-blind racist talking-points directly borrowed from Fox News. At one point, we as a class were in the library, and this skinhead wanted to go to fist-to-cuffs with yours truly. I was alone as the only Person of Color, a number of my white classmates would take this guy’s side. I would have to fend for myself each day, striving to succeed academically while white supremacy was literally breathing down my neck in the desk behind me.
I can identify the precise moment when I decide to let the anti-colonial Angry Black Man within me out of his cage. It came precisely after September 11th, 2001, and it was a turbulent time for my faith journey. I was just not getting used to the college environment, the white privilege & cultural hegemony of the Greek system, nor the bevy of misogynist jokes that I came across. To top it all off, I was very distraught over the pro-war prayers that a campus charismatic group I was a part of was praying. The moment came at a meeting of religious studies majors and professors in that department, I was asked my opinion about what I thought was the problem with the “War of Terror” and it took me no less than 15 seconds to briefly give a scathing critique of Neo-colonialism without having read any Liberation theology or critical theory. From then on, I “earned” the reputation of being the Angry Black Man. I was the outspoken dissenter, I was the Oncoming Storm opposed to what I perceived to be the corrupting and dominant forces on campus. When I campaigned for Vice President, the school newspaper called me passionate. The thing about being Angry all the time, like any other emotional imbalance is that, it will take a lot out of you. I am speaking from my own experience, and so without appropriate self-care practices, I just gave up. My rep even among white Christians, and even among a number of Black student was that of THE controversial Angry Black Man, so I tried for a few years to change myself so that I could be liked. I was tired of being singled out.
Once more, however, the Angry Black Man emerged. I graduated college, and I had gone through a year of seminary, and after initially reading Black Liberation theology, I was pretty lukewarm to the concept. I was just leaving “Cage-stage Calvinism” and yeah, after moments like a fun-filled game night turned into a display of infuriation between “emergent” Arminians and myself (again, flying solo), I became somewhat aloof to focus on my studies and started my journey as a Trinitarian and an Anti-racist thinker, in large part due to a life-changing course on the book of Exodus which emphasized both Jewish and Black Church’ perspectives. I developed an inquisitive side, and even as I asked questions dispassionately, I was still portrayed as the Angry Black Man. As a ThM student, one Brogressive colleague continued to accuse me of being “violent” and promoting violence because I dared question the assumptions of the Enlightenment. Even after graduating with my Masters, I still ran into this image of Angry Blackness. Once, I had an essay accepted, and then rejected because my writing on critical race theory and religion was considered to be by the editors too angry, far too critical, and not given to brogressive notions of color-blindness.
Oh, but there is much money to be made off of the backs of the Angry Black Man! Whether it’s a paleo-Confederate-supporting fundamentalist church-goer who wants to paint me as the Angry Black reverse racist heretic or the self-serving allies that Morgan talks about, trying to prove how much more “radical” they are. Entire brands can be built on persons who view themselves as nonconfrontational, as civilized, and as full of grace, at the expense of marginalized folks, and those people whom society will always label as inherently violent.
If I may go back to Drew Hart’s post on ‘Renouncing The Magic Negro urge‘:
“The “Angry Negro” merely needs to question in any capacity the path of assimilation as an option for their life. Basically the “Angry Negro” does not fit into these dominant cultural spaces well. They straighten their backs, uphold their human dignity, and affirm their own community’s insights, wisdom, and ways of being in ways that causes friction to those that take for granted that black people should be happy and content, since they have access into these inner circles that were originally intended to systematically advantage white people in society. That the cost of losing oneself in pursuit of the American Dream is not valued to some people, seems to be taken as an offense to many people in the dominant culture. Rather than taking time to really listen and have a human encounter filled with questions and curiosity, empathy and patience, dialogue and even disagreement in pursuit of growth and understanding, most situated within dominant culture have been more tempted to find reasons to dismiss those that refuse to live lives playing by hegemonic rules. The label “Angry Negro” is an outright dismissal of anything someone says, without trying to first seek understanding, by matter of fact that they fit this caricature.”
Rather than listen and hear out marginalized persons as HUMAN BEINGS, many times, members of the dominant culture in a desperate attempt to control the narrative, depict their conversants in a negative light, using tropes that are continually used to silence dissent. The Angry Black Man, The Angry Black Woman, the Angry Korean Professor. These are all stereotypes used time and again to deny the full humanity of Persons of Color [the same can be applied to women,gender: Angry Shrill Feminist, etc]. The Angry Black Man [SIC] is a false Myth inherited by People of Color from White Supremacist narratives. Just as Christena Cleveland pointed out that the StrongBlackWoman traps Black women in an essentialized view of Black womanhood, so too does the Angry Black Man represent a hegemonic masculinity defined by racial violence.
In conclusion, if I may, I want to go back to my friend Tristan’s post in part one:
“The Blackness of ancient Egypt is a means of dismantling ‘civilization’ – a concept so dear to the White gaze. It cannot fathom a role where it is not in power. When we refuse to fit or compromise ourselves for whiteness we are uncontrollable (e.g. militant, angry). Whiteness can only see its de-centering as an act of reverse racism because they cannot fathom a world where they do not control us. You see, the only ‘peace’ and ‘balance’ for the White supremacist is one where people of color know their place, or else they are nothing but angry savages in the chaotic realms of otherness.”
The dominant culture has a two-pronged approach to the Exodus narrative: on one hand, the anti-oppression value of the story of the mid-wives and Moses is devalued. The lives of Moses, Miriam, Zipporah, Aaron, and Joshua were all treasured by enslaved Black Christians because the Invisible Institution could identify who Pharaoh was. Pharaoh does not like being exposed for who he is. The way of Pharaoh is forcing the oppressed to construct brick buildings with only batches of straw, take them away from their land, destroy their families, and then turn around and shame their subjects for becoming angry. The other part of the dominant culture’s appropriation of Exodus is to still make claim to the Exodus as cultural territory. When you think of the Ten Commandments, Charlton Heston comes to mind, yes? And in the latest saga of cultural appropriation, Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods And Kings not only has a basically all white cast, the Persons of Color who are included as cast members? Well they fit the very essence of the uncivilized Angry Black Man trope: thieves, servants, assassins, lower class citizens. Why is this the case?
The Exodus as White Cultural territory becomes one of several key pieces of the origin of Western
Civility Civilization. Without the Exodus, the Puritans could not claim to be the New Israel, and they could not in turn name the First Nations peoples as the Canaanites waiting to be conquered. In order to sustain the the myth of White progressive innocence, the economy needs a guilty party; a party that is perpetually enraged, someone who is destined to be the prisoner-victim of the nation-state. This is the legacy of The Angry Black Man.