We got a lot to mad about, to paraphrase Solange and Lil Wayne’s Mad. We’ve been had a lot to be mad about. As Black people, we have been subjected to random acts of violent terrorism by people within and outside of our communities since 1619*. The random acts of violence have had no purpose but to demean, humiliate, or destroy. They have been extremely effective and not only damage the physical Black body but also haunt the Black psyche.
Violence begets anger and more violence. Sometimes these things can be righteous, as when fighting against oppression. However, sometimes violence can be self-destructive and lead to both internalizing (that harm ourselves) and externalizing (that harm the ones we love) mental health problems.
Both men and women sometimes express their anger through externalizing mental health problems (e.g., alcohol and substance use) that initially numbs their anger and then magnifies it. However, men tend to do this more than women. As Black men, we sometimes use alcohol and substances to distance ourselves from our anger due to being violated by the violence of police brutality, un- and under-employment, marginalization at our jobs, racial profiling in stores and schools, and patriarchal cages put around us by parents, peers, and partners. Externalizing behaviors work short-term but typically lead us to lashing out at the first people who remind us of our anger (or pain).
Internalizing mental health problems include depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders. While both men and women experience these, women tend to report these more than men. As a Clinical Psychologist, I have met many women who’s anger due to patriarchy, white supremacy, and classism has turned inward. Their anger at outside forces becomes targeted at themselves. Many of these women suffer from guilt and self-blame. Many Black women have sat in front of me and confessed things like, “I started to believe him when he said that I was the problem” “People at my job only see me as the angry Black woman,” “My girlfriend is right when she says that no one else will love me.” These statements illustrate the internalization of the violent, destructive impressions of others into one’s self.
It should be noted that externalizing and internalizing mental health problems often co-exist. For example, people who are anxious may use substances to calm their anxiety. People who use substance may oscillate between anger at others and disgust with one’s self.
As Black people, we must learn to use our anger toward change and not destruction. I recommend three strategies for constructively utilizing our anger.
1. Don’t “just let it go.” Anger is informative. It is a clue that something is out of sync and needs to be addressed. Only when we address our anger can we use it for growth. So don’t try to suppress it, express it. Talk about it with someone who cares for you: a pastor, a friend, a relative, or a therapist. Hold the anger closely but outside of yourself.
2. Find the words. What are you really mad about? With whom are you really mad? Sometimes anger can distort our perception. We forget the original source, the foundational impetus for our anger and then attack others or ourselves. Talk out the anger. Be precise in your language. For example, language such as: “I am mad about/with _(person/event)___ because (what about that person/event made you mad). And now I feel like (how did it make you feel).”
3. Channel your anger into action that will help others. When the source of our anger is injustice, it is not always possible for us to get rid of the source or walk away from it. No mater how much I discuss my anger, the world is still currently anti-Black, anti-same-gender-loving, anti-gender fluid, anti-equity, etc. So we must allow our anger to be the catalyst for our personal growth and to facilitate the growth of those around us. For example, I was mad about being the only Black clinical trainee at a VA hospital. After emotionally processing and finding the words for my anger with the help of friends and my therapist, I created a pipeline program to increase the number of Black college students and graduate students who knew about the training opportunities at the hospital. How will you use your anger to create and not destroy?
We got a lot to be mad about! So let’s be mad. Let’s we must use our anger, words, and actions to create a space for self-love and community growth.
*This date refers to the arrival of the first Africans to arrive to colonial America. This author acknowledges that Black people have occupied the Americas since 1000 BC.