Why All Your Black Friends Are Angry


by Hayley Headley, United World College Maastricht
28th June, 2020


Everyone knows me for being loud and proud about my own blackness, but few are prepared to understand how exhausting that is. I spent my time at UWC arguing and trying so desperately to help people understand why and how racism is so pervasive and subtle. Ultimately, my arguments fell on deaf ears. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard the words: 

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“Why are you so mad?” “I’m just trying to help” “You know you can’t repeat the same thing over and over” “Honestly, it is just so exhausting to be friends with you” 

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These are the same words that have been used to silence minority voices for decades. It’s words like these that kept us silent and passive to all the injustice we saw around us. At UWC I felt like I had to polish my views, lighten my tone, be funny about all the anger and frustration I felt just to be heard. There was so much more expected of me in discussions where people undermined my very existence, something so central to my identity – my race. 

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It confuses me how much is expected of the oppressed when people question the very oppressive system that they participate in. Their complicity lies within their questioning, within their dismissal and within their desire to disprove and discredit our arguments solely because of our raised voices, and charred black faces bunched up in outrage. But what interested me more about all of this is how it impacted black women in particular. 

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Unknowingly the primarily white boys that I argued with all too often bought into the idea of the angry black woman. From a culture that seeks to undermine black women, that oppresses us in the unique vertex – that intersect of a seemingly inferior gender and an even more inferior race.The angry black woman trope has been shushing us for years. It forces us into a box that ultimately invalidates any feeling that pushes the envelope of social pleasantry. It makes us two dimensional characters. It tells that our frayed and weary edges need to be bubble wrapped in niceties and humor.

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The fear of being seen as just another angry black girl makes many of us never speak loud enough to be heard by those who need to listen. I can’t count the amount of times I looked across the table at another girl and knew that if things were different, we wouldn’t be in this position. One we all too often found ourselves in, one that prioritized the belligerent and often incoherent arguments of self righteous men, one that left us simmering long after the conversation was over. 

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The box society has trapped us in leaves us longing to escape but terrified of the world that lies outside of it. All too often the price of our silence and everyone else’s social comfort is the guilt that brews within us. The undeserved yet poignant weight that sits upon our shoulders, is one we cannot seem to shake, but one that seems so preventable on the surface. But the truth of this matter, as it often is, much more complex than simple blame. It lies at the core of our own perceptions. And those perceptions are often taught by a society that finds more comfort and blind bliss in the words of bigots than it does in the rebuttal of the oppressed. 

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At UWC we never had classes on race, we never had a space to talk about one of our most fundamental differences often for the excuse that those conversations were “hard” and “uncomfortable”. But in the quiet unwavering silence, there was a much more insidious lesson being taught – 

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That white discomfort is infinitely more important than the quality of minority lives. 

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We all came to UWC because we wanted to change the world, to celebrate our differences, but instead of celebrating differences we have come to overlook and ignore them. At large it seems we have attempted to adopt a ‘colorblind’ mentality, and come to associate difference with negativity and friction. It has become almost more progressive to attempt to forget about our unique individual circumstances than to address them. 

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The fundamental issue with it is that this is just one more way to prioritize white comfort. We bend to their new ‘liberal’ agenda and shove our strife and struggles into the background. We force ourselves to assimilate under this new label, this new facet of our identity. We paint over our past adversities with the joy of our current existence. 

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But we can’t be expected to be placated by these ideas of color blindness forever. After all, we all have to enter a real world that is all too aware of our differences. One that sees our colour before they see our accomplishments. One that, for me at least, encroached on the happy bubble we tried so hard to protect. 

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We all speak out on the issues that are easy and universal, but what we need to do to create change is face head on those issues that make us uncomfortable. We need to stop looking at climate change from the lens of international responsibility and start looking at it with a perspective that considers race, colonialism and power. We need to stop talking about the cursory elements of conflict in the Middle East and start understanding how the West has created the power vacuums that fuel wars and insurgencies. We need to start understanding that blame falls where it may, but it’s about putting that aside and trying to actually do something. 

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The fact is that we can’t expect to hop, skip and jump over the issues. We can’t expect black women to be the only voice to call out against oppression. But most of all, we can’t expect to call ourselves ‘UWCers’ if we refuse to hold up our most fundamental values.

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Illustration by Ece Fisgin

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