It is not a label we have chosen.

It looms over us–an emblem of the ceaseless othering that loves to threaten our existence.

We can feel it when we’re about to push back in an instinct to protect life, our livelihood.  When we know that what was just said or done deserves a response.  We can feel it with a quickened heartbeat, a tingling of the skin.  “I know he did NOT just say that.”

It may sound firm, but it’s a wondering statement really.  We are startled, in disbelief that words like to ones just uttered can enter a space and NOT be questioned.  And then, there it is.  Some of us run from it, will our hearts to slow down, close our mouths and try to swallow it.  Others will give it a nod and make room for it on the seat nearby.  Some of us pick it up and put it on and wear it with pride around our necks.  But we all have met its accusing face, have had to contend with its condemning glare.

Really, the road to being an angry black woman is not all that different from the road anyone else travels.  Riddled with trials and and triumphs, celebrations and mournings.  It is human.  There need not be a super- attached to it.  There dare not be a sub- either.  It is only/amazingly human.  It is just as ordinary and mundane, erstwhile complex and exhilarating as any other life.  Full of musings and dreams and meanderings and mistakes.  Full of pain tempered by joy and joy tempered by pain.  But the spectators on this road, they somehow can’t get past our, my, dark skin.  My bright eyes offset by a beautiful chocolate or caramel or latte nose.  My smooth hands, powerful arms and strong shoulders.  My strength arises and presents.  And is met with a soft white sheet whipping in the wind.  It is thrown over me to shroud my beauty and power.  But I lift this cover and make my voice known.

ONE | First of all, you should know how to act.

Listen to Aunt Mae’s smooth-as-silk comfort voice

“Cross your legs, Sugar Pie.

Hush now and watch your mouth.

I know you know how to act.”

Your teacher, Ms. Collins reminds you, “Don’t be sassy.

Sit up straight.  Do your lessons and say your prayers.”

Hopscotch, jacks and double dutch

Down down baby, down by the roller coaster

Daddy watches with a glint in his eye

“Dance a little jig. Show me that move.

We so proud of the way you act.”

So the stage is set and merrily, you go on.

Whistle a tune, sing a song

Got a hold on your dreams, your innocence, your daddy.

Then one day. They gone.

But don’t you know how to act?

But big girls don’t cry, so you have to just sigh, and please.

Hold your head high.

TWO | You must remember violations and dismissals

Remember your man’s promise to take care of his son.

Girl, you must be trippin’.

The silence on the other end when you ask PG&E for another extension.

Chile, everybody got problems.

Remember that cursed hand lifting up your nightgown.

I left your brother in charge, so you bettalisten.

That nasty pungent body on top of yours.

But ma’am, are you sure you didn’t say yes?

THREE | You must know how it feels to lose 

a brother gone, uncle gone, sister, father, child, friend.

Maybe a mama who’s there

but ain’t.

You become familiar with that hole that grew as you:

Watch her walk up and down the streets.

I’ll be right back, Baby.

Hear your sister’s voice through the muffled jail phone:

I sure miss my kids.

See your brother’s face all over the news.

The suspect is a black male, age 18-25.

Remember the weight of your son’s limp body in your arms

and then feel that cold slap in the face: Not guilty.

FOUR | You must hear the world talk about you as if you don’t exist

What’s her problem? You should watch out

We all know that gal loves to scream and shout

But if only she knew:

The louder she screams, the quieter she gets.

Doesn’t she know how to act?

Why she go off on me?

All I said was I can’t come tonight

She can save all that drama.

I don’t know why she be actin’ like that.

Listen to newscasters use words like

Dangerous, impoverished and forsaken to describe your neighborhood

They never mention the jumper, barbecue and dominoes just down the street

Ripped from the headlines: War on drugs, Illegals, 43% graduation rate

Rising epidemic of AIDS and HIV

Feel the sting of a pointing arrow as

teacher urges you to become involved in your child’s school

70% of black children born to single mothers

Where did the rest of the cast go?

FIVE | You must know how to hold your head up and put your foot down

Your words become your weapon

Your eyes a shield for exacting defense

Your arms become the tight tight hug you’ve lived without

And in the loudest, most steady voice you can muster

You announce your humanity.


And then you have a daughter

And the memories the fears the can’ts, won’ts, and never-evers

bombard you in your dreams

3am attacks to remind you of

the violations


the lose and lose and lose

the questions glares and fingers in your face.

You thought they were gone but

The scriptwriters linger.

And you are tempted to believe that to be a Black woman

Is to be lonely

And to weep


But you grab the pen

and craft, create, dictate

your own story

No acts, just prose, and poetry and lyrics and melodies of triumph.

I am a Black woman, but I offer nothing in the way of extenuating circumstances except the fact that I love, I cry, I’ve seen loved ones die.  I giggle, I smirk, I toast, tip and cheer.  I am undeniably and unabashedly the STAR of this show.

©Cherise Martinez-McBridge, 2013

Cherise Martinez-McBride is an English teacher in the San Francisco Bay Area.  She has taught continuation high school and adult education in Berkeley and Alameda.  She has a B.A. in English from the University of California, Berkeley and a credential and Master’s from the University of San Francisco.  When she’s not fussing with students over reading journals and assertion paragraphs, she can be found behind a book, at her sewing machine, marching for justice alongside her husband Michael, or chasing after her two young daughters, Sarai and Nylah.

One Response to “What You Should Know to be an Angry Black Woman by Cherise Martinez-McBride”

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