A Trite but Very Relevant Quote!
“We need to stop being victims of our past and make ourselves custodians of our future”
Someone told me that this quote was trite recently and as I wrote it, I was truly I was a bit miffed! But on reflection it speaks to my lived sense of what we need to do, all of us to make changes within our families and communities.
One of those things is to speak about difficult or taboo subjects. The things that exist and loom large in our communities and families of origin, but that we would rather ‘forget about’. I’ve been trying to write an article on black rage for some time. But it remained a bit elusive! I didn’t know if I wanted to talk about My Black rage in therapy, or how I work with it as a family constellations practitioner. I wasn’t sure whether it was okay to express it loudly and clearly and get emotional, rage is after all pain masked!
Rage Brought me to Therapy
I thought can I be a client in rage and a rational practitioner and can I show that difference to others? And then I decided that I am on a continuum that stretches from annoyance to anger to rage, A LOT of the time! I remember being 27 years old and thinking, “If I keep being this angry, I am going to die!” That thought has stayed with me for the past 30 years.
Rage first brought me to therapy in my early 20’s. For six months I worked with an African Caribbean psychodynamic therapist, a rarity at the time in the early 80’s. She was someone from my own Guyanese heritage and then I stopped, it was too painful and a glass of wine felt better and was cheaper.
Then back to therapy again in my mid 30’s, for a short period of time until I stopped because I got tired of explaining myself to my white therapist. Whose helping who I thought! Then finally to family constellations work in my early 50’s and I’ve stayed because it ‘talks to my soul’ and I have also found an African heritage psychotherapist who is flexible enough to fit with my sense of what a relationship with a therapist should be like.
She has pointed out on a regular basis my rage, that simmering thought mass that plays out in my head and that I try to keep under wraps. I have lived and loved my rage ever since I was seven years old and alone in a sea of whiteness. When you are one of only two Black children in a school of 1500 white children, you stand out!
Racist Slogans and Anger
I remember walking out of a classroom as the kids at the back chanted racist epithets and the teacher stood at the front, frozen, unable to control them, I was 13. Afterwards he came to me and apologised and I remember thinking in my anger, “What am I to do with that?”
This early anger continued into my 20’s. It spoke to my feelings as a young black woman in the late 70s and early 80’s. A minority in a majority culture, I fought for a way to express myself and find a place of belonging and there wasn’t one. I was in rage, no community, no clear sense of identity!
What Family Constellations Offers to an Angry Heart
In my 50’s I discovered family constellations which is arguably an African heart in a European body, but that is a discussion for another time. When I first started doing my personal work in family constellations workshops, I struggled with how much to raise my own issues.
I asked myself whether it was a safe enough therapeutic space to explore my struggles as a black woman? I wondered would I be accepted? And I worried about letting my mask down and showing the more angry, emotional part of me. This was especially true as 95% of the time, in the workshops and training groups that I attended I was the only person of African heritage, or any colour at all.
I would look around the training room and ask, “Where are the other black people, why aren’t they coming to do their personal work, why am I the only one?” I spent a lot of my time anxiously thinking about whether I could reveal my true feelings. I mostly didn’t or kept them well suppressed, I feared upsetting others, or being seen as angry and therefore ‘scary’ to others. And then I realised that it didn’t really matter, I was exuding anger anyway, so the best way was to recognise it, acknowledge it and decide what to do with it.
As people of African heritage we live with micro-aggressions on a daily basis, whether we choose to recognise it or not. And often this is where the rage surfaces unannounced, a memory or a passive aggressive insult, or ‘a look’. Often that feeling, rising in my head and pressing at my temples is suppressed, back down into the body. ‘Just get it out-of-the-way, step on it so that it can’t rise again.’ Bt that in itself gets, a bit tiring! Avoiding the pain though the mask of anger begins to chafe and I realise once again that nothing, nothing will reconcile all of this, if I can’t find a place to feel, express and vent the pain.
We have to do our own work, in our own backyards! That means going to a deeply difficult painful place inside ourselves and in if we’re lucky in community with others. At a recent discussion on black issues in the therapeutic space I was asked whether I could manage my ‘black anger,’ I replied that I could manger my black anger perfectly well but could others?
It is usually unacceptable in modern British life to be too angry, even our language defines acceptability. It is ok to be cross, but definitely not okay to express rage. Cross is usually passive/aggressive, a way of voicing annoyance whilst at the same time keeping it firmly under wraps. If we cannot acknowledge our own anger and rage, how do we hold it for others in the therapeutic space?
The Language of Anger
Rage to me is a valid form of expression and a strategy system for living in a society that is antagonist to the Black experience at a really deep level. But I am writing this because this same Black rage that I am talking about is killing our sons and daughters. And sending our sisters and brothers to mental health wards and prisons as we turn the rage in upon ourselves and against each other.
I think we need to talk more about Black rage and own it as an individuals, families and communities. I live and love family constellations work, personally and professionally, because for me it is one way of beginning the work to heal my ancestral line and the forgotten and unremembered past.
My personal journey in managing my anger and rage mirrors that of many of my clients. In 2017 the ancestral legacy of slavery and colonialism and its impact on black families within the Caribbean, UK and wider African Diaspora continues to impact our young people, their sense of self, identity and belonging in an increasingly alienating society.
I believe that systemic constellations, this mix of Western and African offers a step to all our young, regardless of background or colour or creed. But I speak most to people within the African Diaspora because we have been slow to find constellations and only we can truly heal our families and “Restore the flow of love’ back into our communities.
Until next time,