By Hayden Elrafei
Shown above: Two flyers posted around campus last week (October 2021).
Dear friends, allies, colleagues, professors, and other beloved members of our community, who may also be feeling a lot right now,
I am currently grappling with seeing two sets of fliers that are circulating around our campus, as you probably are too. I want to begin this letter by cherishing you, by cherishing your emotions. I encourage you to join me as we embrace these emotions in this critical moment for our community. I am sure the coming days will be full of beautiful practices of campus solidarity, but I want to take this moment with you to lean into the radical practice of listening to and recentering ourselves before we look outward. First, I invite you to take a moment to listen to your body; identify what emotions you are housing right now, even if they are not something that the English language or any other can articulate. For me, and I imagine many of us, this emotion manifests plainly and unequivocally as anger. Anger that our campus space has been defiled in this way. Anger for each person on this campus whose right to bodily autonomy is being challenged. Anger for ourselves and our peers whose senses are assaulted by the blatant glorification of white supremacy on the very walls we eat, sleep, learn, teach, and simply exist within. Our anger is riddled with negative connotations; we are taught so often that anger is an unacceptable display of emotional excess; as I watched these fliers going up before my very eyes, my sensation of anger was indeed accompanied by this shame; however, I was able to call upon an old friend to quell the dissonance of this unwelcome tagalong, and I would like to share her with you here so that you may heal in the same way. Black feminist thought is a home, a legacy born of and by Black women in their struggle against illegibility in the eyes of traditional white feminism; Black feminist thought can offer the rest of our campus community guesthood as we navigate this difficult time. With this, I offer an alternate way of thinking of Black feminist thought that may comfort our community:
Black feminist thought (n.): a warm, welcoming home that we may return to always, whenever this world rife with misogyny, racism, queerphobia, transphobia, and other adversities takes a toll on our bodies and minds. The ideological, theoretical, and literary parallel of a steaming bowl of homemade chicken noodle soup (or preferred meat-free equivalent).
In this moment, our community is connected to Audre Lorde, one of the most prolific Black feminist thinkers and one of the very architects of this home. Lorde felt our anger in the way we do right now, tied so unfortunately to shame. However, one keynote from 1981 offers us a way forward and out of this forced pairing, encouraging us instead to lean into our feelings as a source of power rather than shunning them. As you and I open up Audre Lorde’s “The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism,” I insist that, if you are able, you grab a relaxing cup of tea, or coffee, or water, or any beverage or thing that nourishes and centers you, revitalizes you. With this, let us read together.
Immediately, Lorde offers to contextualize our shared emotion; she teaches us that both (1) fearing anger as an indecorous display and (2) disallowing ourselves to feel anger, misreading it as guilt are both counterproductive to the potential internal power our felt emotions hold. Lorde gives us a wealth of examples of our emotion being misread and mishandled, liberating us from the anti-Blackness and misogyny that is inherent to us denying ourselves this sensation. She describes how our emotion is written off as disruptive or useless, where the object of her address is to explain how these two are not only mutually exclusive, but also plainly misattributed—anger is not disruptive (in a bad way, within ourselves), for it is conducive to our own liberatory pursuits; it is not useless, for it can be instead harnessed for good.
“Every woman has a well-stocked arsenal of anger potentially useful against those oppressions, personal and institutional, which brought that anger into being. Focused with precision it can become a powerful source of energy serving progress and change.” It is not anger who is the villain here, rather, how it is so often mishandled and mistreated. “Anger is loaded with information and energy.” Anger unites us, makes us a whole against “virulent hatred,” for “our opponents are quite serious about their hatred of us and what we are trying to do here.”
Lorde moves into an important note for cisgender men and others who fall into the category of being more indirectly affected by today’s attacks on reproductive rights, as well as those who may be direct or indirect beneficiaries of white supremacy: “I cannot hide my anger to spare you guilt, nor hurt feelings, nor answering anger; for to do so insults and trivializes all our efforts. Guilt is not a response to anger; it is a response to one’s own actions or lack of action.” She emphasizes the importance of embracing anger as a driving force, a starting point for uprooting perpetual systems of oppression, for guilt is the only pillar which keeps these systems upstanding.
We are delivered into a final, impactful commentary on the mechanisms of oppression being self-perpetuating and interconnected, followed by one of the most iconic and groundbreaking quotations of my field of study:
“[If I] fail to recognize my commonality with a woman of Color […] who has no children because her insides are rotted from home abortions […], then I am contributing not only to each of their oppressions but also to my own, and the anger which stands between us then must be used for clarity and mutual empowerment, not for evasion by guilt or for further separation.”
“I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own. And I am not free as long as one person of Color remains chained. Nor is any one of you.”
I hope this meditation offers you the same comfort it has offered me. I hope this inspires you to lean into your anger, brings you solace by imagining a way forward, helps you breathe more deeply. I hope you may return to her each time you sense the always-shrinking vestige of shame that is tied to our shared emotion. I hope you are able to find refuge, whether that is in Black feminist thought, activism, writing, beautiful art, your own radical joy—if nowhere else, I hope you may find it within your own body, wherever you may feel this burn, glow, or other embodied sensation of anger. Take a deep breath. We will get through this united. We are fully equipped with the invaluable resource of our own agency.
And most importantly: take your filthy hands off of our bodies.
Your Angry Colleague/Pupil/Ally/Friend.
1. Note that I will not be using the label of “woman/women” to describe people who deserve and are being denied access to abortion and reproductive healthcare, as there are many others who are directly affected, including but not limited to, every person whose body houses a uterus, as well as those who are more indirectly affected, such as all of those who find themselves outside of the margins of normativity.
2. I am of the personal belief that Audre Lorde would embrace me and all of my non-binary siblings if more nuanced language and understanding were afforded to us in her time; I quote Lorde’s gendered language here for the sake of originality only.
3. Lorde simply conveys the content of this full paragraph of quotes better than I could ever express it myself.
Lorde, Audre. “The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism.” Contributed by BlackPast. Originally delivered at the National Women’s Studies Association Conference in Storrs, Connecticut, June 1981. Retrieved from https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/speeches-african-american-history/1981-audre-lorde-uses-anger-women-responding-racism/.
These events and this letter were produced on stolen land. Dartmouth College occupies unceded ancestral lands of the Abenaki people, and we are all implicated in this legacy; the onus is on our community in its entirety to acknowledge the amalgam of historical violence that is our on-campus experience. Nothing can repair the burden which has been inflicted on the First Peoples of the land on which we sit. Therefore, I dedicate this work to the Indigenous community at Dartmouth College, in the Upper Valley, and beyond. May we internalize feminist thought and radicality in a way that disavows these violent histories.
Hayden Elrafei ‘24 is an undergraduate at Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH. They are a writer and editor for Spare Rib Intersectional Feminist Zine, a major in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, a minor in English, and a prospective minor in Race, Migration and Sexuality.
A special thanks to Professor Mingwei Huang (Assistant Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH), who introduced me to this wonderfully healing text among many others, and to Dr. Misty De Berry (Lecturer in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and Artist-Scholar in Residence with the Consortium of Studies in Race, Migration, and Sexuality at Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH), whose work and methods are that on which I predicate this affectual and body-centered approach. Thank you both for continuously inspiring all of us in the Program.