Grief as Anger

           BW Grain

One of the most recognizable stereotypes of African American women is that of the Angry Black Woman.  I believe that this image of Africanist women has grown out of the Collective’s need to have a Feminine upon which to project strength.

Following the decades after slavery and the plantation system where black women worked in the fields, birthed and lost their children, took care of the children of others and suffered being a mothering slave, it seems that the American psyche would find these women to be strong of character.  This is oftentimes applied to black women—that they are strong.  But sometimes this strength is mistaken for anger—thus the angry black woman stereotype. Stereotypes exist because there was once an image, language, a story that created in our consciousness a tangible remembrance.  The recollection becomes solidified as a stereotype.

When I think about the stereotype of the angry black woman I begin to search deeper, looking for something else that resonates with what has risen to the surface.  But before going there it might be important to see why an African American woman might be angry.  The emotion of anger within ourselves can sometimes make us afraid.  We cannot tolerate the uncontrolled welling up and intense heat of the energy of rage or anger.  We can be equally afraid of the release of this anger.  I’m thinking of a situation that might cause one to be angry and yet be out of touch with how to express this anger—to have it suppressed for the sake of one’s survival. Just for a moment imagine that you are a female child born into slavery in the early 1800’s.  Your mother has birthed you and returned to the cotton fields within a month of your birth.

She sometimes comes home to breastfeed you when given permission but otherwise, your early infancy is spent in the care of an elder in the shack where you may have been born.   You might easily be cared for by a young boy if there is no elder woman available. As an infant, you continue to live with others in the shack who may or may not be biological family.  As you begin to get older you are given chores to perform in the white family’s house or in the fields.  These are minor chores and do not take up much of your time as you can still find time to play with the other small white children of the plantation owner.  The day eventually comes when you are no longer allowed to play with these children.  At the age of 8 or ten you must take on more serious jobs—you become a night-pillow for the mistress or worse yet for the master.  Your body, that never really belonged to you, now becomes recognized by you as being the possession of another. Suspicion of the ownership of your mother’s body is now finalized in your mind as you understand that she too belongs to a white master.  You find that your skin color makes you a slave.  You are told that this is how it is and how it will be for the rest of your life.  Imagine that this is your life—for the rest of your life. Imagine your anger.

The idea that slavery happened so long ago and has no place in our cultural thinking today is a part of  America’s Shadow.  It is difficult to bear the thoughts of what life must have been like back then but this is a necessary part of the healing of our American collective.  We wish to forget and we cannot forget.

When we remember and attempt to make some changes good can happen—a civil rights movement emerges which does not end in another civil war; voting rights are guaranteed by law; segregation ends.

But we cannot shine enough light onto the shadow for too long and so once more we sit at the edge of shadow awaiting the next racial storm to begin.  We have had our Ferguson and all the deaths of Black men and women by policemen within the last five years.  I believe that our cultural complexes are so activated by fear and anger that we have a great difficulty staying with patience for understanding what might help us heal our American racial Shadow.

We can understand our anger, our guilt. What of the grief that lives under the anger?  What happens to the emotion of generations of former slaves?  Jung says that our history is in our blood.  The DNA that we live with identifies us as historical and archetypal human beings.  If I feel into how my ancestors before me lived, whether through mirror neurons or the spirit of ancestors, how do I carry the traumatic emotions such as anger and the underlying grief of centuries-old slavery?  I think that we could be angry but we must also hold a deep place for grief.  So when I hear about the angry black woman, I am also trying to hold psychic space for the grief-filled woman.  Where does this grief emerge from and where does it go?  I think that at this point it could be just enough to consider that such a thing exist—an underlying grief that rests within the bosom of generations of African Diaspora women.  This grief can appear as anger.  Why not?  Within the clinical setting oftentimes the emotion of anger covers sadness and sorrow.  What would make this unlikely in a cultural group that has survived 400 years of slavery?  What is the archetypal grief of a mothering slave? These are questions that I ask myself because of the American life that I lead—both personally and professionally.

Biography

Fanny Brewster, Ph.D., M.F.A. is a Jungian analyst, PAJA member and Core Faculty with Pacifica Graduate Institute.

The Delphic Oracle Finds a Voice

The Delphic Oracle Finds a Voice

“And then at the bottom of the article, after I learned about the graphic details of my own sexual assault, the article listed his swimming times.”

 This is a quote from a 22-year-old woman who was raped while unconscious. Her attacker, a former Stanford swimmer who sexually assaulted her was sentenced to only 6 months plus probation.

One night in January, 2015, two Stanford University graduate students biking across campus spotted a freshman thrusting his body on top of an unconscious, half-naked woman behind a dumpster. In March 2016, a California jury found the attacker, a former student, 20-year-old Brock Allen Turner guilty of three counts of sexual assault. Turner faced a maximum of 14 years in prison. He was sentenced to six months in county jail and probation. The judge’s defense of his light sentence was based on the premise that he didn’t want his sentence to have too serious an impact on this young man’s apparently bright and shining life.

However, at his sentencing his victim asked to be allowed to address her attacker directly. Focusing her gaze on him, she began, her statement:

“You don’t know me but you have been inside me and this is why we are here today.”

She continued detailing the severe impact his actions had on her from the time she learned that she had been assaulted by a stranger while unconscious, to the grueling trial during which Turner’s attorneys argued in the usual fashion that she had eagerly consented (while unconscious or before!).

In her passionate confrontation of her attacker, it appears she had hoped to impact his complete indifference to her suffering, and the life changing effect his actions had on her. Because the rule of law, the justice system, and the disrespectful attitude towards rape victims didn’t support and underscore her cry for a human response, it was not heeded. Her attacker remained coldly and arrogantly wedded to his perspective on his actions. He also remained the victim of society’s lack of response to the violence involved in sexual assault. Despite her being unconscious during the act, he maintained that she encouraged it.

The victim’s personal outrage was focused on the issue that even after being convicted, Turner failed to tell the truth, failed to acknowledge that he sexually assaulted her, failed to acknowledge that his act was one of violence, and above all failed to show any remorse, or any feeling for her, the woman he had assaulted. In short, he took no responsibility for his actions, adding a blood-curdling note to his absurd arrogance, an arrogance, which the judge seconded in his opinion expressed through his light sentencing, and seconded again by Turner’s father who felt the sentence was too serious a punishment for “twenty minutes of action.”

Apparently, Turner’s inability to feel the impact of his actions is supported by his father’s inability to discern the difference between sex and rape. However, Joe Biden “filled with furious anger” provided the necessary sacred counterpoint, in a public letter to this unknown woman, a woman, he calls “all women.” He began, “I do not know your name — but I know that a lot of people failed you that terrible January night and in the months that followed. I am in awe of your courage for speaking out—for so clearly naming the wrongs that were done to you and so passionately asserting your equal claim of human dignity.” “And while the justice system has spoken in your particular case, the nation is not satisfied.”

With his hand in her hand, Biden and the embodied form of the “dignified voice of women,” are attempting to revive respect for women, and correspondingly and perhaps less understood, in this narrative, respect for men. There are four victims here: a man, who is less human than perhaps he could be and at the same time refusing to be further informed; a woman he made, with malicious intent, the receptacle for his inhumanity; an Apollonian consciousness uninformed by its feminine counterpart; and above all, the soul.

The difference between sex and rape was obliterated when the chthonic Python was vanquished by the sun-hero Apollo. This powerful distinction descended back into the earth, subsumed by the things created by man’s “enlightened” consciousness alone. This is a story told by the narration of myth in the way only myth can accomplish.

So the story goes as I remember it and attempt to retell it:

In the center of the world, at a place where roads crossed, the intersection of two fault lines enter into one another, symbolizing the union of opposites, a fissure opened into the black depths of the earth. Water flowed from the Castalian spring revealed by the fissure. These waters carried the sacred understandings of the mother, the beginning of all things. This place was called Delphi (Delphhoi), the womb, and in its cave sanctuary lived a shamanic priestess called the Pythia—serpent woman. Her prophetic power came from a she-dragon in the Castalian spring, the unconscious psyche, the evanescent unconscious which she brought into the light, providing the original moment of suture between what lay in the dark and the unknown and what is illuminated by the sun, by consciousness.

The chthonic Python, Pythia was vanquished by the sun-hero Apollo. He demonized the she-serpent (as told by Homer, in his Hymn to Apollo) and separated her from the waters of the shrine whose guardian she was. He violently seized the sanctuary and created a shrine to himself. His seizure was accompanied by rape and murder and thus power, and dominance was introduced. With this conquest, the unconscious feminine descended deep into the earth and disappeared. Now, there was only one element, the bright sun, and consciousness. It is said, that the Earth, however, struck back, sending up dreams from the deep, “which revealed unto the city of mortals, the past and the future,” preventing the she-serpent’s voice from being permanently silenced. (Dempsey, 21)

With this Apollonian victory, conquest, colonization of the other replaced dialogue; hostile take-over replaced union; rape replaced conjunction—the transformation of consciousness by the unconscious.

We are now left trying to re-create this space of reflection, the space where consciousness is enlarged through its relationship with the unconscious, the space where heart and mind meet and transform one another. Every now and then we are blessed to hear the voice of the chthonic feminine again. Sometimes a man speaks it, a man who is gifted with holding the opposites, a consciousness informed by its unconscious opposite. In this case however, the perfect voice emerges, the voice of the cast aside, devalued feminine, comes back to haunt us with its numinous truth.

I count the grains of sand on the beach and measure the sea

I understand the speech of the mute and hear the voiceless

—Delphic Oracle [Herodotus, I, 47]

Joan Golden-Alexis, Ph.D. is a Jungian psychoanalyst and psychologist in New York City. Her practice consists of individuals as well as couples. (drjgolden@earthlink.net)

Reference:
Dempsey, T, The Delphic Oracle: its early history, influence and fall

Image Credit:
Apollo killing Python, A 1581 engraving by Virgil Solis for Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Book I.