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Elexus Jionde’s ‘Angry Black Girl’ Holds a Magnifying Glass Up to American History

Elexus Jionde’s ‘Angry Black Girl’ Holds a Magnifying Glass Up to American History

There is a long-standing public relationship between Black femininity and anger. The Angry Black Woman trope is infamous and can be spotted over and over again in popular culture. For many decades, this connection has been heavily shamed and has been used to justify the exploitation and silencing of Black women. The onus of civility in the face of this mistreatment often falls on Black women, who find themselves burdened with the work of managing any show of frustration in order to keep the people around them comfortable. In Angry Black Girl, a refreshing collection of essays by Elexus Jionde, the connection is clear and undeniable: American history is the spiteful one, not us. Jionde holds nothing back as she explores how nationalism, racism, Christian supremacy, and capitalism have worked to drown out any dissenters—especially marginalized ones. Yes, Black women are angry. If you were paying attention, you would be, too.

Jionde is an intellectual. It’s in her brand, and it’s in her work. Her collection weaves anecdotes into critiques of longstanding systems and lessons on little-known history. Despite what you might glean from a passive look at the title, Angry Black Girl is not filled with the grumpy rantings of the author. While the essays are indeed impassioned, they are patient, informed, and well-thought-out. They follow a careful formula that is extremely useful in digesting them; Jionde will lay out a relatable, everyday annoyance that Black women experience so regularly that we usually brush it off. The essays feel personal as she spells out the hurt and frustration the moment caused her. An education follows as Jionde zooms out to encompass the reasons why the encroachment in question makes her and other Black women angry, and, finally, she walks the reader backwards through the historical reasons as to why the abuse is so normalized. Jionde has discovered how to wield the inward revelations that are common in essays into a mirror of the reader that they cannot escape.

The examples of the way she does this are numerous. There is a story about Jionde being reprimanded as a young girl that leads into how the state of Texas tailored their education so that citizens would become malleable workers and disinterested voters. Another story details her fears around becoming a sex worker while chasing her dream of making it big in New York City. Sex work, she contends, is no less degrading or empowering than any other kind of work. She draws on history and current statistics as proof that the average American worker is also being exploited. The argument is tight and sound and solidifies her uncomfortable, important point. She does this over and over again, whether discussing America’s nationalism while talking about not standing to salute the flag when she was 10 or using her tense relationship with her stepmother to point out the history of white women oppressing Black women. She doesn’t pull her punches, and she isn’t interested in sugarcoating anything.

Although this collection appears to be motivated by self-preservation and exploration of her own oppression, Angry Black Girl considers its readers as a community. The language is plain and generous. Pinned to Jionde’s Twitter profile is this tweet: “This book is for Black men who don’t know the struggles of womanhood, white women who don’t experience racism, and white men who identify with neither struggle. Angry Black Girl is for them and everyone in between.” Historically, Black women who have caused disruption have been put off as bitter and unintelligent, especially in comparison with nonblack women and men in general. Any language of protest becomes a curse to be thrown back at us; words  like “Black feminism,” “sisterhood,”  and “wokeness” have all become buzzwords for “ignore those whiners over there.” Though as a group Black women are incredibly political, there has been an enormous social effort to silence our voices in the political arena and reduce us to jealous hags. Black women, in the tradition of oppression, respond by spending copious amounts of effort explaining and re-explaining our position while maintaining a level of elegance that those we are trying to convince do not hold themselves to. We are expected to deliver expert level dissertations on why we deserve humanity, why it’s frustrating when white girls cornrow their hair, why we aren’t lazy welfare queens, why we aren’t stupid, why we aren’t the reason the Black community isn’t faring better. Angry Black Girl does those who are curious an enormous favor by pulling together this information and delivering it in an engaging package that does not applaud their curiosity, but rewards it with the facts they seek.

It’s a useful pocket guide for angry Black girls, too. It’s something that we can pull out the next time we question our unease, or frustration, or rage. Jionde does not write in cold, academic language that can feel invalidating. She does not deign to disseminate historical facts that she expects to go over our heads. She isn’t preaching at angry Black girls; she is sitting right in the congregation with us. She’s the girlfriend to our right providing context to our frustration and validating our emotion. Don’t deny us Black women our anger. Join us in it. This collection is an empowering reminder that history is the sum of relationships, and Black feminine anger is not unique, but long overdue. Angry Black Girl is a tough and loving reminder that facts and emotion cannot only coincide but, in case of American history, are inextricably tangled.