Content warning: The following article contains potentially triggering topics including racial slurs, sexual assault and fatphobia.
I am angry all the time. Some days I forget, and the pot of my rage is left on simmer. But on other days it boils over – a constant screaming fire in my brain. I’m feeling the latter when I’m in my South African art history class on Monday mornings. We’re talking about white artists representing themselves through the Black body; this topic, and what I heard someone say about me the day before are bouncing around my brain. I have to get up, get out of the room and get some water. I am so angry I can barely breathe.
There is so much potential energy built up in me, it’s a miracle I haven’t exploded. It’s really a miracle that when we happened to be in the dining hall at the same time the day before, I didn’t punch him in the face. I just got up and left. I can’t even go to the gym and work out my rage through the rhythm of hard cardio because I have mono. I feel unable to physically act or fully talk or write about my experience and still be seen as making an important point. Trapped and muzzled.
I am obsessed with the rooms I can’t get into. I am forced to subconsciously understand, appreciate and empathize with the white male perspective, yet I will never know how they actually think about the world. There are words, jokes and implications unavailable to me as a Black queer woman; there is sometimes a gap between what is presented to me and what is true.
The epitome of this for me is the Boys Group Chat. It’s a pretty self-explanatory concept: a text groupchat with only boys in it. Necessary to make the Boys Group Chat is that boys are communicating with each other with unfettered access to the internet without adult supervision. Much of the content that kids look at – Fortnite walkthroughs or Jake Paul videos – lead to shock value meme culture and, at the farthest end of the algorithm, the alt-right pipeline.
In the Boys Group Chat, fits of laughter could start with someone sending BDSM porn or a meme with a slur in it that they found in an online forum. More of them start to consume this extreme throw-away media, and it becomes part of their everyday communication style.
So then, it’s no big deal when someone says they should all gangbang one of the boys' younger sisters, who’ll be coming to the high school next year. Or when someone sends a cringe compilation of fat SJW d*kes. Or when another starts sending and parroting clips that equate Black people to monkeys, screaming “N*****!”
It doesn’t matter to them because, as I’ve heard so many times, “It’s just a joke.” These examples are not ideas that I’ve fabricated or pulled from thin air; I witnessed or was told, second-hand, all of these stories in middle and high school. I’m just scratching the surface.
This is another version of locker room talk. What happens in the locker room – or groupchat – is supposed to stay there. Bringing it to a clinical or analytical light means betraying the culture of young male friendship. Hearing or seeing these interactions outside of this space is rare.
As a woman (a young girl at the time), I was never supposed to see this content. I was never allowed to enter this segregated virtual space. What the concepts thrown around in the group chat completely ignore are the real lives and experiences of namely women, but really anyone that doesn’t fit into the boys’ schema of who they identify with. This behavior is reinforced by the adults around these young men who hear about these incidents and turn a blind eye, or let them off with a warning.
I still remember the first time I was told, “Oh, boys will be boys.” I had just gotten into a fight with one of my friends in the fourth grade, who punched me in the face and gave me a black eye. I kept twirling his hair when he asked me to stop. I completely acknowledge I ignored his boundaries. We both had to sit out of gym as punishment for the fight.
The female gym teacher told me privately that it was my responsibility to not aggravate boys to this point – that they couldn’t control themselves like girls. Even at 10 years old, I remember this comment made me angry. I didn’t have anywhere to bury these feelings but inside my body.
The boys in these group chats don’t all have to be white or straight, either, though the things they talk about will most likely be racist, sexist or homophobic. Internet misogyny wants to connect young men through their shared hatred of women, while papering over the sibling discriminatory lenses of racism, homophobia, etc. They’re just kids who want to fit in, so they think, “I’ll let it slide,” because who wants to be the loser for calling out their friends on something “inappropriate”?
In a way, all these boys are victims, because when they’re introduced to this content, they are literally children, usually 11 or 12 years old. Even the worst one of the group could learn and reform at such an age, but not enough attention is paid to what goes on in these virtual spaces. At some point, these boys get older, and they make the same jokes and think the same things are funny, and they are no longer victims but perpetrators.
When I was a junior in high school, I had my first brush with fury at concepts brought out of the group chat and into real life conversation. A group of the soccer boys were hanging out with the soccer girls during a free period. One of the girls was animatedly talking about the rates of sexual violence against women, as it had been brought up in a class that she was in, and she was getting pretty upset. One of the boys, apparently, told her to chill out and asked why she was being so serious.
She replied, “Do you know that one in four women in college get raped?” His reply to these girls was, “OK, so which one of you is it going to be?” The boys started laughing. The girls were shocked and offended.
For this and other similar comments, the group of soccer girls, some others and myself went to the boys’ coach, who was also one of our history teachers. We told him we would not stand for this behavior from the boys anymore. They were some of our friends. At the root of our anger was the fact that they were hurting us, that they didn’t seem to care about our feelings or see us as full human beings.
We were later informed by another friend that the only action the coach took was to approach the boys involved in the incident and say, “Don’t do that again.” I’d never personally experienced men so blatantly talking about women as if our pain holds no meaning. It was the opinion of a teacher we trusted that these boys did not need to learn accountability or empathy; they did not need to atone for their words. We had to learn that our verbal protest, our deep-seeded anger, did not matter.
The primary insult (not that I consider it such) lobbed against me in life, and particularly in high school, is that I’m fat. The phrase, “That fat fucking bitch!” in particular has been used against me. Two particular instances of this exact comment come to mind. In each case, I told a white boy in the grade below me to shut up for one reason or another. In the moment, they each glowered at me, and, yes, shut up. But in that polite East Coaster way, they would each save the yelling about what a c*nt I was for later. This is only what’s been repeated to me. What else has been said? I’m dying to know, dying to be let into the room I can’t get into, to know the limits of their hate for me. Yes, I have been ashamed about my body, about my forceful attitude at different points in my life, but not now. Not now that I’m a woman with a voice and a supply of internal anger that is hard to quantify.
My senior year of high school, I helped make our senior class send-off video. Because production happened during the pandemic, the traditional group interviews were all conducted over Zoom. I asked everyone to talk about funny memories of teachers or what they’d miss from our high school.
When I interviewed the same soccer boys mentioned above, one of them joked about “The thing they’d never forget.” They all laughed, and I asked them what they were talking about. The rape joke, obviously. I smiled and laughed with them. I felt slick and oily, disgusting. Of course that silly incident! Well, boys will be boys. We let them laugh and move on. I let them.
I still think about those soccer boys, that last interaction. I never said what I should have. I’m not mad at my past self, just sad for her. All I could focus on was getting through my day. I did not want to become the named object of their ridicule. What could I really have done or said that would change the way they think, make them reflect on the effect of their words? It wouldn’t have made a difference. Passivity or aggression wouldn’t make a difference. Because my voice never mattered to them.
Many years from now, I will Google them all in that obsessive way I do. Check LinkedIn to see where they went to grad school. Zillow their houses and try to guess their net worths. Facebook, voting records, obituaries, anything I know how to get my hands on. I will be particularly interested in their social media so I can see their families. See if they have sons. Sons, if armed with their father’s morals, that will be horrible to everyone else’s children. Who will be the wives and spouses of these boys, soon to be awful, awful men? Will they know about the kinds of jokes they make?
I can’t stand when people are too close to me in line, or don’t tip their servers, or if they’re walking in a group and force me to walk off onto the grass rather than making room for me on the sidewalk. I’m angry about the climate crisis and big pharma and homelessness. I hate that literally hundreds of thousands of people are sexually assaulted every year, that Black people get lynched in broad daylight and there is no justice for it, that children die of malnutrition and starvation when we throw away produce that doesn’t look right.
There is so much to be angry about, that if I thought about all of it on a daily basis, I think the stress on my body would kill me. I try to keep the fire of my rage balanced with a healthy outlet of working out five or six times a week and orgasming whenever appropriate and possible. But sometimes that’s not enough. Like in my opening paragraph, when I couldn’t get something said about me out of my head.
I have a primal scream. Unlike the corny collective scream students let out during finals week, it is something truly terrifying. My mother told me how when I was a baby at day care, I would wail and cry at an astonishing volume when she left me. The head day care worker Elsira said I was so loud, it’s amazing the ancestors in Africa didn’t hear me.
I can’t really remember when I learned I could scream like this as an adult, but the most recent time I naturally let it out without warning, it made my friend Sofia go white as a sheet. “Please don’t do that again, the cops are going to come because they think someone’s being murdered,” she said.
I feel the urge to scream like this often – probably once every other week. But per Sofia’s advice, I don’t let it out of the bottle. The sound of it is a little disconcerting if you’ve ever heard my natural alto-esque speaking voice too. To do it feels like I am pulling from a well much deeper than myself, out of my body, and the memories it carries; generations old of pain and rage. I think the ancestors gave it to me as a gift. They knew that I would need it. My scream is attached as an audio file below. Know that at any point in time, that is what I’m holding inside of me.
But back to what was said about me. Recently, I was seeing a guy who goes to Northwestern. It was admittedly a little messy, but I’ll spare you the details. (Actually, I can’t help myself. Any time I reflect on our situation, I start gaslighting myself. Maybe it’s because he said and texted the words, “I’m in love with you,” to me while he was dating another girl. SO much more I could tell you about, reader, but I digress).
I was talking with another girl he dated, a serious ex, about our experiences with him. She is a thin white woman. We did not spare details. After I talked about a situation I thought she was aware of but wasn’t, she decided she needed to talk to him as soon as possible. They met up, and in the course of their conversation as I came up, he said this:
“Why would I ever dump a bombshell like you for a fat black girl?”
I’ve been made to understand fatphobia as socially acceptable – even though, to be clear, it’s not – and that alone pisses me off. But the racism to imply I’m lesser than, to rank my value as lower, because I’m Black? Fury.
When I first learn he’s said this, I can barely process it. To know someone I was emotionally vulnerable with is so morally rotten to the core is hard to hear. Then I think about it more and the pot starts boiling again. When you first meet him, he’s charming and funny and might even make you smile. Except, when he no longer finds you desirable, when he’s done toying with you, you get to see the putrid depths of his character.
He seems to be everywhere, too. In the dining hall at the same time as you, somehow at the same party one night, his name plastered on posters for events and clubs on campus. I have to see him going about his day with ease and know that he said this about me, and has said worse things about other people. I want to let out my scream right in front of him and see fear overtake him.
Sadness and disappointment is an element of my anger in this case; however, what’s fueling it most is the idea that he will be able to say this without consequence. He’ll be able to say this in private and think he’s safe because I wasn’t in the room. As much as I want to, I can’t let my scream out in his face. What can I say, and how can I say it so people know his true colors? If I talk about this on Twitter, I’m just bitter. If I confront him in person, he denies it or tells me to get over it. If I email the student organizations he’s in, I’ve taken things too far. In every case, I am the angry, fat, Black bitch. What can I do?
I want to say his name. I want everyone on campus, everyone he’ll ever meet, to know that he said this specific thing. I want them to see a picture of me, somehow get to know me, and compare Me with the vitriol he produced. I want people to know that he serially toys with women and makes anti-semitic and racist jokes and does not even have empathy for other white men whom he calls his friends. But I can’t. I’ve been advised against it.
So I have this. This is the best way I can express my anger without getting a defamation suit or an assault and battery charge on my record. It’s enough for now.
Unlike the experience with those boys on the soccer team from my high school, I will not stew ad infinitum about what I did not do. I am writing this because I have to. Because living up to my own standards of right and wrong demands it. There are rooms I’m not supposed to have access to. What society says I’m “supposed to do” hasn’t stopped me before, and it won’t stop me in the future. I do not think my opinion, my existence, matters to many people, this particular boy included. But I don’t care.
I am learning that they cannot handle the simple fact of my joyful existence. No more muzzling, no more sitting down and shutting up in the face of assholes, no more niceties. I am an angry, fat, Black bitch. I wear these labels with pride.
So I’m angry. I’m angry all the time, and you have to hear about it.
Thumbnail courtesy of Rivers Leche.