Author’s Note: The continued use of singular ownership throughout this article is intentional. I cannot, will not, and would not presume to speak for Black or other students of color. The interpretation of behavior is entirely my own and based solely upon my own perspective and personal experiences at Grinnell.

Before I begin, I want to preface this by saying something you don’t believe.

I am not angry.

I am not angry.

I am not angry.

I say this, three times over, not because I like the curvature of my own thoughts – I do, but that’s not the point – but because you (in the broadest sense) think I am.

When you see me tottering around campus swaddled in a thrifted coat, lips pressed into a grim line, you see angry.

When I speak loudly in the Grille, you hear angry.

When I talk about my experiences in Blackness, you believe: angry.

(Read this: I AM NOT ANGRY.)

I don’t blame you. The media introduced the Angry Black Wo/Man trope in the early 1970s in order to demonize Black militancy organizations, and since then it’s permeated all aspects of American culture, media, and social life. We see it in our news coverage, a la Tamir Rice, Mike Brown, Eric Garner, and Aiyana Jones, just to name a few. Hell, we see it in our celebrities. Think about Black character portrayal in film (Hint: Samuel L. Jackson).

So when we get to class and start talking about American racial politics, I can understand why you mistake my passion for race-based discussions as anger. But when you chalk me up as ‘that angry black kid’, I have a problem.

Unfortunately, American culture aligns neutrality with logic, and when you relegate one to the nomenclature of angry you are, in fact, doing more than merely writing passionate participants off – you’re dismissing then, excluding them from the discussion table entirely.

This can only be detrimental. Removing a wealth of experiences from the debate helps no one. We need a multitude of voices, dissenting and unified, to encourage and facilitate changes both macro and micro. We aren’t going to agree on everything and I’m not going to abide by respectability politics, but I am going to treat you with respect so we can have a kick-ass time picking skin from the racist old bones who founded this country.

And so, Grinnellians, I charge you with this: do not assume. Do not relegate me into boxes. Do not believe everything you’re told. Do not label me Big, Black, and Bitter, set me to the side, and continue on with your day. Let me in. Continue the dialogue.

Just don’t exclude me, or then I really will get mad.