Ain’t Nobody Trippin’ But You: How My Thirst For Respect Was Allowing Me To Get Angry Over Small Things (And How I Calmed Down)

April 17, 2013  |  

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I come from a long line of angry folks. They’re civilized folks with good jobs, good sense, and a lot of love to share, but they can be angry nonetheless. From my mom, to one of my sisters, as well as both my brothers and my uncle, I’ve watched them go from 0 to 60 in a minute when they felt it necessary, and some of that anger rubbed off on me. We’re what you would call “sensitive.”  And living in New York has made it worse I must say. When men literally let a door slam in my face as they walk through it, bad a** kids throw small rocks at strangers (me, of course) when you’re minding your business walking down the street, and you get some of the worst customer service on the planet, you might have a reason to be a little testy. And honestly, I just assumed everyone around me felt and acted the same way. But that was until I punched a lady in the head last week.

It was an accident of course. During my morning commute, minding my business on the train, I was doing the absolute most to keep my bare hands from touching the very dirty pole next to me, so I proceeded to wrap my arm around the pole instead while I waited for my stop. After changing a song on my phone and in the process of once again wrapping my arm around the pole, I accidentally punched the head of the woman sitting down in the seat next to where I was standing. And it was kind of hard. This woman, white and probably in her mid-20s, slowly pulled her head up in shock, and began to rub the spot that I had just gone all Street Fighter on on accident. I turned and started apologizing: “Oh my gosh, I’m so so sorry. I’m really sorry, that was a total accident.” Expecting her to pop off or at least give me the death face, she just looked confused for a second, rubbed her head some more, nodded as if to say, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah,” and put her head back down.

That was it.

And I was surprised. I’ve seen New Yorkers of all backgrounds and colors act a complete fool over less, so I was expecting her to act up. But she didn’t because she had better things to do–like finish up her early morning nap before reaching her stop. But for some reason, her response, or lack thereof, had a big impact on me.

As I went to work, I thought about how I know I would have reacted had I been that woman and someone punched me in my head, even if on accident. I might let out a “S**T!” or “What in the hell!???” so that the person knew the extent of their mistake. I’m both sensitive and dramatic. But she was able to shrug it off like I kicked her bag on accident or bumped into her. And if I had hit any other person, I’m sure I would have received a scathing response. I’ve bumped into an older black woman on the train and apologized, only to find her looking at me like she was ready to slap box because her headphones kept her from hearing me. I couldn’t help but share the story with my coworker, and when I asked her why I, and so many others might react less than peacefully compared to this mystery woman, she pointed out one thing that really stuck out with me: “I don’t know, I think we, especially as black people, see these type of things as a sign of disrespect, and many of us do a lot to make sure we’re getting our respect.” Bingo.

I don’t know about you, but I can see my angry faces over the past year (almost two) of living in New York, and I know that respect had a lot to do with the extent of my “rage.” Like the time an older Hispanic man literally sat on me when he couldn’t sit down before the train pulled off, yet he failed to say sorry or anything else to me for that matter. While I only yelled out “OH MY GOD” when his a** fell on me and crushed my purse, in my head after the fact, angry that I received no apology, I was thinking, “DO YOU NOT SEE ME!??? AM I JUST INVISIBLE IN THIS PIECE???” Or the time a white girl standing in front of me whipped her hair in my face and had no clue. Or when a man stole the seat I was about to sit in, and fuming, I thought to myself: “OH SO YOU GONNA ACT LIKE YOU DIDN’T SEE ME ABOUT TO SIT DOWN!? AND YOU CALL YOURSELF A MAN…” In most cases, if someone apologizes for whatever small thing they’ve done to me, I’ll heat up very fast, but hold my tongue and calm myself down, reply with an “It’s cool.”. But when they don’t, I’m ready to spit fire. A lot of my anger comes from people acting as though I don’t exist or they can treat me like whatever, and I can tell by the faces of those who screech down subway cars “YOU CAN’T SAY EXCUSE ME???” that their anger comes from a similar place. That and a little bit of crazy. But we’ve all got to do better.

To be honest, even before that incident, I was trying to get my anger together. I would let the actions of other people, even the simple comments, get under my skin and literally have an impact on at least half of my day. As my choir director would say, that’s giving more power to man than you do to God. So for some time now, I’ve found myself ignoring a lot of people, channeling my anger into my workouts, and learning to step back and evaluate what I’m getting ready to fuss about, instead of stepping out of my body and acting a fool. I’m still working with my anger issues, as its not something that goes away quickly, but this method has been working. If you have anger issues (not the type that you need to go to anger management for though, that’s a bit more serious) and find your self spazzing out to ensure people are treating you with respect, I would encourage you to do the same in order to calm down. Step back and ask yourself if what you’re peeved about is truly worth letting your day start off or end on a negative note and worth pulling away from your happiness. Chances are, it’s not, and it’s not worth it at all.

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