Teaching Black Rage: A Lesson Plan on Pratibha Parmar’s A Place of Rage
“To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious, is to be in a rage almost all the time.”
—James A. Baldwin1
“I got a lot to be mad about.”
We write this during the latest wave of protests in Charlotte, North Carolina, in response to the death of Keith Lamont Scott, who was killed by police while reading in his car. Just days earlier, Terrence Crutcher was killed by police officer Betty Shelby while stopped in the street with car trouble. Both of these black men were unarmed when they were killed by police. While footage of their deaths circulates through social media and their names are the latest to become hashtags, their deaths are hardly exceptional. Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Korryn Gaines, Rekia Boyd, Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, and many, many others whose deaths go unremarked, all demonstrate an aspect of the precarity with which black lives exist today. Such quotidian violence against black people elicits a range of emotional responses, perhaps the most contentious of which is anger. As uprisings in cities like Charlotte, Baltimore, Ferguson, and Minneapolis occur in reaction to police violence, public and media responses often condemn protesters and criticize their strategies as violent and ineffective. These condemnations frequently offer or withhold conditional support based on the idea that there is a proper way to protest that is specifically nondisruptive and nonconfrontational. Responses such as these tend to rely on and reproduce tropes that associate blackness with aggression and violence, while failing to account for the structures of violence that make black suffering so normative.
This lesson plan focuses on how cinema can provide students a way to engage with the affective, temporal, and gendered dynamics of antiblack racism and black liberation. It focuses on rage and anger in relation to #BlackLivesMatter activism and responses to state violence and police brutality. This lesson plan offers a defense of black rage and a critique of the policing of black folks’ emotional responses to antiblack violence by focusing on Pratibha Parmar’s 1991 documentary A Place of Rage, which features interviews with black women activists responding to oppression during and after the civil rights movement.3 Parmar’s film, paired with various texts, allows for a more complex understanding of the historical context from which the #BlackLivesMatter movement has emerged, as well as of the legacy of black queer and feminist leadership in response to state violence against black people.
We focus especially on black queer and feminist perspectives because not all black death appears to warrant outrage. Commenting on the African American Policy Forum’s report titled “Say Her Name: Resisting Police Brutality against Black Women,” Kimberlé Crenshaw explains, “Although Black women are routinely killed, raped, and beaten by the police, their experiences are rarely foregrounded in popular understandings of police brutality.”4 While black women and black queer people are often central to organizing efforts against police brutality, physical and sexual violence and harassment against them does not typically generate the widespread attention that violence against black cisgender men does. The concept of rage that we are interested in, then, is one that demands an end to a world that produces the violence experienced by black women—both cisgender and transgender—first the violence of racism, homophobia, misogyny, and transphobia, and then the violence of erasure. Rage in this sense is to recognize how forms of gender violence overlap and interact with antiblack racism, and how such violence is embedded within the U.S. settler state.
A Place of Rage is a 1991 film by Pratibha Parmar featuring interviews with activists and writers such as June Jordan, Alice Walker, and Angela Davis. In the film, the women discuss the social and political conditions for black people in the United States during the time that they were growing up, in addition to personal narratives about the experiences with racism, homophobia, and police violence that have shaped their activism and writing. Jordan’s poetry about racism, police violence, and sexual assault is heard throughout the film and inspires the film’s title. Jordan uses these words as she discusses a sense of collective black rage and how the consciousness associated with it can serve as a catalyst for activism and transformative politics. Parmar’s film focuses on the intersections of racism, misogyny, and homophobia, and as such offers viewers insight into the role that black women have played in resisting racist violence.
This lesson plan is meant to encourage students/participants to think critically about antiblack oppression and narratives of black rage and to provide historical context about the legacy of violence and antiblack racism to which the #BlackLivesMatter movement is responding. We offer this work as a reflection of our experiences as two black women graduate students teaching undergraduate courses on transnational feminist cinema. Together we co-taught an undergraduate course called “Women in Global Cinema,” which centered transnational and women of color feminist films. This lesson plan consists of some activities and readings as well as additional ideas based conversations that came up in class.
“Women in Global Cinema” is an intro-level class, so we created this lesson plan and chose articles and texts based on our expectations about students’ familiarity with and level of understanding of systems of oppression and antiblack racism. Our hope, however, is that the suggestions and ideas we present here can be used in a variety of educational and community settings, not solely limited to academic institutions. Additionally, we suggest allowing students and instructors to critically engage with the readings and other texts over time, with a minimum of four discussion-based sessions. We found that students in our class preferred discussing the readings in small groups and then reconvening as a class.
Session One - Introduction
Have students complete a short writing exercise by asking them to make a list of ten words that they think of when they hear the word “rage.” After making their word association lists, students should take about five minutes and use those words in a free-write (a free-write is continuous, nonstop writing in any form).
- “A Black Feminist Statement” by the Combahee River Collective
- “Herstory of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement” by Alicia Garza
- “The Uses of Anger” by Audre Lorde
- What are your reactions to the readings?
- What similarities and differences did you find between Garza’s piece and the Combahee River Collective’s statement?
- What is your understanding of queer black feminism based on Garza’s piece and the Combahee River Collective statement?
- What do you think of Lorde’s discussion of rage and guilt?
Session Two - Film Screening & Discussion
- “Poem About My Rights” by June Jordan
- “In Defense of Black Rage” by Brittney Cooper
- “Why I'm Absolutely an Angry Black Woman” by Dominique Matti
- Screen A Place of Rage directed by Pratibha Parmar
- What are your reactions to the film? What parts stuck with you?
- How are the views in the film similar to or different from contemporary narratives around police violence?
- What do you make of the discussion of racism and homophobia in the film?
Session Three - Rage & Poetics
- “I Have Questions” by Khadijah Queen
- “Rekia Boyd” by Porsha Olayiwola (watch)
- “Black Rage” by Janae Johnson (watch)
- “Karma” by Dominique Christina (watch)
- “Power” by Audre Lorde
- “Ferguson Isn’t about Black Rage against Cops. It’s White Rage against Progress” by Carol Anderson
- Do you think it was important to include Jordan’s poetry in the film?
- What is Carol Anderson’s argument about rage and how does she connect it to systemic violence?
- Are there references to white rage in the poems listed above?
Session Four - Contemporary Organizing
- #BlackLivesMatter Actions Are Largely Led by Queer and Trans Black Youth by Martin Xavi Macias
- Reclaiming Our Lineage: Organized Queer, Gender-Nonconforming, and Transgender Resistance to Police Violence by Che Gossett, Reina Gossett, and A. J. Lewis
Students will form small groups and work together to research one of the following black queer and feminist organizations engaged in struggle at the intersections of antiblack racism, state violence, and gender violence.
- Assata’s Daughters
- Black Lives Matter
- Black Youth Project
- Trans Woman of Color Collective
- TGI Justice Project
- Audre Lorde Project
- Sylvia Rivera Law Project
- African American Policy Forum
Students within each group should familiarize themselves with their assigned organization, paying particular attention to:
- Who created the organization and how/why?
- What is the organization’s mission statement?
- What does the organization do?
Each small group should prepare this information to share with the rest of the class in short presentations. The purpose of this activity is for students to gain understanding of how activists and communities are addressing contemporary issues of injustice. After each group presents, have a class discussion about the different strategies used by each organization to address their community’s needs.
Works Cited and Additional Resources
Anderson, Carol. 2014. “Ferguson Isn’t about Black Rage against Cops: It’s White Rage against Progress.” Washington Post, August 29.
Beyoncé. 2016. Lemonade. New York: Parkwood.
Brothers Writing to Live. 2013. “A Statement on the Reclamation of All Black Life: For Trayvon, Marissa, & Jordan.” The Feminist Wire, July 18.
Christina, Dominique. “Karma.” YouTube video, 3:51. Posted July 20, 2013.
Combahee River Collective. 1978. “A Black Feminist Statement.” In Capitalist Patriarchy and the Case for Socialist Feminism, ed. Zillah R. Eisenstein, 362-72. New York: Monthly Review.
Cooper, Brittney. 2014. “In Defense of Black Rage: Michael Brown, the Police, and the American Dream.” Salon, August 12.
Eisen, Arlene. 2013. Operation Ghetto Storm: 2012 Annual Report on the Extrajudicial Killings of 313 Black People by Police, Security Guards, and Vigilantes. Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, October 7.
Fruitvale Station. 2013. Directed by Ryan Coogler. New York: Weinstein Company. 85 minutes.
Garza, Alicia. 2014. “A Herstory of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement.” Feminist Wire, October 7.
Gossett, Che, Reina Gossett, and A. J. Lewis. 2011-12. “Reclaiming Our Lineage: Organized Queer, Gender-Nonconforming, and Transgender Resistance to Police Violence.” Scholar & Feminist Online 10, no. 1-2.
Johnson, Janae. 2016. “Black Rage.” YouTube video, 3:20. Posted January 17.
Jordan, June. 2007. “Poem about My Rights.” In Directed By Desire: The Collected Poems of June Jordan, ed. Jan Heller Levi and Sara Miles, 309-12. Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press.
Knowles, Solange. A Seat at the Table. New Orleans: Saint Records, 2016.
Lorde, Audre. 1984. “The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism.” In her Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde, 124-33. Berkeley: Crossing Press.
---. 2016 . “Power.” Poetry Foundation.
“The Loud Silence When Trans Women of Color Are Killed.” n.d. Black Lives Matter.
Macias, Martin Xavi. 2015. “#BlackLivesMatter Actions Are Largely Led by Queer and Trans Black Youth.” Storify.
McClain, Dani. 2014. “The Murder of Black Youth Is a Reproductive Justice Issue.” Nation, August 13.
Olayiwola, Porsha. 2015. “Rekia Boyd.” YouTube video, 3:20. Posted August 30.
Out in the Night. 2014. Directed by blair dorosh-walther. Blooming Grove, NY: New Day Films. 75 minutes.
Queen, Khadijah. 2016. “I Have Questions.” The Offing, September 29.
Saunders, Patricia J. 2008. “Fugitive Dreams of Diaspora: Conversations with Saidiya Hartman.” Anthurium: A Caribbean Studies Journal 6(1).
Sexton, Jared. 2015. “Unbearable Blackness.” Cultural Critique. 90 (Spring): 159-78.
Smith, Mychal Denzel. 2015. “The Rebirth of Black Rage: From Kanye to Obama, and Back Again.” Nation, August 13.
1 James Baldwin et al. "The Negro in American Culture," CrossCurrents 11, no. 3 (1961): 205.
2 Solange Knowles, “Mad ft. Lil Wayne,” A Seat at the Table (New York: Columbia Records, 2016).
3 A Place of Rage, dir. Pratibha Parmar (New York: Women Make Movies, 1991), 52 minutes.
4 African American Policy Forum. #SayHerName: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women (New York: AAPF, 2015).