The Death Look: Donna Britt rages for a reason

Former Washington Post columnist Donna Britt has been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. So why, in her household with three healthy sons and a husband, is such an acclaimed writer the one walking the dog, doing the laundry, and emptying dirty dishes from the sink?

And why does her reaction manifest itself in what she calls The Death Look?

"So many women have faced that rage when faced with men's cluelessness," says Britt, interviewed in advance of her appearance in Charlottesville. "And part of The Death Look is the anger at how we allow men to get away with it."

In her book, Brothers (& Me): A Memoir of Loving and Giving, Britt explores the compulsion that some women seem to have to do-it-all.

"It's almost embarrassing to have this impulse you can't control," says Britt. "You think of yourself as independent and autonomous, and you're doing things like your grandmother did."

Beyond the obvious sexism, she also discovered a racial element, something serious and rooted in history. For her, the key moment happened more than 30 years ago. Britt was working on her master's degree at University of Michigan when she learned that back in Gary, Indiana, where she'd grown up in a middle-class household, her brother Darrell had been shot to death by police.

It took her years to fully understand how her brother's death had affected her. One day, while meditating after her son Darrell (named for her brother) asked for a last-minute favor, Britt had a moment of clarity.

"I thought, if I don't do this for him, he'll die. My eyes opened. I hadn't been there for my brother." She pauses. "The heart is not a rational place."

Suddenly, it did make sense why she had to be supportive, protective, and fully engaged in the lives of her men. Britt says she realized that African-American women often carry a "lurking sense of danger" since they come from a history of slavery, where a child could sold away, and more recently from Jim Crow, with its legacy of lynching.

"We have this history," says Britt, "of our men being snatched away."

She notes that such protectiveness helps explain why black women were so supportive of O.J. Simpson, of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, despite the sexually-charged testimony by Anita Hill, and even of former D.C. Mayor Marion Barry who fumed, "The bitch set me up," when caught smoking crack.

"The way black women are really supportive comes from that sense of history and loss," says Britt.

Britt is married to Kevin Merida, national editor at the Post, and they still have a 16-year-old son living at home. "He's really clueless," laughs his mom. "I have to keep asking him, reminding him."

At least now she has a better understanding of the source of her rage behind The Death Look— and perhaps that's the first step toward embracing it.
~
Brothers and Me: A Conversation with Donna Britt,
3pm Sunday, March 25, CitySpace.

12 comments

I just read the entire thing and have no clue what the heck I even just read. What was this even about?? Donna Britt, Pulitzer prize nominated, used to work for the Washington Post, she has a family, she does everything, something about a Death Look, men apparently being clueless and getting away with something that's never fully explained, embarrasing impulses that can't be controlled that lead one to become like their grandmothers, a personal memoir, a brother that was shot and killed, her son asked her for a favor that's never explained, but it was apparently such a huge favor that I guess she had to meditate immediately afterwards, a realization that if she doesn't do this unnamed favor he'll die like her brother, and this leads to the realization about why she has to be supportive and engaged in the lives of her men even though earlier words like "anger" and "Death Look" and "doing it all" and men "getting away with it" had been tossed around seeming to totally contradict, and then some stuff about racism, Jim Crow, men being snatched away. And then a 16 year old "clueless" son.

Holy hell........what is this article even trying to say?? It jumps from one random thing to the next to the next to the next. Large chunks seem to be missing. There's no flow. It makes no sense.

Social Lamarckism?

"Britt says she realized that African-American women often carry a "lurking sense of danger" since they come from a history of slavery, where a child could sold away, and more recently from Jim Crow, with its legacy of lynching."

No wonder she describes her kid as clueless.

My sentiments. I tried to pull off something similar in high school. I had no clear direction. Just ramblings. Mrs. Seitz shut me down, early!

I remember watching the city council shows a few years ago and Holly Edwards stated she couldn't see why more African-Americans weren't involved in the water dam/ water supply issue around here because water was important to the African-American community because so many slaves had been sold down the river. Maybe this book explains why so many African-American women are involved in the water supply issue of their towns.

I can play the guitar.

Southern slavemasters would whip or kill the rebellious men and the women got overwhelmed by it and it led to a system set up by the slavemasters where the women took control over the males and made sure they didn't become rebellious and so the slavemasters, after enough beatings and killings, could have more free time and less whippings and lynchings to carry out because the women were raising the young boys to be submissive and getting on the case of any young men trying to rise up against the slavemaster. Hence, the "death look."

All I know is, the headline says that Donna Britt rages for a reason, yet absolutely no reason is given. Total nonsense.

Somebody, in Britt's words "part of The Death Look is the anger at how we allow men to get away with it." That implies submissiveness on the part of black females who are dominated by males and is completely at odds with your attempt at explanation.

And the death look incorporates anger at the submissive side of women. Am I missing something? The most brutal slavemasters would whip the kids instead of the men when the men rebelled so that the women would keep the men in line. It's not att odds with anything, it's just a piece of textbook history.

I should have said the death look incorporates anger at the expectation of submission, which is what I meant.

Donna"s next door neighbor
Grand Mother raised 3 male teenagers ; high school grads 1959 (college Professor),1961(Physician) ,1962(Civil Service Sr Executive), From SANFORD FLORIDA
She would wait up all night for us to come home safely. My younger brother could NEVER come home later than or without his older brothers. We had our close causes. I was wrongly accused of stealing a small water melon from a white man's fruit stand. The white man accused me when he saw anger in my eyes. He thought t was directed at him.. I was really angry at my compulsive baby brother. It still took about a dozen witnesses to make him back off

My Grandmother's brother was killed by Police in an Orlando, Fla jail when she was a child

Are you saying your baby brother stole the watermelon? Who backed off, the white man or your brother? This whole thread is a mess.