Angry black woman, oh please! This depiction of black women is redundant. Yes I can get angry; yes I’m black and yes it so happens that I’m a woman. And yes there is a hint of ‘attitude’ in my tone, but please don’t conclude that I’m angry. It’s not anger, its passion mingled with a hint of frustration. Shockingly black women (just like other human beings) can experience a spectrum of emotions; anger is ONE of them but so are joy, fear and admiration.
I suppose this is the problem; the narrative of the angry black woman is incomplete. We side with the authors of her story; we read the beginning, skip the middle, jump to the end, close the book and nod in agreement – black women are Sapphire’s, Jezebel’s or too fiercely independent that (often times a combination of all three).
This stereotype isn’t reserved for black women alone; we have hashtags such #blackmensmiling and Instagram pages dedicated to breaking down ridiculous myths of the permanently angry black man. It’s stupidly laughable to think one race can own a monopoly on a single emotion; yet at the same time the story of the ‘angry black’ is dangerously pervasive, controlling and self-fulfilling.
We see various forms of Sapphire caricature portrayed in the media. We’re entertained by her finger snapping, emasculating, acid tongued character in films such as Deliver Us from Eva. We listen to political figures like Maxine Waters criticised for being ‘unreasonably angry’ or having a ‘bad attitude’. Programs such as Married to Medicine have reshaped the angry black woman into a modern day Jezebel. We tend to think of these women as more liberated and a far cry from our angry auntie (insert her name here). These Jezebel’s are shady, independent, hyper-sexualised and wealthy; even though a lot of their success is attributed to aggression rather than intellect, we celebrate them as the archetypal successful black woman. We’re so entertained by modern depictions of the angry black woman that we rarely question the motives behind her stereotype or how this label influences the way she experiences the world.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told ‘not to say anything’ because I’ll just come across as aggressive; so I keep silent. However being silent isn’t enough – I’m also told to ‘fix my face’ because I look angry. My ultimate favourite is when I’m happily minding my business and along comes Becky with a thinly disguised statement posed as a question ‘are you ok Shauna, you seem angry?’ How people read and interpret black women’s actions can inhibit the way we interact with others.
Because many of us don’t want to perpetuate the angry black woman stereotypes, we (unknowingly) learn to dumb ourselves down. This means a dumbing down of our intelligence, expressiveness and ultimately our creativity. We learn to speak through plastic smiles and gritted teeth and in passive/apologetic tones – “sorry for…but can I..?” or “would it be ok if I..?” This form of impression management is not exclusive to interactions outside of our community. Within our community we have those ‘aunties’ who unconsciously perpetuate the angry black woman stereotype. They may do this in two ways:
1. They internalise the label and actually fulfilling the prophecy of the angry black woman. Their label is further reinforced by others who warn us about turning into angry auntie (insert name).
2. Alternatively these aunties season us with advice. Ladies we know how this advice goes…”agree with a lot of what he says and don’t challenge him too much, because men don’t like aggressive women.” (Apparently black women can’t express ideas without seeming aggressive).
So we learn to dumb down our expressiveness because we don’t want to scare him away and we definitely don’t want to become like angry auntie…
I can’t speak for all black women but for some elements of our identity has been shaped by dumbing down certain emotions. Because we don’t want others to mistake our expressiveness for anger we’ve learnt to nullify our response to fear, annoyance, guilt, disgust. However, it’s so difficult to selectively numb certain emotions without adversely affecting healthy responses to others such as vulnerability, joy, love, and awe.
Black women are often misinterpreted and because of this the world can sometimes feel cold and uninviting. However, we can make a massive difference to her experience if we’re willing to understand her entire story. Our journey to a better understanding of black women can start with a simple question – angry black woman, really?