By: Edinah Masanga
I have often wondered why our society insists on labelling black women as angry all the time. But with time and age, I realised that the ‘angry black woman’ is the cheapest label used on us because it is also the easiest way to silence us.
The angry black woman caricature, when thrown around especially in the western societies, silences black women because it suggests that one is being unreasonable, needs to take a moment or a step back and in so doing telling them to shut up.
In labelling us, and subsequently condemning us, thereby delegitimizing our experiences and our voices, society has not taken into consideration the historical and social factors that make us ‘angry.’ Nor made a real effort to address them.
Ashley W defines this stereotyping of black women aptly when she says: “Black women have become the victims of negative stereotyping in mainstream… culture. Such stereotypes include the myth of the angry Black woman that characterizes these women as aggressive, ill-tempered, illogical, overbearing, hostile, and ignorant without provocation. […] However, many of the negative characteristics of the angry Black woman developed in response to external stressors and historical factors.” Source: The angry black woman: the impact of pejorative stereotypes on psychotherapy with black women.
External stressors and historical factors. Of course. Black women are not unjustifiably angry. We are angry because of our unique experiences based on both our gender and race.
Society has not addressed how black women get left out of mainstream issues, how our lives matter less compared to other races. Black girls disappear in America for example and there is not much outrage but when blonde-haired girls go missing most of the time there is a countrywide manhunt.
So yes we are angry but not unreasonably. We will continue to be angry until we are treated equally in terms of our gender and our colour. Being a black woman can sometimes be a double-edged sword. You get cut from both the gender and race edge. It can sometimes feel like you have nowhere to turn to… I am not just a woman but I am a black woman.
When we are constantly told that we are unreasonable or illogical as Ashley puts it, it is also a subliminal message telling us to keep quiet because the things we will say will be unreasonable and as such not matter.
Society must stop calling us angry and pretending that it is not aware where our anger comes from. I am angry about that, too.
Even success or celebrity staus does not buy black women out of this stereotype.
During the US Open final, one of the greatest athletes on earth, Serena Williams received a code violation for coaching, a penalty point for breaking her racquet and a game penalty for calling the umpire a “thief”. And later, a fine of $17,000 (£13,000).
Her reactions to the referee’s calls – which the Women’s Tennis Association decried as “sexist” – were no different from how many top players react in the heat of a championship game.
But she was labelled ‘angry and aggressive.’ An Australian cartoonist drew a picture depicting her as an overly masculine and ugly woman.
Professor Trina Jones has studied racial stereotyping and how it plays into the lives of African-American women and says:
“Black women are not supposed to push back and when they do, they’re deemed to be domineering. Aggressive. Threatening. Loud.”
The origins of the myth of the ‘angry black woman’
The “angry black woman” trope has its roots in 19th Century America, when minstrel shows, which involved comic skits and variety acts, mocking African Americans became popular.
Blair Kelley, associate professor of history at North Carolina State University, says black women were often played by overweight white men who painted their faces black and donned fat suits “to make them look less than human, unfeminine, ugly”.
“Their main way of interacting with the men around them was to scream and fight and come off angry, irrationally so, in response to the circumstances around them,” she says. Source: BBC
I could not have said it better, our anger is in in response to the circumstances around us.