“The Angry Black Woman can be identified by her attitude, her conversation and sometimes, even her body language. Sometimes it’s in the twist of the neck, or a dismissive roll of the eyes during normal conversation. Sometimes it’s in the sharp tongue that lashes out with shrill, unsolicited criticism or advice, which is typically baseless and negative.”* — Darryl James
It seems as though African-American women have come under increased fire as of late. The stereotype of the Angry Black Woman goes hand in hand with the pervasive undertone of hostility towards us as a whole. The imposed cliché of “the b*tch” seems at times inescapable, where even a mere hint of tension from a sister is interpreted as classic ABW behavior.
It cannot be denied that there are those of us who may indeed have some significant anger management issues. These may be the combative women comedians blindly refer to, or those that make you cringe with shame when you see them dragging their tearful four-year-old down the street while shouting obscenities like a sailor with Tourette’s.
Dictionary.com defines a stereotype as: A conventional, formulaic, and oversimplified conception, opinion, or image; one that is regarded as embodying or conforming to a set image or type. As human beings, the ability to conform to a significant extent is a mechanism to ensure our survival. However, I argue that although we have the free will to choose our path in life, the quintessential “Angry Black Woman” is a projection – an illusion that is reinforced through the media, as well as a result of the public at large.
African-American women are in the early stages of developing our own identity, independent of the dysfunction of our agonizing history. Efforts to devalue us as members of society are as old as the nation that we call home. The stereotype of the “Mammy” has simply mutated from the “fat and passive” (except to white folks, naturally) to the “fat and rageful.” (as illustrated by in films such as “Big Momma’s House”, Tyler Perry’s “Madea” or almost any role portrayed by Mo’Nique).
While it’s 2009, we find ourselves reacting to what can be referred to as “Rasputia Syndrome” – based on Eddie Murphy’s comedy flop, “Norbit.” In said film, Eddie saw fit to reinforce the ultimate ABW cliché through his depiction of a repulsive female character – and for worldwide consumption, no less. Rasputia is obese, unattractive, dishonest, and ferocious (incidentally, Norbit’s racially ambiguous love interest -played by Thandie Newton- was designed to appear docile and virtuous). On the other side of the spectrum lies another long-standing stereotype: the video vixen, who’s nothing but a mindless sexual accessory to a host of oversexed and emotionally-stunted men.
Comedian Chris Rock also did his part to back up society’s need to demonize the Black woman in his recent stand up film titled Kill The Messenger. Rock’s show was an amalgamation of one routine performed in three different cities: Johannesburg, London and NYC. During one segment of the show, he adamantly claimed that a black woman would make a terrible First Lady because of her uncooperative nature and cruel disposition. Conversely, a white woman is the ideal candidate due to her passivity and eagerness to be a “team player”. Apparently, it never occurred to Rock that white women may feel less defensive because they don’t have to worry about their male counterparts singling them out to make outrageously negative blanket statements about them for the whole world to hear.
Prejudice is devoid of rationality, positivity and truth. The personality and temperament of black women is diverse in its range, and by no means are we predisposed to personality defects any more than any human being on the planet. But we do face certain obstacles that non-black citizens are completely unawares. Nonetheless, why are we often saddled with the label of the attitude ridden b*tch or the neck twisting rage-a-holic?
In his book Makes Me Wanna Holler, author Nathan McCall makes a salient point that addresses this issue head on:
“I realized that we thought we loved our sisters but that we actually hated them. We hated them because they were black and we were black, and on some level much deeper than we realized, we hated the hell out of ourselves”.
The unconscious projection of hatred is the root cause of our predicament. Black women are still viewed as a double minority. I always loathed that term, but the fact remains. The truth is that in any society, those who are viewed as the most oppressed receive the most hostility – latent or otherwise. All people have an innate aversion to being repressed, but all to often, we alienate those who are oppressed, rather than thwarting that which oppresses them. In the end, many African-Americans end up being our own worst enemies.
“Why are Black women so angry?”
Emotionally, humans aren’t very adept. We see something that makes us uncomfortable, and we instantly dislike it – no questions asked. In this way the so-called ABW is extremely misunderstood. Here’s why:
Anger is not a primary emotion:
“Perhaps the most helpful thing to remember about anger is that it is a secondary emotion. A primary feeling is what is felt immediately before we feel angry. We always feel something else first before we get angry. We might first feel afraid, attacked, offended, disrespected, forced, trapped, or pressured. If any of these feelings are intense enough, we think of the emotion as anger.”*
Without the proper vocabulary, emotional support and resources, many of us who are pigeonholed as the ABW get pushed further into a corner. There is a mutual denial of real circumstances from all parties as well as a general lack of patience and compassion for ourselves and others. Finger pointing is the law of the land, with absolutely no one taking responsibility for the choices they make in their own lives. Take the dissonance between black men and women is a broad case in point.
Perhaps black women aren’t angry at all. Maybe we feel alone, and unsupported. Some of us feel trapped in our circumstances, or deeply insecure. We may even feel hopeless at times. No one likes to feel bad, but it is highly possible that there are some who don’t know how to feel anything else (Lawd knows we have to dig deep to find positive reflections of black femininity in this country).
I believe that the very essence of what some think of as the “Angry Black Woman” is full of resilience, passion, fearlessness and strength. It’s precisely these qualities that keep us moving forward and enable us to gain wisdom and strength as we overcome life’s hardships. With the right amount of patience and compassion, it’s very likely that the stereotype of the Angry Black Woman could vanish, becoming virtually undetectable through the eyes of those who strive for self respect, love and understanding.