I was enjoying lunch at a restaurant one day when I was disheartened to find a bug floating in my broccoli cheddar soup.  Not one to enjoy the taste of insects, I politely called over the waiter to point out my little problem.

“Excuse me, but there seems to be a little something in my soup,” I said and pointed at the critter swimming inside the bowl.  I expected the waiter to blush with embarrassment, or to apologize, or even to send for the manager so he can comp my meal.  Instead, when I looked back at the waiter, his eyes were wide with fear, like a deer’s seconds before a car collides into it with its bright headlights leading the way.

Mr. Waiter tightened his lips and stuck his hands on his hips, a move that’s frustration was only rivaled by the brightening of his cheeks.  “I didn’t know that was in there,” he said in a tone that was way more defensive than it was apologetic.

I raised an eyebrow, ignored that remark, and told the man and his flushed face that I’d like another bowl of soup.

“OK, just calm down,” the waiter said and put his hands up in front of him as if that would be enough to protect him if I really went as crazy as he expected.

I played my request over in my head when he said this. Just as I suspected, there was no hint of maliciousness or even increased volume in my voice that suggested I need “calming down.”

I repeated my question again, just as pleasantly as I did the first time, and added a little smile for good measure. “I just want another bowl of soup, please.”

Now that wasn’t the first time a non-black person was intimidated by me just because I expressed a grievance.  There was my neighbor in college who backed away from me when I asked if she could please turn down her music.  Or the professor who threatened to remove me from her class when I challenged her about my grade.  Then there was the time I approached a coworker about an error she made in a report. She was courteous enough to skip all the dramatics and just cry.

And I’m positive it’s not because of how I approach these individuals.  I don’t yell.  I don’t argue.  I don’t neck swerve or finger wag or deliver any other threatening motion that my stereotype suggests I would.

Instead I’m naturally congenial and polite, soft spoken even.  And I purposely exaggerate these qualities when I approach someone to express any kind of concern.  Like a pre-emptive strike on the defamed character that precedes me.

I know some people expect me to be sassy or combative, and they react accordingly before I even have the opportunity to prove otherwise.  Sorry to be disappointing, but I’m just not the Angry Black Woman they are anticipating.  I’m a pleasant and totally non-confrontational black woman living in the midst of a bad reputation.

Now dealing with a fussy waiter at a mediocre restaurant is one thing, but what about more important situations?  What about expressing our concerns about a problem at work or in our communities?  Or maybe even in our own romantic relationships?

Because this is more than just the issue of being prejudged.  It’s having our grievances taken seriously and addressed accordingly.  If someone has automatically dismissed me as being an angry black woman just for having a complaint, then they have probably dismissed my complaint as well.  Our grievances become illegitimate and nothing is done to address them adequately.

Have you ever found yourself acting passively just to avoid appearing like a stereotype?  If so, how do you navigate the fine line between self advocacy and being perceived to be angry?

How do you express your concerns vigilantly while still being taken seriously?

  • mn

    Thank you for writing this article! There’s so many stereotypical characters in media today that ppl think that we act like, and we really don’t.

  • http://gravatar.com/teachermrw teachermrwrw

    I think the anger of Black people is something that Whites have come to expect, based on their own personal experiences, and, to an extent, what they see portrayed on television. That said, we as Bkack people, and we especially as Black women, are angry and combative – both verbally and physically – towards each other. We can’t even engage in a civil online conversation without a snarky remark being conveyed. I have experienced wbd been witness to the anger of my own people on too many occasions, online and in real life. I suppose the anger can be explained to some degree by psychology and sociology. However, those are reasons, and not excuses. I simply think that in most cases it’s a lack of training in personal and professional etiquette that contributes to it.

  • YB

    What boggles my mind is that he had the audacity to coup an attitude with you for wanting some food that didn’t have a critter in it.

    The angry black women stereotype is just that, a stereotype. A stereotype created during slavery to justify the harm done to us during those times. And sadly that stereotype is still being used today.

    And today the stereotype is used as a shaming and silencing technique. Black women are allowed to object our speak their minds without the words “angry” or “bitter” used to describe.

    Reality TV isn’t the source of generalizations amongst black women. Racist stereotypes have been around for centuries and have been rebranded and repackaged throughout history. Only self hating black folks will believe stereotypes about 40 million people, while being courteous enough to allow whites and non blacks to be seen as individuals.

  • B

    So far I have not felt the need to dispel a stereotype (ABW) since I am polite anyways. Usually if I go to a restaurant and I see something unpleasant I address it in a respectful manner. If I don’t get what I want I would ask to see someone in charge. It has not gotten to that point yet.

  • Rosey

    This is SO my life. I always try to be super polite but some people act all scared when I speak up.

  • au napptural

    I don’t even acknowledge this foolery. I’m super clipped and to the point, but I’m also upfront. I would have told him “stop trembling and get another bowl of soup.” I don’t hesitate to call people on their BS. I know they want to use a stereotype to dismiss my complaint. So I follow in the footsteps of my attorney mom- I let them know in a low, gracious tone to bring over the manager or owner.

  • Merci

    Thank you so much for writing this. Story of my life!!
    On more than one occasion, I have to be crazy friendly when showing a grievance. Sometimes I am the overly nice one when complaining in an establishment to an ABW.

  • jamesfrmphilly

    if you are black, if you are intelligent, you should be angry.

  • my_reply

    I haven’t really had a problem like this, but it doesn’t surprise me. Many white people expect black people to act like the people on Maury, the “wives” on BBW, or the women in hip hop videos. He probably had a bad experience with an angry black woman before and has decided that we are all like that.

  • http://www.facebook.com/felicityrankinsrhode Felicity Rhode

    This is my life! It so difficult to bring up difficulties that I am having at work when people expect me to be combative and to have a negative attitude. I know that my attitude isn’t always great, but I would love for everyone around me to know that I don’t default to the ‘Angry Black girl’. I’m a sweetheart, lol.

  • Apple

    Well yes I know they expect me to be angry or some kind of violent but it has some advantages. I had a room mate who had parties several times a week and I needed to study. I begged her to stop or slow it down a bit and she ignored me or tried to start confrontation and wouldn’t comply. I know she was afraid of black people (she thought it was cute enough to tell me but hey my stupid mixed race friend made the comment first and she just agreed ) so I asked her again she caught an attitude so I jumped over a table and told her again. She never had another party and she moved out. See how handy these things sometimes are

  • Apple

    Well yes I know they expect me to be angry or some kind of violent but it has some advantages. I had a room mate who had parties several times a week and I needed to study. I begged her to stop or slow it down a bit and she ignored me or tried to start confrontation and wouldn’t comply. I know she was afraid of black people (she thought it was cute enough to tell me but hey my stupid mixed race friend made the comment first and she just agreed ) so I asked her again she caught an attitude so I jumped over a table and told her again. She never had another party and she moved out. See how handy these things sometimes are.

  • erica

    this person writes an article about how people shouldn’t generalize and prejudge and you post a comment generalizing and prejudging black women.

  • AndyB

    On one hand I like that the article addresses an irriating issue here, the on going struggle that Black women have to continously fight against being angry.And I am kinda irritated that this person goes out of the way to not express it, by being polite. You can be angry and not throw a tantrum it is possible! I don’t think by being overly polite, quiet is helpful either. That waiter may have exprienced an angry person before but that is not an excuse for not solving the problem. Just bring her another bowl of soup, apologize for the bug that flew in and it would have been solved. Maybe anotehr factor in this problem with the Angry Black Woman stereotype is that others don’t feel the need to do anything unless some of us Black Women get “ABW” on them. Sigh…

  • Perspective

    Sigh… Its like this. The truth of the matter is that, unfortunately, for a long time there have been many black women who have acted out of pocket and exploded on people because they believe that is attached to being a “STRONG BLACK WOMAN” Other women who are not like this refuse to accept the reality that this does go on and there are many women who are like that THAT ARE THE MOST VOCAL. The most vocal people get the most attention. I can be a “good black man” all day, what does it matter if Pookie is the loudest and promoted by hip hop culture, from the GATE its assumed I am not going to be there for my child just off the strength of being a black man. I tell women they need to address women like this. Women tell me I need to address the pookies, problem is the pookies always seem to have a bunch of women lined around the block for them EHEM – Mr. Desmond Hatchet of Tennessee and other less extreme examples of the same type of foolishness. Although there are a number of mean dealing with women like that based on the women’s complaints about black men avoiding black women based on these stereotypes its pretty evident that there are large sections of black men who don’t deal with the women who exhibit this type of negative behavior.

    Also, I think it has become such a known stereotype that many black women have gone from being openly confrontational to passive aggressive, which still gives off the same vibe of nastiness. We all know the irritated complaint filed with the, “Yes, you go do that…” (Raised eye brow) face. It’s still attitude. It may not be the SAME attitude but it is attitude nonetheless.

    I can’t entirely blame black women for their attitudes due to the conditions many of them grow up in but the problem is they project it onto the wrong people. There are many girls who have low self esteem from watching television and then project it on the people they come across – then wonder why people are standoffish.

    Some of you can deny it all you want. This DOES go on and I think the biggest problem is the fact that it is promoted to a degree with this “STRONG INDEPENDENTNESS” People are aware of that bandwagon that many women co-sign so much, only to get made when people type cast you when you were riding that bandwagon a few moments ago – but now you’re sweet, sensitive, and docile.

    Come on now. I don’t even know how some of you women expect people to by that. That’s like you watching me holler at every female in the club and then when I get to you I tell you about how monogamous and loyal of a guy I am.

    You will look at me like – “Ninja please!”

  • Perspective

    By the way – that women in the picture is FINE AS..

  • http://cookthisgetlaid.com Monz

    The exhausting effort of avoiding a stereotype leads to self-censorship and being inauthentic. I am that polite black woman who has missed out on being who I really am in situations because of being afraid of the ABW stereotype that I had no hand in creating. Now, I’m polite because it is a representation of me.

  • Candy 1

    I’ve never had this problem. Your experience doesn’t surprise me, though

  • Mademoiselle

    Here, here! I’m the same way: are you going to stand there and cry or do your job? And if the defensiveness gets out of hand, I just ask for a supervisor. I don’t have time or patience to sit around and convince anyone why I am or am not what you expect me to be.

  • http://afrikanmami.blogspot.com African Mami

    I am politely blunt-if that makes sense, I am respectful and to the point. No long ting. If he is trembling, I may ask if he is feeling cold and offer him a shawl or something. No need to exaggerate who I am to make another comfortable. Nope.

  • omfg

    smh at the slaves justifying this treatment.

    i supposed we should also justify black males being shot by neighborhood watch members and the cops because they “look” or “act” suspicious, right?

  • Lady P

    In the past when a grievance had occurred, I’ve never had to become angry or irate. I would simply state what the problem is and how I expected it to be rectified. I have been told the way in which I communicate and by the expression on my face that an “if, then” situation will take place provided that the problem isn’t taken care of. I don’t scream (talk loud) or look upset, but I refuse to accept any type of mistreatment. I know I will convey the message in a stern way. We all have a right to do this regardless of gender, race or socio-economic status. Since black women and black people in general are stereotyped as being angry, we can voice concerns of discomfort or mishaps; it still may be perceived as being upset or complaining.

  • http://www.jessicasimien.com Jessica

    I have experienced this and I do tend to act more passively to make sure the person doesn’t think I’m an ABW. I’ve recently just taken the approach that they’ll have their opinions regardless. I know what I am and what I’m not.

  • omfg

    seriously, only a simpleton will justify wrong behaviour by saying a person’s opinion of an entire group of people is justified because they go on the internet and watch videos of black women fighting.

    i mean, are you really that dense?

    i would argue that someone who goes on the internet to watch videos of black women fighting is a bit on the dumb side from the jump.

    i also doubt most white people even have enough personal contact with blacks to form an intelligent opinion on the subject.

    i mean look at you…

  • Vern

    Am I the only Black woman tired of living in the fishbowl society has placed us in? We can’t do/say/act in a certain way, lest we all be painted with a broad brush. Black women have more to be angry about, with the way society often treats us (and, unfortunately, the way we treat each other at times). Despite this, the majority of us smile our way through and continue to walk on the tightrope of life with grace, poise and dignity since we are the only group not allowed to express anger without yet another op-ed piece labeling us as combative.

  • http://twitter.com/brownngirl Brownngirl. (@brownngirl)

    Great post. I can relate and I’ve definitely been there. Thank you for bringing the topic to this forum. I cosign Jessica’s comment. At the end of the day, your prejudice is not my problem.

  • S.

    You have NO idea how many times this has happened to me!

    The most recent happened to me in college. I was cleaning out this dark room at school with some classmates (a White girl, a Black guy and some Asian classmates) and while going through the boxes of old books the White girl kept pulling them out and saying “OH! I’m gonna keep this one!”

    We were talking about laughing and having a good time when she did again. I ‘playfully’ said “you must be a pack rat! *giggles”. EVERYONE STOPS. She looks at me and blushes as if she was offended. OF COURSE the Black guy rolled his eyes at me and started a conversation with the White girl (oh the capes that come out for the hurt White women!)

    The rest of them kinda ignored me as if my goal was to intentionally offend her. I didn’t know suggesting someone as a “pack rat” was equivalent to calling them a ‘whore’ but that’s exactly how they made it seem.

    Angry Black Woman strikes again!

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  • Simone L

    I know a few of these women, and they’re embarrassing to be around because everyone probably thinks that you’re just like em. The ones that get loud and combative, the ones who think that everything is a personal attack. As I approach 30, I feel that it is more important to be vocal about what I want because a close mouth never gets fed. However, one can get what they want without demeaning anyone else and embarrassing themselves. I know one who is damn near bi polar with her moods, and we recently learned she wants to have a baby. I told my husband “she better not…she’d probably eat her young.” Control your emotions!!

  • Anansa Neal

    This is an interesting piece. I have non Black coworkers who like to challenge me about ideas or my opinion in staff meetings. I’m non confronational as well. The problem is that they seem to want to see the ABW come out. If there is a difference of opinion that is challenged, the calmer I am, the more emotional and boisterous they become until they just give up. I also have the coworkers who seem to have the “I’m Not Afraid of Her” attitude as soon as I speak up, those are the ones who are really funny because they are riled up before anything takes place.

  • Anansa Neal

    His comment was deleted because it crossed the line. You seem to be one of those who enjoys hearing about Black women in a negative light in order to boost your self esteem.

  • Kaydee-P

    I agree, though I believe the kind of anger you are talking about doesn’t have a place in this scenario. Perhaps a diluted version of it, in that if the waiter continued to give the author grief, a change of tone on her part would have been necessary.

  • Laugh

    “We can’t even engage in a civil online conversation without a snarky remark being conveyed.”

    Go on any blog about anything and there is sure too be snark! This is not a black woman issue.

  • Laugh

    I think what’s important here is to be yourself. Changing the way you’d respectfully respond to someone because you think they will stereotype you is ridiculous. When you ask for something in a calm respectable manner is all that should be expected. When you go in thinking oh let me act a certain way…well maybe that’s why your treated like an angry black woman because even you, yourself are expecting to be treated that way. Be who you are and anyone who has a problem, well that’s THEIR problem isn’t it. Trust, dealing with someone who is racist is not going to change their mind because you spoke extra soft. Living like this sounds depressing I respond to white and black people the same.

  • geri

    i think maybe that’s why i can’t make friends in art school…people think im gonna be mean or something

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