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  • Writer's pictureArchuleta A. Chisolm

And the Angry Black Woman Is Not Angry At All

If someone asked you to describe an angry Black woman, you’d be able to do it. The image of one hand on her hip, the other hand in your face, head and neck swerving from left to right. She’s intimidating and mannish. She’s difficult and irrational. Too loud and always too much.

Well, you’d be wrong because she’s not real. This image of the angry Black woman that rises to the surface so easily in most minds is fake. This trope is meant to control and undermine Black women; to punish us when we express even the most reasonable indignation and to protect a status quo in which Black women are often treated as problems instead of actual human beings.

The angry Black woman character is deeply rooted in chattel slavery, when expressions of a Black woman’s anger was justified but also not allowed. In a culture obsessed with controlling Black women’s bodies and their lives, it's not a surprise that our anger is portrayed as unreasonable and ugly, instead of a rational response.

Remember all those years of the Jerry Springer Show, Maury, and even Ricki Lake that we consumed? Unfortunately, those shows helped reinforce the stereotype. In more recent years, our culture has attached the angry Black woman label to First Lady Michelle Obama, Serena Williams, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Jemele Hill and even our Vice President, Kamala Harris. It’s in response to them speaking their minds, and/or demanding respect.

I wish I could say there's an area of my life, or that of all the Black women I know, that remains unblemished by the angry Black woman stereotype, but I can't. It shows up in work meetings where I smile and adjust my tone when offering feedback. It has showed up in past relationships when I’ve tried to address the emotional harm I'm experiencing. It shows up in response to my writing when I've been told my voice needs to change, in order to be accepted in mainstream.

Like many Black women, I monitor my expressions and body language to make sure I sound calm and reasonable, calibrating myself as not to scare or offend. It's exhausting. It's dehumanizing. It cuts into my sense of wellbeing. It does contribute to my anxiety — something I've lived with since I was a child — but anxiety is, in part, a deep feeling of unease or uncertainty about how things will go, a sense that you aren't totally safe, and it puts endless pressure on me in a world that doesn't particularly like or protect Black women.

I came across a Black woman’s post on social media recently, as she pointed out that with Black women, anxiety typically shows up as irritability or shutting down. So, for people that often say Black women have an attitude problem, is it really an attitude or is it anxiety? I can't help but wonder if we're less likely to ask for help because we know the world often misreads our persistence as being irrational.

We're more likely to die during childbirth; we make less money; we accrue less wealth; we're overrepresented in prisons and underrepresented in the corporate world; we're less likely to marry (and reap the benefits that often accompany long-term partnership); we're less likely to be given pain medicine when we go to the doctor; we're less likely to be called for an interview if our names "sound Black"; we're more likely to be stopped and killed by police — the list goes on and on. None of this is because we're undeserving, untalented, or unfocused. It's simply because we're Black women. So yes, we have the right to be angry.

Now, picture an actual angry Black woman — not the trope. Can you? Can you see her without the pre-conceived notions? This woman may be crying in physical or emotional pain. She may be in a leadership role, and doing what white men do all the time: expressing themselves. She may be a mother, and her "anger" is actually just the determination that defines that role. She may be your boss, and her "anger" is actually just honesty about your performance. She may have just endured a racial slight, or her anger may have nothing to do with race at all. She may feel scared, alone, and powerless. Or exasperated, impatient, and overwhelmed. Or brave, energized, and in joyful bliss. She's also, no doubt, being as strategic as possible, aware that the angry Black woman stereotype makes people less likely to take her seriously, more likely to be afraid of her than afraid for her, even when she is the one who's so often under threat.


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