Social Commentary No. 8 Examining Stereotypes: “THE ANGRY BLACK WOMAN”

Black women are subject to a barrage of daily micro and macro aggression’s – from their peers, the media, from within their own families, the workplace and of course society as a whole. Our skin colour, body shape, hair type and even our verbal reactions are constantly under a microscope.

This piece is therefore about the ‘invisibility and dehumanisation’ that Black women experience on a daily basis and the psychological and material harms that result. It is about how society does not recognise our injuries and therefore leaves Black women without any form of redress. It is about the complexity of that fleeting moment when Black women must decide whether and how to challenge assumptions about our status and place in the world. It is about the consequences of exercising our voice, whether in angry or moderated tones, and how that exercise can render one ‘hyper visible and threatening’.

It bothers me that speaking one’s truth, voicing our opinions or expressing our views with conviction is deemed as having an ‘attitude problem’. So where did this stereotype come from, and what impact has it had on the public and private image of the black woman, and what effect does this have on our identity and psyche?

Long attributed to black women who have dared to stand up for what they believe in, the “angry black girl” archetype is an American trope that labels black women as “sassy, ill-mannered, and tempered by nature”. The Angry Black Woman myth assumes that black women are naturally or innately aggressive.

The Angry Black woman trope arises from the ‘Sapphire’ stereotype, which claimed that enslaved Black women were aggressive, dominant and masculine: “In antebellum America”, the female slaves’ chattel status, sex and race combined to create a complicated set of myths about Black women. Thus, Black women were involuntarily ascribed characteristics related to their identities in being Black, Woman and enslaved.

Furthermore, the exploitation of Black women was influenced by constructed perceptions. The ‘Sapphire’ archetype painted enslaved women as impure and strong, who drove their children and partners away. Although many enslaved women were separated by loved ones, their emotions were not seen as credible or worthy of affirmation because of their social status. As a result, the grievances of Black women were often suppressed. These realities are essential in understanding the lived-experiences of Black women today.

Today, the black woman is not only angry, she is always loud, yelling, with animated hand gestures – waving everywhere, neck rolling and confrontational – bubble-gum-popping with plenty to say – always complaining, nagging or disgruntled. You’ll see her on “reality” TV shows such as ‘Love & Hip Hop’ and the ‘Real Housewives of Atlanta’.

This label has become so mainstream and so common place in popular culture, that nearly everyone I know, has had some experience of being negatively labelled. This stigma serves to perpetuate and propagate a false image of us. Hence, to stereotype, compartmentalise and diminish black woman as being one dimensional, is now a legitimate way to oppress and undermine our ability to engage, connect and feel. These negative traits are consistently pinned on black women, depicting us as angry, even as we calmly state an opinion, or as having an attitude when we are justifiably angry.

The stereotype has parallels in the “strong black woman” and the “strong independent woman”it limits our ability as women to emote, as if the only emotion we can express is anger and our only quality is strength.

These images of black femininity are constantly force-fed to us through the media, and it’s time we started questioning why. The fact that we are consistently portrayed this way says a lot about society’s treatment of black people – especially black women, with a lack of respect and even kindness.

We have valid, complex emotions that we are entitled to feel and express. Do some of us have an attitude? Sure. But is that a problem or a valid excuse to dismiss black women’s opinions? No.

Share your views and comment below. Have you ever been labelled as an angry black woman?