There is much damage in the assumption that a black woman cannot be passionate about anything without being labelled as ‘angry’. We are repeatedly labelled as this in the media, and by our peers for purely speaking up and having conviction with it. We are seen as aggressive if God forbid we oppose any of the negative actions directed towards us. This is a toxic stereotype and one that has been discussed plenty in the press, journals and literature; yet it is still allowed to reign free today.
The Cambridge dictionary describes a stereotype as “a set idea that people have about what someone or something is like, especially an idea that is wrong” This can be racial or sexual amongst others. In this case I maintain that, it is only black women and not women of other races that get labelled as angry when they are passionate or over zealous about anything.
Black female celebrities are constantly having to overcome this unnecessary label. An article published by forbes.com last year called ‘Overcoming The Angry Black Woman Stereotype’ examined the crux of the problem. The writer, Janice Gassam, provides what she believes to have been the origin of the angry black woman stereotype – ‘the 1950s radio show Amos ‘n’ Andy, which depicted black women as sassy and domineering’. But if that is where this stereotype stems from, it is even more disheartening to see that nothing since has been able to dispute or change this. In 2020, I am still being called angry by peers for having care for a cause.
The Forbes article goes on to expound on this theory and provide readers with a three point action list on how they may overcome and stop this stereotype. But as I read through the action plan of to 1.Educate yourself, 2. Express yourself and 3. Check yourself, I cannot help but think that while this is a starting point it is not enough.
As mentioned, Black female celebrities don’t escape the ‘Angry Black Female’ tag simply because they are famous. In 2014, time.com published an article called ‘Where Are All the Angry Black Women?’. The article opens with the rather flagrant words ‘We’ve been hearing a lot of about angry black women this week’. A phrase it notes that New York Times television critic had used to describe Shonda Rhimes, a famous black woman noted for gifting us shows such as Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How To Get Away With Murder (HTGAWM). Robin Givens, the writer, remarks on the various reasons for a black woman to be validly angry. Pay inequality, injustices to our ‘fathers, brothers, sons and husbands’ are amongst the reasons shared. Givens proceeds to let the New York Times television critic know exactly where all the angry black women are, with the statement ‘Mostly we’re working. Anger might just be a luxury we don’t have.’ The article touches on the mothers of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown both of whom lost their Black sons to overt racism in America. However, while this is a well rounded piece examining the intricacies of the ‘Angry Black Woman’ stereotype we are no closer to a solution on eradicating this stereotype.
There have been many journals, written and published on this matter. M Mgadmi (2009) Black Women’s Identity: Stereotypes, Respectability and Passionlessness (1890-1930), L Green, Negative Racial Stereotypes and Their Effect on Attitudes Toward African-Americans, and L Rosenthal (2016) Stereotypes of Black American Women Related to Sexuality and Motherhood, are just a few of many. Despite all of these published journals and others out there we are no closer to a universal solution to this issue with scholars such as Dionne Bennett and Marcyliena Morgan quoted in Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes and Black Women in America as suggesting that the reason behind this is that researchers tend to accept this archetype as being true.
It is not just in the press and in journals where this stereotype is seen or addressed.
There has also been books, films and shows which look to this matter. It may be argued that much of Tyler Perry’s Madea movies perpetuate the caricature of the angry black woman. In addition to the character Sapphire in Amos ’n’ Andy, there is also Aunt Esther in Sanford and Son, Bernadine in Waiting to Exhale, Madea Simmons in Diary of a Mad Black Woman. Wilhelmina Slater in Ugly Betty, Rochelle in Everybody Hates Chris and Cookie from Empire. With all of these and more it is no wonder that we still struggle with the weight of this depiction today.
I contend that the crux of the problem is RACISM. Until racism is dealt with properly, levels and variations of this stereotype will still exist. We must first battle the root of the problem before we look to the leaves and branches. Cutting off the top of the tree is not enough either, this will just encourage new offshoots to grow.
So with all of this reflection and energy being put into looking at stereotypes of black woman, why is the misnomer that black women with passion or interest still being perpetuated? I always say if one thing doesn’t change then nothing will. In todays climate it is even more important that this stereotype is defunct. With the current momentum that we have seen for the Black Lives Matter movement, statements and derogatory inflammatory stereotypes are a distraction not needed. I ask that next time you think to call someone ‘angry’, pause and consider why. If I was male, or white would you have been so quick to label me as angry? I may be Angry but only with reason, and I am Black and I am a woman but the three are not synonymous. Think before you use this stereotype. Be part of the solution and not the problem.