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Being a Black woman causes me to severely overthink, especially when contemplating if and when to stand up for myself while being viewed by others as inherently angry. The angry Black woman stereotype: every Black woman has felt the burden of this stereotype at one or many times throughout our lives. Personally, I’ve found myself in many situations or conversations that were both micro-aggressive and aggressive in a racist context. As a result, throughout my childhood, adolescence, and adulthood I’ve been made to feel uncomfortable while at school, at parties, and in work environments.
Therefore, I’m constantly battling the angry Black girl stereotype, and my personal mission to always stand up for myself. Admittedly, too often, I allow my internalized insecurity to win. The societal stigmas against Black women cause me to be silent. I’ve been called angry, aggressive, or defensive in times I was simply not allowing someone to disrespect me or others. So given my history of being gaslighted, I’ve forgone standing up for myself or firmly setting or maintaining a boundary out of fear of being seen by others as the angry Black girl.
However, I’m slowly learning to overcome my internalized insecurities with the intention that I’ll never second guess putting myself first again.
The angry Black woman stereotype was created as an extension of the sapphire stereotype during the antebellum period, which categorized Black women as inherently masculine, aggressive, and dominant. The angry Black woman stereotype is a reimagined, racially charged trope that often goes undetected as it persists within modern society, pop culture, and politics; mostly because the stereotype is a manipulation technique used to silence Black women. The imagery of the original sapphire trope may look different or be less obvious, but the harmful effects it has on Black women remain.
Within recent years, prominent figures and celebrities such as Janet Hubert, who originally played Aunt Viv in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Serena Williams, Michelle Obama, and Monique have all had to navigate through being stereotyped and/or type-casted as difficult, angry, or masculine women. In particular, Janet and Monique have been blacklisted in Hollywood for years because of the harm being labeled as “difficult” have on Black women’s careers.
Besides, the angry Black woman stereotype is downright hurtful as much as it is harmful. According to a Forbes article written by Janice Gassam Asare, “Black women were found to experience many negative health outcomes including anxiety, at a greater rate than their white counterparts” because of how often we suppress our emotions. This gaslighting technique of accusing someone of greatly overreacting when they aren’t, that people continuously use against Black women, is an intentional tool of oppression.
Essentially, we are taught not to challenge the intersecting marginalizations that continue to severely oppress Black women. Instead, Black women are forced to shrink ourselves into quiet submission or simply be complicit with treatment we aren’t comfortable with so people won’t weaponize our emotions against us. Consequently, the angry Black woman stereotype lumps Black women into a monolith of combativeness and negativity while it strips us of our feelings and humanity.
Notably- if the world can impose this stereotype on the aforementioned women with as much status, money, or influence as they have, imagine what the average Black woman is forced to tolerate at work, in class, in shops or restaurants, and elsewhere.
Since late May of 2020, we should be seeing a supposed societal shift in oppressive race dynamics, as people promised to “listen and learn” about the harmful effects of racism. Luckily, I have some suggestions on how people can better show up for Black women, specifically when we are forced to combat the angry Black woman stereotype.
People need to first reflect on what about Black women causes the world to view us as inherently angry and why Black women are the ones most punished for having feelings perceived as negative. People must confront their internal biases and empathize with Black women’s frustration- and yes, anger- regarding how we are treated in a racist and patriarchal society. Lastly, people should begin the work towards dismantling the stereotype by always standing up for Black women whenever and wherever they can.
As for Black women, it’s hard, but we must learn not to view ourselves as inherently angry either. Standing up for yourself or exerting your will does not make you angry. In fact, there is nothing wrong with anger as an emotion. It’s natural and sometimes warranted. After all, we have a lot to be angry about anyway. As Delta B. Mckenzie perfectly concludes in an article for Medium, “As a Black woman, I have a right to be angry. I have a right to be loud. I have a right to be anything I want to be. If society wants to put my emotions down to a demeaning stereotype then I say, let it.”
Black women- work towards consistently showing up for yourself despite what others have or continue to tell you. I’m additionally trying to remind myself that my feelings are valid, and I shouldn’t ever have to make myself smaller to coddle anyone. Ultimately, my humanity should matter more than other people’s biased, racist, and inaccurate perception of me anyway.
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