Who is “The Angry Black Woman”?
Is she the angry woman who stalks around the halls of work complaining about her ignorant co-workers?
Or maybe she’s the woman who stalks about the halls of work complaining about her ‘too-woke’ co-workers who feel the need to inform her about her struggle?
Maybe she’s the woman who’s suffered in silence from constant mental and emotional abuse from her significant other, friends, and parents, and decides to speak up about it.
Maybe she’s the woman who’s confident in her beauty, in her value and in her self-worth, and is unapologetic about it.
Either way, we all know this four letter phrase—’The Angry Black Woman’— is constantly repeated, uttered, thought about, and vilified. This four letter phrase is a template that is enveloped, packaged, and stamped against black women. It is used by any holder to discredit, disrespect, and discourage the black woman.
If you are a black woman, you know “The Angry Black Woman” well, and have had to keep her caged in certain situations so as not to lose credibility, respect, a position, or whatever else. Well, it’s time to get this straight: in my opinion, “The Angry Black Woman” isn’t going anywhere.
She’s a friend, a protector, a confidant, and in every sense of the four word phrase, she is valid.
But where did this narrative of “The Angry Black Woman” even come from? During the Jim Crow era, it was illegal for black people to argue with white people (really, it was pretty much illegal for black people to even look at white people) and yet black women were steadily working in the home as nannies to white families; taking care of the households while running their own with an iron fist. For a black woman to be accepted into the white family, any aggression or dissent raised by her were just dismissed as “Oh it’s just Bertha is all, she’s just sassy”. Henceforth, the words sassy—or mammies—were used to label black women. This morphed into the term Sapphire, and present day Sapphire became the “Angry Black Woman”.
The Sapphire was a black woman with masculinity. She was a woman who was always loud for no reason: assertive, bitter, negative, ‘had an attitude’—the list goes on and on. If a woman was labeled as a Sapphire, it justified any disappointment, suffering, or separation she endured in her relationships. If a black woman showed any emotional response that didn’t conform to societal norms, then she was labeled a Sapphire.Once these labels were solidified by white counterparts, the media made sure to reiterate these tropes when showing black women in films—and the stereotype caught on like wildfire.
As black face and the negative caricatures of black people grew prevalent across forms of media, so too was the reproduction of “The Angry Black Woman” stereotype. Black women were cast in roles that portrayed them as unnecessarily boisterous, illogical, illiterate, violent, a tough mother figure, always prodding themselves into other people’s business, and the list goes on. “The Angry Black Woman” stereotype is OBVIOUSLY still alive and well in the media today.
The problem with this constant bombardment of “The Angry Black Woman” trope is that, while others may laugh at her expense, it feeds into a negative idea of how people should be afraid of black women, should not respect their opinions, and which subsequently ends in people misinterpreting the actions of a black woman. As soon as “The Angry Black Woman” rears her ugly head, people on the receiving end are quick to dismiss her. Quick to condemn her, and subjugate her in kind. When a black woman does express her emotions in a solid and justified manner, “The Angry Black Woman” label is immediately used against her. Take the recent examples from black queens that have happened in the media in the recent years:
When Beyoncé first dropped the gold standard of all albums, Lemonade, it was mainly met with praise and approval from peers and critics alike.
But then began the labels.
The descriptions of her and her album as “furious”, “scorned”, “fiery”, and “rage”. One reviewer said: “What a hypocrite. She rages on her husband for cheating on her, and then stays with him.. All Beyoncé is doing is reciting violent, ugly, and vulgar lyrics that makes her look ridiculous. It would be merely absurd for a woman to feel empowered by these rote pop songs.” (Noisey)
Lest we not also forget the epic moment Serena Williams stuck up for herself when she confronted the Umpire at the US Open. There were many of us that rallied behind Serena Williams and understood exactly what she was doing, where she was coming from, and why it needed to happen.
However, it didn’t take long for the ignorant, prejudice, and quite frankly racist remarks to come flooding in against her:
“She’s just a whiner.”
“Boo hoo, suck it up.”
“Righteous anger— no such thing.”
And it certainly wasn’t long before this racist photo surfaced:
There are countless examples of this type of rhetoric that always follows when a black woman takes a stand and articulates her emotions—especially when it is done in the public eye. And as “The Angry Black Woman” rhetoric gets pushed, so does the extent to which people refuse to see the truth behind the emotion.
Both Beyoncé and Serena Williams have experienced their share or public and private ridicule, both have suffered at the hands of their external counterparts and both know women in their families that have suffered similarly. So while they have every right, and are warranted in expressing their anger, they are all too quickly demonized and maligned, disparaged, seen as less than, and dismissed—all because of a nearly 100-year-old stereotype and phrase that is still being circulated and praised together.
So the deal is this: black women have something to say, just like everybody else. Black women have feelings, emotions, and experiences—just like everyone else. And what’s more, black women have the right to be mad as hell, just like everyone else.
As a whole as black women, we have been:
- stepped on
- had our dreams crushed
- our hopes diminished
- our bodies sexualized and beaten
- our bones broken
- our labor and love taken advantage of
- our money taken away
- our dignity snatched
And our struggle trivialized and diminished.
Yet we take all of that pain and continue on, partly because we have to, and partly because we have our own freedom and liberation to carve out and maintain. Because we know that, while we don’t capitalize on pain, we tend to be the moving target of it from both community and state. We have had to turn our losses into motivation, our sour lemons into lemonade, and our sweat and tears into a life worth living.
Hear me and hear me now: embrace your bad ass, angry black woman.
Not to bully or berate or condemn, or rage for no reason. Embrace her because she’s a part of your black girl magic. she will protect you when no one else can, when no on else will. She’ll protect you when you experience a sexist encounter, when someone makes an uncultured remark, or passes a hateful glare. When you feel you can do no more, she will pick you off the ground and tell you to keep going.
She will say every curse word you’re afraid to say and then some. She will make you laugh to keep from crying, she will have enough shade and tea to end world hunger, and she will never leave your side, even when everyone else might.
The angry black woman is essential to the black woman, because when taken care of, she is the half to make us whole.
She’s more than a stereotypical sassy, sapphire, or mammie to be rejected and shelved.
She is real, righteous, and V-A-L-I-D in every sense of the word.