You Wouldn’t Like Us When We’re Angry: Black women are often portrayed as hostile which is both racist and sexist, but like all stereotypes there is more complex mechanism behind it.
Look at the image of angry black women on television. Politically you have Maxine Waters of California, liberal Democrat. She’s always angry every time she gets on television. Cynthia McKinney, another angry black woman. And who are the black women you see on the local news at night in cities all over the country. They’re usually angry about something. They’ve had a son who has been shot in a drive-by shooting. They are angry at Bush. So you don’t really have a profile of non-angry black women. — Syndicated columnist Cal Thomas on Michelle Obama being an “angry black woman,” FOX News Watch, June 14.
Black people have long had to live with the stigma that we’re rougher and more horrifying than other people. That somehow we’re more violent and scary and immoral, stereotypes that have existed since wealthy white landowners had to come up with excuses why it was OK to enslave an entire group of people. Black men are menacing and black women are vulgar harridans, screaming obscenities while engaging ball busting.
Many were appalled at Cal Thomas for bringing up the “angry black woman” meme, viewing it as both racist and sexist, and it is. When other women speak their mind, they’re just talking. When a black woman says why she’s proud of America after seeing the results of her husband’s historical campaign she’s an awful witch who wants to destroy all white people. The complete 360 degree turn of hyperbole is attempted over and over again. And with so few images of black women in the media it’s easy to fall back on old stereotypes — the whore, the mammy and the bitch.
Michelle Obama is too chaste and married to be a whore, too independent and smart to be a mammy, so all that’s left is the bitch. And that is the category all educated, independent minded, straight-no-chaser women, black or white, are put in.
If you give Thomas the benefit of the doubt, perhaps he was simply referring to the image of black women that is presented in the media. In that respect who wouldn’t think all black women were pulling Miss Havishams and Medeas all day, every day. This view is narrow, ignorant and demonizes an entire ethnicity, gender and culture. But if he’s referring to the general attitudinal nature of some black women that exists as a defense mechanism for emotional pain, then yes, there are angry black women.
But I doubt Thomas is an expert on this subject.
Black people are chippy people. The chips on our heavy shoulders are boulders, as I oft say. We’re weighed down by psychological damage rooted in our own families and our racist society. There’s no shame in admitting that.
Many of us were reared with the belief that we can not trust each other, that we should be wary and defensive and that love should withheld out of fear. This has vexed me my entire life because I’m not chippy. I was not raised to be defensive. And while I’m careful with who I trust, I’m not outwardly hostile to people. I have the warmth of a southerner and the extroversion of a daytime talk show host. And while I’m not the only one this way, many others are the inverse.
I have a lot of personal issues, but I don’t carry the emotional baggage of having parents who didn’t know how to convey love and kindness. My mother did not demand that I be “grown up” at an early age. When I forgot my mittens as an elementary school student she would simply bring them to the school. Most of my peers were told by their parents that if they forgot anything, lunch, lunch money, hat, gloves, books, it was on them. Their parents either had to work or were trying to teach their children responsibility. But my mother managed to teach me that without allowing my fingers to freeze during recess.
I can remember the general hostility of teenagers, male and female, who would growl “what fuck are you looking at” when I glanced in their general direction in the mall. Kids who didn’t want to be looked in the eye as if any eye-to-eye contact was a challenge, who manifested their parental neglect and emotional immaturity in acting out at school. I remember my college roommates, screaming and cursing at their boyfriends as their boyfriends screamed and cursed back at them and how both were so disrespectful and full of self loathing because all they knew was “MFer” this and “nigga” that. That was how they communicated their fear, their anger, their shame — hostility, suspicion and curse words.
But once again, this was born out of learned behavior from our parents and our interactions with both the black and white worlds. If you grow up watching your mother disrespected; if you grow up being disrespected by your parents, teachers and peers; if you grow up thinking it is an acceptable thing to act a fool when you are hurt and lash out over the slightest provocation then you are going to appear this way. You are going to embody the stereotype. But the “angry black woman” should not be invoked unless there is an understanding of where the stereotype comes from.
There is a big difference between Michelle Obama’s fierce independence and my roommate screaming at her boyfriend after finding out he had four other girlfriends on campus and bought them all the same Nike tracksuit for Christmas. There is a difference between the pain of losing a child, which all women possess and demonstrate regardless of pigmentation, and a few Wanda the Ugly Girl neck rolls and finger snaps.
But I doubt Thomas has studied the psychology of black folk, let alone the psychology of “The Angry Black Woman,” where she came from and where she is going. But this is the latest crude reference to a much more complicated issue in black America — our inability to communicate pa
in and vulnerability with those we love. While I take offense in Thomas lazily tossing out the grotesque banshee who haunts the constantly assaulted image of the black woman, I’m not going to ignore the fact that I wish we could be nicer to one another.