He Said/She Said, PostRacialist

The Incredible Angry Black Woman

Are you angry? Would we not like you when you’re angry?

I got into a discussion with a friend about male/female relationships while I was in Washington, D.C. and we were discussing the Obamas. He saw Michelle Obama, the First Lady, as the dominating figure in the relationship due to the fact that the president sometimes defers to her in his speeches or references her, saying he discussed things with her or so on. After listening to him for a bit, I pointed out that often the Obamas are more of a marital Rorschach test that says more about us than them, that no one can actually know another person’s marriage but the two people in it and that often we are taking our own experiences, wants, desires and fears and projecting them upon the First Family. But while he said he “liked” Michelle, he did see her as the quintessential “Angry Black Woman.”

Oh. That heifer again.

More after the jump.

All my life I’ve heard many things about this woman. The finger snapping, neck cracking, fussin’ fueding and fighting, pissed off, scary as all get out, crazy, angry black woman. And while I’ve known a few black women who may qualify as angry or may have a chip on their shoulder a lot of this is much more complicated than a simple “she’s a crazy ABW.”

When you’ve been robbed of your femininity (which is sometimes the case with black women) due to a society that historically didn’t view you as a woman or, let’s say, a woman worth being chivalrous to (see Truth, Sojourner) you get a real limited amount of things you can do to get attention. I’ve known countless black women and men who grew up in households were parents and other adults honestly could have cared less if you had a bad day and frowned upon any crying, fussing, moaning or complaining. Suck it up, is practically the national pastime. But the one emotion that is almost always acceptable is anger. Your parents get mad. Your friends get mad. You get mad. Everyone is allowed to get mad. For some people crying is perceived as a weakness, but if you’re one “not to take no shit off of nobody” well, that will get you accolades and props and pats on the back. We reward strength in our community, in our society. Often anger is confused with strength.

I’m familiar with this phenomenon because I grew up the exception. My mother overly mothered me. I was allowed to cry and get upset. I did not like fighting or getting angry. I hated it, in fact. This DID NOT prepare me for school life at all, as I was easily the target for anyone who needed to feel superior in making someone else bawl. I was a softie.

But as I got older I learned that the so-called “angry” people were just as soft as I was. That’s why they were so quick to get mad.

In college I had a roommate who found out her boyfriend was cheating on her. She screamed. She stamped her feet. He acted like a moron. He ended up punching another girl (the one he cheated on my roommate with) and being arrested my the police. As mad as my roommate was and despite all that drama (and the fact that this man was scary and possibly not well in the head), she took him back over and over and over again. She would scream. She would call him the N-word. She would love him. She would take him back. Loving and screaming was all she seemed to know.

Anger was her go-to emotion for everything. And for some people the drama sounds as sweet as “I love you.”

But peel back the layers and you would learn that she got sad, confused, lonely, lost and frustrated just like I did. She just reached for the bottle of PO-ed every time because that’s what she’d been taught to do. Some of the anger is really more of a toughness. With many black men and women coming from single parent homes, having to grow up earlier and deal with adult problems sooner than most, you’re not necessarily going to be the laid back, happy-go-lucky, Mr. or Ms. Carefree. You know the reality of the problems in the world, as well as the ones in your own life. It’s hard to slap a smiley face on it and a song in your heart where a missing parent is supposed to be.

A lot of our “anger” is confused with “pain.” It’s over-exaggerated at times by those who are the most jaded. There’s nothing wrong with a man saying he talked something over with his wife. That doesn’t mean she has his nuts in a vice. This shouldn’t be a competition. We’re supposed to be a team. And if you’re in a relationship with an angry person, maybe you should just judge and deal with that person on their terms, not label an entire group of women as borderline insane.

Sometimes having a little fire is a good thing when used properly. Perhaps if I’d been a touch more “angry” in my first serious relationship I wouldn’t have wound up being the doormat so many times and miserable as he took advantage of my niceness. Some people will take your love, like a thief, and run with it, do God only knows with it, and leave you with nothing.

I was young and idealistic. I was easy prey.

I’ve never liked the stereotype of the ABW. It makes things too simple. It makes our problems too easy to discard. But I guess what I disliked most was that she wasn’t me or my mother or my sisters or my cousins. That I knew a few women who happened to be angry, but I didn’t know an army of neck-snapping sisters, but the neck-snapping ones got all the TV shows. That Michelle Obama hadn’t actually done anything remotely angry but was labeled an ABW anyway just based on appearances. How many times had I heard someone say they “knew” women just like her. But how could you “know” her unless you actually KNOW her? Otherwise we’re just basing things on hunches and assumptions.

Currently in my life, I’m trying to come to terms with some things about being black woman and how it is frustrating to hear people speak as if we all came off the Shenaynay assembly line. It also hurts me when black men and women go after each other, mired in stereotypes. I wish we could look past that and see what’s deeper and work on that rather than the superficial. When you say something like “all black men are dogs” or “all black women are angry” it’s a way of lazily absolving yourself from any responsibility in the role you played to get yourself into the shape you are today. It’s easy to say, it’s all them and not me. It’s a scapegoat. It’s convenient. You, after all, couldn’t be the reason that you are single. Everyone else just must be that awful.

I think there’s enough anger to go around.

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32 thoughts on “The Incredible Angry Black Woman

  1. Sabrina says:

    Finally!!! Someone said it. Enough already. I can not believe that while we are well into the next millennium our mentalities are stuck in the 60’s and 70’s when most black female "strong" characters were portrayed as your average everyday heat packing jive talking neck rolling signifying sista that "you know so well". We latched onto this image created by us but magnified by Hollywood and decided yes that’s who we are. And that’s who I have to be to get what I want? Well yes because they still exist in the ridiculous plethora of ‘hood’ novels flying off the shelves of book stores across America. I’m not even going to go there. That’s a whole ‘nother issue. Hint hint.Michelle Obama is an educated we KNOW that. There is evidence. Michelle was raised by seemingly kind loving parents from what we’ve heard from her and her brother and by evidence of there interaction. We have no first hand accounts of Michelle having a ‘slap off’ with the girls down the block or cussing out some poor clerk in the local pharmacy because he packed her bags wrong. Not that that would be evidence but people would use that type of stuff against her. I mean what kind of insecure individual hears how much Barack Obama loves and RESPECTS his wife and comes up with "Michelle Obama is the quintessential "Angry Black Woman" You mean to tell me that a women who can command her husbands reverence must have wagged her right hand finger while her left hand was securely planted on her hip and her perfectly arched right eyebrow is eskewed for affect. Please!!!!I hope with whomever you had this enlightening conversation realizes two things. His small minded view of women is exactly that. It’s limited. The other is that not knowing much about women leaves you at a disadvantage. Men can not pick or keep viable mates when there views of women are so limited. Men have to be willing to say I have a lot to learn because no one told me; or because what I’ve been taught is bullshit. Watching my parents I learned that even when relationships don’t work friendships are golden. They separated when I was 8 but remained the best of friends until my father’s last dying breath. So I cherish men always have. Because of my mother I learned that you will get hurt but people can be forgiven. My father was the quiet silent smooth type. I in turn was always attracted to the ‘nice guys’. My ‘asshole’ radar was usually at 90%. They wouldn’t last with me. My father admitted many regrets in his old age so I also know that men do come to an understanding. My hope is that they come to that before they lose a family or a loving spouse.Every day I wake up with many things on my mind but the first one is always my husband and who I am for him. I appreciate our friendship and he absolutely accepts me with all my flaws. I am not an ABW but I probably have a shorter fuse that is only beneficial when we are on the subway train and I can sight a mugging about to happen a mile away. Women must know this: Using anger against your partner does not work. You can not make him do anything. You only make him feel like a loser, like he can’t "win with you." How many times have you heard a guy say that, "I can’t win with her". ABW’s don’t play fair but can not figure out why they are always alone or in relationship limbo. Which is different from another interesting phenomena and that’s the ‘bitch’ who are white women who speak their minds. They get it too you know!! LOLWhile there are women who are angry on principal alone let’s not hold them up as the

  2. Great post, Danielle.I am sometimes an ‘angry black woman’ – not in the relationships I have with men, my family or my friends, but sometimes I am short with people who push my buttons. I am sometimes questioned by strangers ( usually black men) as to why I do not smile, and I think that their reaction is more based out of fear and their comfortableness of being around black woman who are percieved as passive and ‘soft….and most importantly, pliable to what they think I should be.I am angry over legitimate issues, but most of all, I allow myself to feel angry because at times it seems like it is the only emotion that I have control over. Perhaps because of my upbringing where I was coaxed to never stand up for myself and the few times I did, really paid for it, that as an adult, I relish the power to say, ‘yes, I am angry. Yes, my opinions may not be what you want to hear, but it is MY RIGHT to be me. I’m not perfect and cannot be the perfect woman for any potential mate. If I am not myself, flaws and all, I would be better off dead.

  3. Annabele says:

    This sterotype is so tired that it is begging to be put to rest forever and ever in the fantasy land where it was concocted. The First Lady can’t be too angry, she stated that her nor Barack spank their children. How many Angry Black Women never lay a hand on their child?????

  4. Annabele says:

    Sorry. I should have refferred to Mr, Obama as the President. In some ways, I do feel like I know them, but in the end, I really do not.

  5. devessel says:

    balanced, thoughtful, and beautiful post, Danielle. I’d love to hear from some brothers about this post, especially the ones who tend to level such charges.

  6. Annabele says:

    I too would like to hear from men on this issue and not just black men either. I don’t know how anybody could charge her with being angry either. I think that she has handled herslef with grace in these challenging times. I’ll pray for her and the President’s safety and perseverence.

  7. Humh. This post and the comments are on point. I recently had a discussion (and did a blog entry) about men who don’t know how to react to women who aren’t angry. There are men who don’t believe a woman cares if said woman doesn’t show her behind at every given turn. At the same time, there are Black women who don’t think other women are ‘real’ enough because they don’t neck roll, gum pop, and curse. It’s all quite frustrating seeing as I don’t do those things…But I’m from Detroit (in the city limits) so people are often disappointed that I’m not ‘urban’.

  8. Elise Moser says:

    Yes! I am a white woman from an angry family and yes, when it is your go-to emotion it’s covering all your pain and weakness. On the other hand, imagine if everyone woman (everyone) who had something legit to be angry about (practically everyone) could channel it into strength and action…

  9. SistaOpinion says:

    @LainaDawes: Your second paragraph describes me almost to a tee. Someone wrote an article a long while back about how some black women are purposely raised/trained to be the antithesis of the ABW…and end up paying for it in the long run. Yes, some of that can apply to the raising of girls in general but it’s been my experience that what white women are rewarded for, black women are ridiculed/criticized for. As Danielle said, it’s like our femininity doesn’t count, somehow.What I’m experiencing now is being cast as an ABW by default because I refuse to play any other BW stereotype: hoochie mama, sassy girlfriend, wise mammy, etc. And I admit it…I AM a little pissed off! People keep trying to reduce me to one or two dimensions. It especially pisses me off when BLACK people do this.

  10. BluTopaz says:

    Excellent post and comments, and I am so ita with Ms. Smart’s comment about how so many "urban" Black people feel you are not keeping it real unless you behave like a stereotype. I very briefly dated a guy who did not understand my laid back, refuse to get riled up over nonsense demeanor. Then i met his bitter, cursing, argumentative mother who snapped at me within 10 minutes of meeting me. They both seemed confused that I did not snap back at her. And I don’t think that anyone actually believes the First Lady is an ABW. It’s so easy to put people in a box as Danielle said, and how messed up is it that someone like this guy feels better about himself by labeling someone he does not even know? Michelle is soft=spoken and educated, but to ignorant people It’s like she must have the frying pan ready to go upside Barack’s head if he does not publcily state his love and respect for her and their girls. For so many Black people mutual respect and love is such an alien concept, it’s easier to believe in something ugly and broken. Just so many people wanted to believe Barack was actually checking out that young girl’s derriere a few months ago; like yeah we knew he was a brotha, see him checking out the (underage) honeys and whatnot. A Black man who does not ogle an attractive woman’s body parts is unheard of for some folks. We can be a dysfunctional, messed up group of people sometimes.

  11. DC says:

    With this ridiculous stereotype, one would swear Black women are the only women who get angry. As many angry White women as I’ve encountered at work, school, shopping, driving, in parking lots, at restaurants, online, etc, the persistance of this strereotype about Black women is amazing. I’ve seen way more angry White women than Black women recently, with the PUMAs during the primary elections, the Palin-led KKKampaign rallies, McCain’s crazy townhall ladies, the obnoxious women at the "health care" townhalls, the fools yanking their kids out of school all day just because of a short pep talk speech by the POTUS, the teachers protesting the same speech, and the miscellaneous ones all over the country who have been having a temper tantrum because their queen Palin isn’t president. This meme of Michelle Obama as "angry" is such b.s. I can’t recall her ever saying anything that sounded angry, especially compared to Hillary and her camp during the primaries, not that anything is wrong with all of these women showing their emotions. All the ridiculous double-standard questioning of Justice Sotomayer about her "temperament" was the same old b.s.

  12. I don’t know where that image of Michelle Obama being an ABW came from ? (of course that New Yorker cover). To me she is intelligent, regal, refined, and very very professional. She reminds me of a good number of black women that I know and love.

  13. Serenity says:

    There is nothing wrong with being a ABW. It is that anger that often gets the desired result. But the reference that Pres. Obama is not the sole controller of his Universe because he loves and respects his wife is ridiculous. I supposed if he walked in the White House and ignored his family responsibilities that would make him a stronger president. It’s comments like that that make me angry in the 1st place.Peace!

  14. rjbradle says:

    I’m a black man, married to a strong black woman, and I would love to share this post with a number of brothers I know. I read most of the post and I had to comment on this. I’m in the Army stationed in Germany and I will say 85% of the guys I talk to won’t even look at a black woman because of the ABW stereotype. It really pisses me off when I try to talk to them and can’t get through to them. On the other hand a lot of them have been burned bad by the woman they’ve encountered in their past and they have a valid point to be angry and upset with that woman, but now most of them just have a distorted view of all black woman. This topic has been on my mind for a minute, I just had to acknowledge this post, great post.

  15. Elaine says:

    This is going to sound really stupid; but, while Barack was running for President, my mother made remarks about Michelle’s eye brows. She said her eye brows made her look mean. Too much arch perhaps. Anyway, great post and great comments. I love our strong, compassionate First Lady. She is a great example for young women.

  16. Scipio Africanus says:

    "We reward strength in our community, in our society. Often anger is confused with strength."This is true and it originates from how we’ve tended to define manhood. Not womanhood, but manhood. In this society (and many others, I’d guess) A Real Man is measured by his strength, which is evidenced in the physical, financial, mental, and the art of persuasion. So a man who’s rich or strong or smart (this one can’t stand on it’s own, though – nerds get no love) or a leader is considered a Real Man (of genius?) If you think of anything that usually confers the label of "Real Man" it usually boils down to one of these things, even if that perception is actually mistaken, like with anger being a substitute for strengthI’ve never really bought the idea that black women have been stripped of their femininity, though. Dignity, sure. Respect, yeah. Femininity? Nah. If anything, black women are frequently seen as uber-feminine, to the point where the caricature/cartoony sterotype of the Hood Homegirl is dripping with what can only be called femininity, among other things. "[B]eing a woman worth being chivalrous to": from what I’ve gathered from older family members, chivalry was alive and well in the black community until about 35 or 40 years ago. It’s weird because chivalry can go hand in hand with the dehumanization and disrespect of the object of the chivalry (Mad Men showcases this really well.)

  17. penfold says:

    "But as I got older I learned that the so-called "angry" people were just as soft as I was. That’s why they were so quick to get mad." Is that based on your own "hunches and assumptions"? To paraphrase you "But how could you "know" them unless you actually KNOW them?"

  18. Danielle Belton says:

    @ penfoldUm … I said that in reference to a personal anecdote about my college roommate who I did, in fact, know. I was also referring to other women I have known. I mean, really.

  19. Ego Driven. says:

    Barack respects his woman. And they’re relationship is based on mutual respect. That’s why Barack is far ahead of the game when it comes to manhood. He inherently gets that women are equal to men and he doesn’t give it lip service. Period. It’s the people in power who can’t seem to accept that.

  20. Krys says:

    A year ago i was going through some unpleasant things on my job. i reacted (rightfully) in anger about the situation and vented to two female friends (i thought) who are not black. Instead of empathy, i was told that i was making things harder on myself by being so angry. the problem wasn’t what was happening to me, it was my anger about it. there’s nothing more disheartening when people basically tell you to stop being a stereotype instead of relating to you.

  21. Fran says:

    I think part of the problem with some of the guys stationed in Germany is they have been socialized to believe that women of other races are better than African-American women. We seem to be the only ethnic group that denigrates their own. What other group of people won’t look at their own women? If a white woman or woman of another ethnicity burns a man, they just go find another white woman. If a black woman "burns" them, we are all guilty and so judged. This actually says more about the man than it does the woman. Thank you rjbradle for having our backs, but you are wasting your breath on these black men.

  22. t.tipperthomas says:

    ABW…that heffa was a trick and trip from the first day she stomped down to earth. She allows people to resisit our legitimate claims and calls for support, a moment to break down and a whole bunch of other stuff. She is SBW (strong black woman’s) fraternal yet equally evil twin. i brought some birthday cake from the bakery, sat down with a few books by some feeling brown authors and exorcised that heffa about 5 or 6 years ago. As soon as my husband realized it wasn’t a trick, it has been sooo golden.

  23. MrsT says:

    Yes ABW are real and any black woman can be an ABW from time to time if properly provoked. But there are certain criteria required to be an ABW all the time. Dire social circumstances: poverty, limited education and resources, check. Fractured up-brining, chalked with violence and separation anxiety, check. Single parenthood and a no-good, dead-beat baby-daddy, check. Low-wage employment that works you too many hours and never allows you any time off, even if your kids have swine flu and aren’t allowed in school, check. These are the makings of a real, all the time, don’t F-with her ABW. And none of these things are Michelle Obama, and never have been–that is a fact, not just speculation. So the people who refer to her as such are full of shit for lack of a better non-ABW term.

  24. socialconscience says:

    I am so glad I stumbled upon this site,as a young black female living in the UK I have come up against many of these stereotypes that you are presenting here,it is so refreshing to see others discussing these issues in such a frank manner these are usually things that i have noted from being the token’geek/weird girl’ within a predominantly White community whilst growing up,so to read that someone else has also noted the same labels i have overheard,further makes me think that the struggles we have to face as not only young women but a young black female are worth it if we have a goal to work towards. However,I think the problem is ,sometimes, to do with the way in which we perceive ourselves within which ever community we inhabit as well as the media influences presented to us,I think fundamentally the blame can be placed on us and how much of these ‘influences’ we choose to internalise and which we choose to discard,an example being here in the UK,music from the US is really popular, which often results in us trying to emulate our US counterparts in terms of slang,clothing,lifestyle choices etc when in fact i think we should be embracing the positive parts of our own cultures/communities and maybe only choose to emulate the positive parts of your culture presented to us rather than the negative,the same premise could be applied to the ABW instead of focusing on all the negative images that are banded throughout the media why not choose to reinvent our versions of self?

  25. Stacey says:

    Excellent article!I talk about this topic all the time because I work with and social with many whites as well as blacks. I have lived in predominetly black and predominately whites areas. I have found that many times people want you to be that stereotype so bad that they actually say things implying that you are when you are not even exhibiting those traits and I have found it mostly with white men. I notice that sometimes they will say oh I dont want you to beat me up (mind you I was the one to keep away from fights) and Im like what gave them that impression, because I never threaten to hit anyone not even in a joke so I end up chaulking it up to me being black, curvy(fat, lol) and somewhat sassy. lol But Im also highly educated, loving, friendly, kind, caring, listening and people seem to want to alway be around me and get to know me so I guess I cant be that angry. I think it comes down to peoples comfort zones, its more comfortable to try and put me in a certain box so that you know how to approach me. But I say just appraoch and stop trying to figure me out before you get to know me. I notice that alot of my white friends and associates, especially men, when they are just meeting me or getting to know me, will use slang…but guess what I dont use slang, lol. I speak pretty properly and was accussed many times of trying to act or be white or speak white as a child, which was not the case-we were not allowed to speak with slang in my home growning up. Although I do know slang and I knew it as a child I just prefered to speak the same all the time. But back to the topic….people want to be able to relate so they go to the ideas or images that they have or have seen and thats what they use as a gauge for you until they know better.

  26. dewfish says:

    Black guy here. Excellent post by the way. I agree that that the majority of the anger in both men and women is the result of insecurity and fear. "I’ll get them before they get me". I’ve never seen anything remotely "angry" about Michelle Obama. There are men just as angry and ill-suited for relationships as the women you mentioned. Some just have to get past the name-calling and talk to each other as adults.

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