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.
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.