Kennedy Horton is a sophomore at MU studying English. She is an opinion columnist who writes about student life and social justice for The Maneater.
The “angry black woman” stereotype is one that is perpetuated in all forms of media, primarily white, which is the majority of multimedia we consume. Sometimes it’s subtle, other times it’s overt. It represents the archetype that black women are inherently flippant or sassy, and therefore always brazenly loud and ill-mannered.
It’s a derogatory, mythical concept that only further digs the hole of emotional limitation the world puts black women in. By only accepting black women when we are happy or smiling, we tend to be those things even less. It’s a frustrating and vicious cycle.
There is no such thing as the angry black woman, only an angry black woman. She’s simply a woman who happens to be angry and who happens to be black. She could be angry about anything, whether it’s irritation from a friend to the fury of seeing another black person killed by the police. Whether an outsider thinks her anger is justified or not could not be more of a moot point. Everyone gets mad. Everyone should be able to express anger in a healthy way. Black women’s “mad,” however, is seen as so much more dangerous than everyone else’s, and so we always have to express discontent carefully.
We have to keep our voices light and our faces calm throughout our displeasure. I can’t count how many times I’ve been talking to a non-black person about an aggravation, and they put both their hands up and say to me, “Woah, calm down,” when I was calm. It’s easy to get excited when telling a story, so I may have raised my voice half an octave. The person is “afraid” of my anger, potential or present, whether it applies to them or not, because it’s seen as hostile instead of normal.
Since black women do not have the same freedom to communicate our vexations and have them taken seriously, we tend to have more pent-up, negative emotions. It’s cyclical. A black woman gets mad about something. She cannot express herself because she doesn’t want to gain the “angry black woman” label. So, she suppresses it. She puts a smile on her face, trying to pass along the message that she doesn’t pose a threat. Eventually, these suppressed layers build on one another, making her more wound up, quicker to exasperation and more prone to anger than another non-black woman or person. But, no one would ever really know. You’d be shocked at how often a black woman keeps it together for the non-black woman’s sake.
Professional black woman and elegant queen Solange Knowles sang, “You got the right to be mad.” Systemic oppression due to race coupled with systemic oppression due to gender, not to mention oppression of black women who are disabled, queer, Muslim or otherwise marginalized, is exhausting. Seeing your people marginalized, murdered and sexually assaulted on a regular basis is exhausting. Often, these issues are only talked about if we force people to talk about them.
Furthermore, being criticized for trying to assimilate while concurrently being criticized for not assimilating enough is also exhausting. To top it all off, not being able to have that exhaustion recognized as valid is simply infuriating. I’m never anything short of amazed by how gracefully we as black women handle ourselves, despite the lack of empathy we receive.
It is an act of dehumanization to not let us be furious, mad or outraged. It’s unfair to claim fear at the first sign of our displeasure, no matter how minute. Black women feel pain, love, weakness and strength, just like any other human. We can be strong, meek, afraid and brave, just like any other human. We deserve to be treated as such.