Column: What the Angry Black Woman stereotype ignores
FILE - In this Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018, file photo, Serena Williams, right, talks with referee Brian Earley during the women's final of the U.S. Open tennis tournament against Naomi Osaka, of Japan, in New York. Some black women say Serena Williams’ experience at the U.S. Open final resonates with them. They say they are often forced to watch their tone and words in the workplace in ways that men and other women are not. Otherwise, they say, they risk being branded an "Angry Black Woman." (AP Photo/Adam Hunger, File)
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Most people are aware of the “Angry Black Woman” trope.  She is bitter, angry, rolls her neck, rolls her eyes, and responds with snappish comments to anyone who dares to cross her.  She is threatening and can go off at any minute at the slightest infraction.  This trope follows Black women everywhere they go, whether it be the grocery store, their children’s classrooms, at work, or in their very own romantic relationships.

The “ABW” stereotype is like a thick, heavy blanket Black women can never truly take off.

Black girls are labeled as “sassy” or “having attitude” long before they get to the age of 10.  In a powerful article in The Atlantic, journalist Adrianne Greene discusses a large-scale study that finds that Black girls are perceived as being older than they are as early as five years of age.  Surveyed participants rated Black girls as being more knowledgeable about sex, less vulnerable, and needing less protection than their white female peers of the same age.

The Angry Black Woman stereotype ignores the reality of anger

Other research points to Black girls being sexualized and objectified at younger ages than their white peers.

As the article points out, the long-term consequences of “adultifying” young Black girls are that they do not get to be children for very long.  They are held to higher behavioral standards than their white peers and their punishments at school and in legal environments are harsher.  This also makes them more vulnerable to abuse.  As a Black woman with a 10-year-old black daughter, this makes me angry and scared for her.  It is unjust and unfair.  Earlier studies found similar adultification of Black boys.

Stop Problematizing Black Female Anger

Black female anger is often weaponized as a negative thing, however, justifiable anger can actually be empowering.  For example, anger often serves as an internal signal that something is wrong, that an injustice has occurred, or that action must be taken.  After all, we have much to be angry about.  Gender inequality, unfair treatment based on race, health disparities, black infant mortality rates, racism are but a few angering things.

As a psychologist who helps her clients, many of them African American girls and women, get in touch with their emotions, I find that so many Black women hide their anger so that they do not fit the “ABW” stereotype.  But this is to their detriment.  Anger buried inside the body can become many things such as depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, heart disease, autoimmune issues, over-eating, or alcohol and drug abuse.

It can also lead to many other physical and behavioral outlets we use to deal with the anger and hurt that come from internalizing the ABW dehumanizing trope.  Ignoring anger is also invaliding.  It sends the message that one should not be angry, when anger is the appropriate emotional response to have.

Anger can be a healthy response

I encourage my clients to get in touch with their anger and deal with it in healthy ways.  Talking about it, reaching out for support, exercising, meditating, prayer, and engaging in self-care are all important ways of coping with anger.   Anger can be channeled into a healthy call to action and serve as a motivator to make powerful changes in our communities and to fight consistent injustices faced by our children, families, and ourselves.

The Civil Rights Movement exemplifies how powerful collective Black anger can be and how it can be utilized to make lasting changes.  Anger is a complicated emotion.  It rarely stands alone.

Underneath all of that anger is hurt, pain, frustration, and other important emotions that should not be ignored.  These powerful feelings should be acknowledged and dealt with.

They are healthy reactions to the things in which we are dealing.  Expressing these feelings appropriately can allow us to channel them more effectively.  Dealing with our anger is essential to our physical and emotional well-being.

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