Taking back the Angry Black Woman

Opinion by Mysia Anderson
Oct. 13, 2015, 9:00 a.m.

An extremely abbreviated list of some of the things that make me angry:

Misogynoir. Misogyny. Interpersonal racism. Institutional racism. Intergenerational trauma. Sexism. Heterosexism. Murder. Non-intersectional feminism. The school to prison pipeline. Transphobia. White supremacy. Vulturistic capitalism. Pornographic poverty photographs. Belittlement of mental illness. Police brutality. Fetishization. Child abuse. The food-industrial complex. Gun violence. The criminalization of sex work. Colonialism. Slavery. Rape.

These realities are upsetting and contribute to the violence experienced by people, known and unknown, whom I love.

I am angry.

I am an Angry Black Woman.

I am owning the title and assassinating every attempt to use the term against me. For far too long, I have been told and advised to not be “that angry Black woman” and to stop fitting a stereotype. I have borne witness to others hurling the three words “Angry Black Woman” at women like salt to a wound. I have seen powerful women shrink in embarrassment or force a smile. I have seen Black women choose their words carefully and walk on eggshells, because they know that any sign of passion means they are the Angry Black Woman.  

It is time for us to take the Angry Black Woman back.

When used by others as an insult, the controlling image of the Angry Black Woman has caused Black women to feel isolated, humiliated and suffocated for far too long. A controlling image is more than a stereotype. It’s a prophecy everyone is looking for Black women to fulfill; therefore, whenever a Black woman even raises her voice, she automatically is seen as: intimidating, scary, ill-tempered, feisty, wrathful, bitter and ultimately the “Angry Black Woman” who must shrink into her controlling image.

In “Behind the Mask of the Strong Black Woman,” Tamara Beauboeuf-Lafontant describes controlling images as representations that inform “what is seen and believed about [a marginalized identity] and, when internalized, profoundly [influence] the self-perceptions of the marginalized.”

There are three main controlling images of Black womanhood that were birthed from the minstrel stage: the Sapphire, the Jezebel and the Mammy. The Mammy is the asexual, round, motherly Black woman figure who typically cared for children. The Jezebel was the over-sexualized, un-rapable Black woman whose body was always available for sexual encounters. Lastly, the Sapphire is the Angry Black woman.

The Sapphire is the neck-rolling, finger waving, “ball-crushing” Black woman who is always angry and upset. She has no problem emasculating Black men, and she is never worthy of the protection the construct of womanhood affords.

She the one your non-Black friend is referencing when they snap their finger, twist their neck and say, “Oh-no-you-didn’t.” This reenactment serves as an insult to the Black women whose identity they are choosing to wear in jest. It is a conjuring of the Angry Black Woman that only they can complete without scrutiny.

The conjuring of the Angry Black Woman also occurs in the New York Times article titled “Wrought in Rhimes’s Image: Viola Davis Plays Shonda Rhimes’s Latest Tough Heroine,” by Alessandra Stanley.  Stanley opens the piece stating “When Shonda Rhimes writes her autobiography, it should be called “How to Get Away With Being an Angry Black Woman.”

Stanley then continues her piece by accusing Rhimes of creating shows about Angry Black Women, and she glosses over the intentional nuance and complexity of the characters. In fact, Stanley has no idea that she is exhibiting misogynoir when she casts the Black women on screen into a controlling image just because they get angry. They are passionate leading roles, and I wonder if Stanley would have said the same if Rhimes wrote television shows that starred white men.

If the constant insults from entertainment, media and interpersonal relationships were not enough, Black women experience the same scrutiny from members in the Black community. It is one thing when the dominant society polices Black women, but it is another when we begin policing ourselves and policing each other. In a world where Black women experience state violence, communal violence and intimate violence all at the same time, we have a right to be angry.

Our anger reminds us that we are up for the fight and that we are able to fight for ourselves even when there is no one else standing by our sides. Our shared anger validates our experiences and produces community and understanding.

Our anger keeps us going, and we should never have to give it up.

It is time to take back the Angry Black Woman and reappropriate her as a rallying cry.


Contact Mysia Anderson at mysia ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Mysia Anderson '17 is a sophomore majoring in African & African American studies. She is from Miami, Florida and is an unapologetic Black feminist. She enjoys poems about love, free food, and dancing to Beyoncé. You can contact Mysia at [email protected].

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