My ex-boyfriend was the first person to call me an “angry Black woman.” We were having an argument about his lack of commitment and my need for assurance that he didn't have one foot out the door. He knew as soon as he uttered those words it was the absolute worst thing he could have said. On my side, the absolute worst action after that was staying with him. But experience had taught me that every time I was direct or spoke my mind, it put folks on edge.
In her 2015 book, The Sisters Are Alright: Changing the Broken Narrative of Black Women in America, Tamara Winfrey Harris explains how stereotypes follow us. The most common one is the angry Black woman. As a middle-aged woman with a strong sense of self and assertiveness, I’ve realized this is quite a cross to bear.
Come inside my head. We have a situation. It shows up when a scatterbrained supervisor makes more work for himself and blames you. Do you introduce him to the confident and sharp individual you are, even though the price of speaking up will be him branding you as someone with an “attitude”?
And what about the saying, “you know how they are”? I wish to clear up the distortion. When you show a lack of common courtesy and are surprised when I speak up, what reaction were you expecting? And let's talk about job satisfaction. A responsible person wants to do her job to the best of her ability. If she is sent on other tasks, it will cause frustration.
No more hiding
When my ex called me an “angry Black woman,” it made me feel unbelievably shitty and sad—shitty because this was coming from someone who claimed to love me, and sad when I suppressed my response to the damaging comments and remained passive.
I was the best, most beautiful girlfriend in the world, and the cycle continued. If I told him it wasn’t cool to leave when my power was out, he called me a bitch. My addressing the issue turned into his chance to blame the victim. I defended myself and he denied, claiming I didn’t appreciate anything, and that's why he wasn’t trying to fix it—total incomprehension hardened by arrogance. He wasn’t Black, by the way, which would raise another objection: I should appreciate that a privileged white man would want me. A single mom with two kids. Do I remain meek and make no waves to stop people from talking about my “attitude”?
“I buried the girl I was because she ran into all kinds of trouble,” Roxane Gay writes in her memoir Hunger. This book is an intimate portrait of the act of violence that caused her to change her body. It’s her message of the cruelty of the world. I have moments when I know my life would be easier if I hide my intellect, but that’s not the life I want to live. I want a life of clarity, assertiveness, and smarts. I want love, sensitivity, honesty, and vulnerability from a partner. And I strive to have that. As a woman of color, I know this often seems like a fool’s errand.
Something truly mine
Let’s go back to The Sisters Are Alright. As Harris points out, comedians like Kevin Hart use Black women as material for stand-up. Preachers offer sermons on how to make us marriage material. I’ll just say it: I am not a lonely, disloyal harridan. I am a sociable, loyal, and caring woman. Harris rightly declares, “We deserve better. We should love ourselves and each other.”
The world tells me I don’t matter because I am unmarried. But it’s not every woman’s mission in life to become a wife. Perhaps she desires to find herself. I want something for myself that is truly mine. It is wrong for me to seek personal ambition instead of a man to take care of me and my family? Our culture demeans us if we are successful or outspoken. Apparently, our independence is man repellent.
Some people might say I can’t write about these stereotypes—can’t write about some Black men, like Tyrese Gibson, who bash our independence because pointing this out is like a betrayal. I can't write that I am a confident, vivacious, intelligent being without some entitled, insecure male claiming I am “sassy” or “feisty.” Or “woke.” I’ve been woke since birth. “You know how we are.”
What I choose
As the great Michelle Obama states in her memoir Becoming, “What I won’t allow myself to do, though, is to become cynical.” Every day I, too, remain open to possibility. I possess the energy to smile. I am not broken and I choose happiness.
This is a month of Black History. Our resilience, our experiences, our contributions to the world—even if they’re not pretty or perfect—are important.