Myth vs. Reality: The Stereotypical "Angry Black Woman"?


* How much of this is myth? How much is reality? How much of a role does the continued media propagation of the stereotype play in stifling it? While the percentage of Black women who are “outspoken” is disparate when comparing them to other ethnic groups — others also employ “passive aggressiveness” which is equally a turnoff. So let’s not demonize Black women.

However, the notorious Black Woman Attitude is real. For those that it doesn’t apply to, that’s cool, but I think the media (especially movies and TV shows) makes non-Black people think that all Black women are this way.

BTW — I am able to handle it, as my family is full of women who have no problem arguing, fussing, cussing, and letting you know where they stand — with a nasty attitude in some cases. However, some people are intimidated and/or put off by it.
First it was the “mammy” image, then the hypersexualized images of the 60s and 70s. Now this, as the stereotype?

Thoughts? Read on.

— MDW

The Angry Black Woman
Tart-Tongued?
Or Driven & No-Nonsense?
She Is A Stereotype That Amuses Some And Offends Others
By Vanessa E. Jones, Globe Staff
April 20, 2004

Stereotypes about black women have coursed through pop culture for centuries. They range from the smiling, asexual, and often obese Mammy to the promiscuous Jezebel who lures men with her sexual charms. But the one getting a major workout these days is the angry black woman.

“It’s the workhorse,” says Gail Wyatt, author of the acclaimed 1997 book on black female stereotypes “Stolen Women: Reclaiming Our Sexuality, Taking Back Our Lives.” “The black woman who’s achievement-oriented, kind of no-nonsense, overworked, exhausted, not particu-

larly kind or compassionate, but very driven.” This tart-tongued, neck-rolling, loud-mouthed sister reigns on reality television. You see elements of her in Alicia Calaway of “Survivor: All-Stars,” who indulged in a temperamental bout of finger wagging during an argument in 2001’s “Survivor: The Australian Outback.” Coral Smith, who rules with an iron tongue on MTV’s “Real World/Road Rules Challenge: The Inferno,” browbeat one female castmate so badly a week ago that she challenged Smith to a fight. Then there’s Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth of “The Apprentice,” who rode the angry-black-woman stereotype to the covers of People

and TV Guide magazines even as she made fellow African-American businesswomen wince. Looking for comic relief? In the fictitious worlds of film and television, it’s usually found in the form of a raving ABW. Think Wanda Sykes, whose character on HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” gives Larry David a regular tongue-lashing. Or Eve’s role as Terri, who shouts her way through 2002’s “Barbershop” and its recent sequel, “Barbershop 2: Back in Business.”

“You see this character so often in movies,” Wyatt says. “They’re always telling somebody off. The media plays a very strong role in perpetuating the stereotype.”

Today the ABW is so ingrained in society that the tag gets slapped on any African-American woman in a position of power. Consider National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, who was shown on TV and in newspapers looking monumentally peeved last month after former counterterrorism adviser Richard Clarke began chastising his former boss for failing to adequately fight terrorism. It was a revelation to see her smiling in the face of a barrage of questions when she testified on April 8 in front of the 9/11 Commission.

Now a new book by a trio of black women in their 20s and 30s seems poised to prompt debate about whether this stereotype is toothless enough to joke about. It’s called “The Angry Black Woman’s Guide to Life,” and its 146 pages are filled with ironic chapter titles such as “I’m an ABW and Proud of It” and helpful hints on how to deal with anger-inducing lovers, children, friends, and co-workers. The authors even have a website, angryblackwoman.com, that crowned Manigault-Stallworth its first ABW of the month.

It’s humor that teeters on the edge of impropriety. On the one hand, coauthor Denene Millner says, “We didn’t want people to read the cover and stereotype all black women as angry like the rest of society tends to do.” On the other, she says, “This is real. Everybody completely gets it when we say `angry black women’: black women, black men, white men. What we wanted to show to our reader is there’s a lot of humor in this.”

Some women do get it.

“The book gave a name to some of the things I have felt or experienced as a black woman,” writes an Amazon.com reviewer from Albany, N.Y. “It was validation of a sort to read that my life experiences are part of the greater experience of a black woman.”

But the ABW label is so hateful to others that they fail to see the joke.

“I don’t connect to stereotypes about black women that I don’t think are positive,” says Wyatt, 59. In her mind the myth of the ABW simply pigeonholes and marginalizes African-Americans. “To combine black women with `angry black women’ limits our ability to understand black women’s context. Some women are angry because they are tired or they have been overlooked or they’re not taken seriously or they are being rejected. What we don’t want is to convey that that’s the way black women ought to act.”

The authors of “Guide to Life” don’t encourage black women to verbally act out. One chapter is a practical career guide that shows how a stereotypical ABW would handle various challenges on the job, and how an angry but astute businesswoman should do things.

“We said, `Hey, what’s so bad about being angry?”‘ says Angela Burt-Murray, another coauthor of the book. “There’s plenty to be angry about. Anger has sparked change in history. If we’re able to harness our anger and use our anger for good, we’d be able to get things done.”

The idea for the humor book was hatched last summer when Millner, Burt-Murray, and Mitzi Miller worked for the now-defunct magazine Honey. The editors needed an idea for the humor column. Burt-Murray shot out an interoffice e-mail pitching angry

blackwoman.com, “where people can sign up to have someone that did them wrong cursed out good and righteous for a low fee of $19.95 a month — cause you know don’t nobody curse somebody out like a sistah.” Everyone laughed, and Millner, Burt-Murray, and Miller thought the idea was so good they pitched it to publishers. The book reached store shelves late last month. Soon the editors left for other magazine jobs: Burt-Murray became executive editor at Teen People, Miller was hired as an associate editor at Jane, and Millner began working as an articles editor at Parenting. They completed the book by gathering every Saturday at Millner or Burt-Murray’s home in South Orange, N.J.

During brainstorming sessions, the authors created different degrees of angry black womanness. Singer Mary J. Blige and comedian Mo’Nique are examples of the “Curse-You-Out-in-a-Heartbeat” ABW. Rice is an “In-Denial” ABW who “has a difficult time tapping into her anger.” They laud historical figures Sojourner Truth, Rosa Parks, and Harriet Tubman for using their anger to spark social change.

But Wyatt believes depicting legends in these terms belittles their achievements. “I think she was passionate,” Wyatt says of Tubman. “I think she spoke with a lot of conviction. When you do that, why do you have to be angry?”

What everyone can agree upon is that Rice is the current poster child for the stereotype, with her gravity-defying hair and stern face.

“She looks pretty grim,” Wyatt says. “That’s the way people are accustomed to seeing black women in official positions. They look kind of heartless: power-suited but ill-suited for a relationship.”

Millner hopes that recent events have elevated Rice from an “In-Denial” ABW to a “Silent-Stewer-That-Plots-Your-Demise.” “I really do believe she’s being pushed out as the fall guy for the shortcomings of the administration,” Millner says. “If she’s not mad, she needs to be.”

The authors spend the first pages of “Guide to Life” explaining that the ABW stereotype exists and persists to dismiss black women. If a woman is silent or in agreement, she’s accepted. Once she raises her voice, her opinion no longer counts. “You cannot make valid points if your voice is elevated,” Burt-Murray says, “and people just feel like you’re a raging lunatic.”

That’s why Burt-Murray isn’t surprised Rice smiled through the 9/11 Commission hearings: “She is well aware that she cannot afford to lose it in front of this panel because the moment that she does, they stop hearing her and just start characterizing her any way that they want to.”

Enter the tempered ABW. Just as Eve’s character Terri uses meditation to stave off her screaming fits in “Barbershop 2,” the authors advise that ABWs unfurl their rage only at appropriate times. The “black out,” as the authors call the verbal ABW blowout, has its place. But Millner cautions, “You can’t bring it out in every case. It’s like the woman who cried wolf.”

Too bad the women of the pseudo-realistic world of reality TV don’t take that advice. In her blow-by-blow of last week’s “Real World” argument on MTV.com, Coral admits that she exploded in rage: “I went off like somebody shot me in the arm with insanity,” she says. But often these reality-show characters are producer-driven, built on age-old stereotypes, Millner says.

How else do you explain the phenomenon called Omarosa, who one moment is complaining about being hit in the head by plaster on her show and the next moment is playing basketball with kids? Manigault-Stallworth didn’t respond to requests for an interview, but she told reporters in the flurry of appearances after her “firing” from “The Apprentice” that she was in an emergency room for 10 hours because the plaster had caused a concussion.

“They set her up,” Wyatt says. “She looked like she was a slacker, she looked like she was conniving and manipulative — as if the rest of them aren’t. She wasn’t anybody you had any feelings for, and I think when that happens it’s easier to discount people.”

By the eighth week of “The Apprentice,” Alfred Edmond, who writes a weekly online column about the show for Black Enterprise magazine, was griping that “Omarosa’s behavior projects the most negative stereotype of black women in corporate America: “angry, conniving, defensive and impossible to work with.” When she returned for the last two episodes of “The Apprentice” and undermined a group project by lying, it was easy to dismiss her as a lunatic. But a preview at the tail end of Thursday’s final episode hinted that she’s riding her reviled “character” to a second-season appearance.

Her crazy-like-a-fox activities left the authors of “Guide to Life” no choice but to name Manigault-Stallworth their first ABW of the month. They appropriately categorized her as a “Silent-Stewer-That-Plots-Your-Demise.”

“Nobody could stick it to them the way she could and dismiss them,” Millner says, barely hiding her admiration. “I got a kick out of [her] looking at those folks and shaking them with `I’m not the way you think I am. I’m not going to come at you the way you expect me to come at you.’ “

© Copyright 2006 Globe Newspaper Company.

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