- AWBS seems to be attributed to Black women only while other races are “feisty” or “spicy”
- Black women are judged the actions of a few while White people are judged on their individual actions
- Unconscious bias against Black women driven by the media exacerbates the negative view of Black women
- Black women feel pressure to always be pleasing but when they exhibit frustration they are instantly classified as AWBS, I call this pseudo-AWBS
- Some suggestions for addressing this stereotype is making better choices in who you surround yourself with and releasing hurt
ABWS or Angry Black Woman Syndrome is good for some laughs in a comedy routine, movie or sitcom, but the reality of it is disconcerting and anguishing at best. I’m not going to debate whether this condition exists because I think that fact that we have been given our own brand of anger, frankly, makes me angry. Every other race on earth that have powerful women are referred to as “feisty” “spicy” “passionate”, etc. Even Margaret Thatcher, heralded as a pioneer for women, was given a cool name, “The Iron Lady”. Black women, they’re just angry. Now I do agree there are some angry Black women out there along with angry White women, angry Asian women, angry Italian women, you see where I’m going. In my lifetime I’ve come across more angry White women than I have Black women. The angry White women I encountered were mainly at work. I once worked with a White man whose wife you could hear screaming through the phone whenever she called him at work, every day.
I would like to frame this conversation in a different context. I believe the stereotype of AWBS has created a stress in our community that has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. For those Black women who aren’t in a constant state of anger there is undue stress put upon them to always remain calm, never express themselves and to always be perceived as pleasant. Does society’s need for us to constantly remain pleasant result in random acts of frustration that are instantly turned into AWBS? The constant judgement and scrutiny results in what I like to call pseudo AWBS. Pseudo is when something appears one way but under the surface it really isn’t. In my field of work a person can have a pseudo-aneurysm. Not good, but not the same thing as a “true” aneurysm.
For example, when a White man (John) pushes back in a meeting he’s a risk-taker. When a White woman (Emily) pushes back in the same fashion she’s a bitch. When a Black woman (Diana) pushes back using the same words and tone it’s a Black woman thing. It’s as if people are always waiting for the angry Black woman to come leaping out of the closet screaming at any moment. When John or Emily act in a perceived inappropriate manner it’s a reflection on John and Emily. When Diana acts in a similar fashion it is a reflection on every Black woman in the building, the company and America. Take for example Evelyn Lozada throwing a wine bottle across the room in Basketball Wives. I was in a meeting less than a week after that when I was stating my case with support and articulation, not angry but powerfully, along with others. I was asked to not throw a wine bottle across the table. John wasn’t asked to not drug his friend and leave him on a roof. Emily wasn’t called out. But I was asked, in a “joking” manner, to not do something they saw some random Black woman doing on television. AWBS is exacerbated by what people see on TV and in the movies. It’s made worse when people you work with are in their 30’s and 40’s and have never worked with a Black woman who was their equal in every way (pay, education, level). They are unconsciously biased by media images. This is the premise of Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking.
Here’s the conundrum, I have to be very careful how I respond to the wine bottle comment. If I laugh at it, I give silent permission for it to continue. If I give as good as I get, I’m AWBS. If I walk out the room and ignore it, oops, back there at AWBS. I have to choose the path that makes me look the least angry, because I certainly don’t want that behavior to continue. We teach people how to treat us. As a Black woman I have very little recourse in an environment that doesn’t value my performance as much as it values my silence. Oh did I mention that on top of all of this Black women have the least amount of wealth, the worst health, and are the least likely to get married or even be in a long-term relationship. Black men dates outside of their race more than men of any other race. Some researchers took a Facebook app called Are You Interested and did a quick study, while not official it showed Black women are the least desired by White, Asian, Latino and Black men. It showed some other interesting results such as Black, White, and Latino men prefer Asian women while Asian men prefer Latino women.
Let’s look at this gist of this. I go to work I get it. I go home I get it. I go to the movies or watch TV I get it. I go on a date I get it. And in the face of all of it I have to be pleasant. When the tiniest bit of frustration leaks through, BOOM, I’m an angry Black woman. The pressure to be pleasing and perfect is in itself enough to create AWBS (or pseudo AWBS). I once made plans with a very nice man for a date. I had to reschedule once, but I called on the day to confirm since the plans changed for me. He didn’t return my call until about the time we were supposed to meet up. Needless to say I gave up on him and went elsewhere. He called to say he couldn’t make it. I returned his call the next day, he apologized saying he had to work. All I said was “oh” before he jumped down my throat defending himself. He was anticipating anger that never came and wasn’t there. The next thing I said was “okay. I’ll speak to you later. Good bye”. I waited for him to say good bye back so I wouldn’t be accused of hanging up on him. That really says more about him than it does me, but in his version of the story I bet you I’m the villain and I said much more than “oh”. This is a reflection of the women he has chosen in the past, not of his experience with me.
Now what if you are an angry woman who happens to be Black? The toll constant anger takes on your body is horrific. The level of cortisol, the stress hormones, goes up and can cause massive weight gain. Your blood pressure goes up. Your peace of mind is wrecked. Can I say it, please. You are inadvertently making it harder for the rest of us. We know you don’t mean to and it’s unfair. But society judges all of us by one of us. You probably have every right to be angry. Maybe you have been hurt by guy after guy. It’s time to choose something different. Look at yourself, what are you bringing into your life that is causing you to be angry. If men are repeatedly hurting you, choose different. It’s like that guy who preemptively got upset with me. If he was ready for a fight it was because he had chosen women who would fight, it had nothing to do with me.
I know I’ve said a great deal here. My point at the end of the day is AWBS impacts sufferers and non-sufferers alike. It causes perfectly lovely, rational black women to exhibit pseusdo-AWBS while it physically and mentally damages beautiful Black women trying to find some peace but maybe don’t know how. This is not to say I’ve never been angry. I have. Ragingly angry. But it’s a temporary state or moment that had a reasonable catalyst and a visible end. When I was with someone who made me angry more than they made me happy, I had to take a serious look at my choices. I came across a movie called Diary of Tired Black Man in which Black men talk about how tired they are and Black women talk about why they are angry if they were angry. It was an interesting piece that I found riddled with double standards, yet it was thoughtfully done while not being inflammatory toward Black women. Only one Black man admitted that maybe he should choose different types of women, but he likes them feisty. Black women are socialized to be strong and the head of the household given the history of Black people in this country. For Black women vulnerability and womanhood has taken a back seat to keeping food on the table. That has caused a shift in the relations between Black men and women along with how Black women are perceived by Whites. It seems we are in a game we can’t win, don’t know the rules and don’t want to play.
What’s the solution to AWBS? Here are some ideas:
- Black women, it is time to address and release the hurt. There are those who feel abandoned, hurt, criticized, etc. We change ourselves by changing our surroundings. I don’t know any Black women who don’t struggle against stereotypes and I also don’t know any who are in a constant state of anger. Embrace vulnerability and choose people in your life who are deserving of it. When you change the people around you you change yourself. Winners beget winners.
- Black men, change who you date and I mean more than just the race. When a Black man chooses to date a White woman he’s typically choosing a woman with a different personality in general who happens to be White. Why not apply the same logic to the Black women you encounter?
- White women, it is so not cool for you to jump on the band wagon and tell Black women what you think is wrong with us. You don’t walk in our shoes and we don’t walk in yours. You don’t want us generalizing and saying you’re weak; don’t generalize us and say we’re angry. There are so many issues such as the pay gap and professional advancement that impact both groups, we would be so much more powerful if we worked together.
- White men, stop believing what you see on TV and don’t call us “girlfriend” or snap your fingers and twist your neck when you speak to us. We get it’s an attempt to relate to us, but it’s something you saw on TV or in a movie, don’t repeat it. I understand the King’s English and am capable of having a professional conversation that doesn’t look like an episode of In Living Color.
- All, there are positive and beautiful Black women out there, please don’t think of them as anomalies or say “you’re not like other Black women”. Just enjoy their presence, friendship and love.
- Media, just stop.
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