Angry Black Woman Syndrome

2016-03-16 22:22

In the past year, I’ve been called an “angry Black woman” a lot more than my naive post-democratic mind could’ve ever anticipated. Although I had previously been exposed to this term, what always seemed to baffle me was the context in which it was often said. In my experience, it was never in a situation where a woman was actually angry but rather, outspoken. So I never quite understood the concept enough to entertain it from an informed perspective, until I was enlightened by a fellow Black woman...

Angry, Black woman

/'a?gri blak 'w?m?n/

noun

  1. a vocal Black woman.

Imagine that.

Now, acknowledging this outrageous classification within shared experiences, over and above my own, it was all the same. I was no longer an unadulterated product of democracy, I was yet another Black woman, in a predominantly White supremacist and/or male society. I was a statistic.

Suddenly, the words “angry Black woman”, whether directed towards me or another woman of colour, became a negative trigger. A negative trigger that, each time, evoked a stir of emotions that somewhat validated this silly statement that I was "angry" - and simply by virtue of the ignorance on which it was founded. These words evoked those emotions because I realised that this was beyond just me. It was an attack on other people like me, from my forefathers, right down to upcoming generations.

To be more elaborate, the context in which Black women hear these words is often when they are being vocal about the challenges they face as a minority. It is often when they are vocal about the kind of treatment they deserve at work, in relation to the treatment they’re currently receiving. It is when they are vocal about the kind of salary they should be paid, in relation to other colleagues holding the same position. Or even when they are vocal about the Black sales lady at the supermarket, who always attends to and prioritises the White customer regardless of who came first.

So really, how can we not be “angry”?

Over the course of this year, or rather, these past few months, we’ve all borne witness to the unapologetic vocalisation of racial discrimination on public platforms. From harsh sentiments expressed by the public, to the elitist remarks expressed by even the most esteemed news anchors. But no matter how overtly or subliminally racism has chosen to rear its ugly head, what we have also borne witness to is the phenomenon that a racial awakening is finally in progression.

White people have always been very vocal, we all know and admire this. The phenomenon, however, is in Black folk finally retaliating with a bold stance against mental oppression; and retaliating loudly and proudly, using the kind of voice that makes White people uncomfortable enough to quieten us back into passiveness by calling us angry Black people.

An example of a woman who did this, is Viola Davis. What's more, she also made history by becoming the first African American woman to win an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series.

    In her acceptance speech, she opened with a quote from Harriet Tubman, saying:

“In my mind I see a line and over that line I see green fields and lovely flowers and beautiful White women with their arms stretched out to me over that line. But I can’t seem to get there no how. I can’t seem to get over that line.”
  She then ended off with a personal remark, saying:
“The only thing that separates women of colour from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.”

  She went on to thank the screenwriters for redefining what it means to be a woman, beautiful, sexy and Black, even acknowledging her fellow actresses of colour for taking “us” over that line. However, it would seem although many were inspired, others were unimpressed. Like Nancy Lee Grahn, star of ‘General Hospital’, whom in a series of tweets, expressed the following sentiments:

“I wish I loved #ViolaDavis Speech, but I thought she should have let @shondarhimes write it. #Emmys
  She responded to another tweet by saying:
“@nxssy I do 2. I think she’s the bees knees but she’s elite of TV performers. Brilliant as she is. She has never been discriminated against.” 
  Then hit the nail in the coffin with this one:
“@MelioraEsq and I heard harriet y Tubman [sic] and I thought it’s a f***ing Emmy for G**’s sake [sic]. She wasn’t digging thru a tunnel.”
  After ‘Black Twitter” took it to the streets, she later expressed her remorse with these somewhat heartfelt words:
“I apologize for my earlier tweets and now realize I need to check my own privilege. My intention was not to take this historic and important moment from Viola Davis or other women of colour but I realize that my intention doesn’t matter here because that is what I ended up doing. I learned a lot tonight and I admit that there are still some things I don’t understand but I am trying to and will let this be a learning experience for me.”

Perhaps discussing the subject is exasperating for White people and every once in a while, it becomes standard to take a well-deserved break from defending your privilege. But as Black people, this is our life. There is no break.

Even now, years after being declared a democratic country, we still bear the brunt of past injustices on our shoulders while persisting on our long walk to freedom. We still experience your strong repugnance towards us in invisibly demarcated spaces. We still feel your discomfort in our presence, more so in numbers. What’s more, we are still oddly affected by the reluctant smile you give when you do us what you think is the favour of passing your greeting.

All this and more, yet we get rebuked for creating intimate healing spaces where we can voice our grievances in the comfort of people who share the same pain. We get rebuked for daring to empower ourselves, daring to become economically literate, making efforts to preserve our heritage or devising ways to patronise and advance Black-owned businesses. We get rebuked and we get to be called the racist ones, when that claim in fact holds no gravity because that position requires the kind of power Black people lack.

The kind of power that makes it acceptable – and therefore, possible – for a group of people to develop the concept of Orania – a whole community for White people who seek the very same kind of space Black people do, on a larger scale and for no reason other than ‘just because’. See, that’s what we call “exasperating”. The fact that there’s always a group of privileged people that won’t fight to share our struggle but will always fight to share our haven, over and above existing privileges - which really makes you question who the entitled ones actually are.

Essentially, if Black people don’t complain when White people discuss their inherited family yachts, White people shouldn’t complain when we reference our inherited mental oppression; when we vocalise our external or internal struggles; or when we stand up on a world-renowned stage to acknowledge an Emmy award as a contribution to our victory. Because as it stands, this is a significant part of who we've become and where we are headed as a collective.

In a discussion on CNN, Tim Wise, anti-racism activist and author of the book, 'Colourblind', expressed his rather eloquent opinion on White Supremacy.

Of all the clips I’ve recently watched, I couldn’t help but be impressed by his logic and assertion. At the same time, there was something very confusing about witnessing a White person making other White people uncomfortable with the truth about White supremacy. Confusing because his words echoed the kind of sentiments that give marginalised communities a sense of hope, for radical transformation that may never happen.

Confusing because while Black women (and Black people in general) are considered abrasive for being vocal about deserving better, it’s different when the same right is identified and vocalised by a White person. Because only then, is it taken seriously. Only then does it become valid. Because facts are White supremacy allows White people the privilege of being heard, or at least acknowledged, in spaces and conversations Black people would typically not. Which is why we keep reiterating how important it is for White people to use the power of their privilege to counter discrimination and foster integration.

I by no means sustain the notion that the burden falls on White people to fix our broken society. However what I am pointing out is that human rights have gradually become a privilege that we want reverted to the original state. What I’m also pointing out is that you need to understand your role in contributing to a better society, and accept the responsibility to do so if you’d like the “complaints” to stop. We’re all tired of people complaining and we’re all sick-and-tired of being sick-and-tired, but more candidly…

… what I’m pointing out is that as Black people, we’re not "angry" because that’s just how we roll. If anything, we’re "angry" because there are White people who are ignorant and insensitive to our unsolicited pain, by choice.

So when we speak about it, when we choose to address it the way we see fit, understand that you no longer live in a world where minorities are governed by your heightened sense of self.

Understand that you can no longer refer to me as an “angry Black woman” in post-democratic South Africa and expect a pre-democratic response.

Understand that you now live in a world where Black people are unlearning fear and where countering this movement is becoming a detrimental space to occupy.

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