So, the internet exploded a few weeks back when the New York Times published a piece by Alessandra Stanley that essentially issued a digital slap across the face to Shonda Rhimes, Viola Davis, and pretty much every other black woman on the planet
SIDEBAR: Stanley later defended her choice of words as an alleged attempt to "praise Ms. Rhimes and her shows from traveling so far from" such offensive stereotypes. As for Ms. Davis? Well, the author scoffed, she has "said it about herself in NYT magazine, more bluntly" and "I have said the same thing about Helen Mirren...." Oh ok. Well that changes everything. *eyeroll*
- The opening line: "When Shonda Rhimes writes her autobiography, it should be called 'How to Get Away With Being an Angry Black Woman.'"
- Of the African-American female characters of Rhimes' series: "Her heroines are not at all like the bossy, sassy, salt-of-the-earth working-class women who have been scolding and uh-uh-ing on screen ever since Esther Rolle played Florida, the maid on 'Maude.'"
- On the looks of Viola Davis: "As Annaliese, Ms. Davis, 49, is sexual and even sexy, in a slightly menacing way, but the actress doesn't look at all like the typical star of a network drama. Ignoring the narrow beauty standards some African-American women are held to, Ms. Rhimes chose a performer who is older, darker-skinned and less classicly beautiful than [Kerry] Washington, or for that matter Halle Berry, who played an astronaut on the summer mini-series 'Extant.'"
REASONS WHY THAT BLACK LADY IN YOUR OFFICE SEEMS ANGRY ALL THE TIME
- First, she's probably NOT angry. As Ms. Stanley pointed out in her piece, African-American women have been characterized by a number of stereotypes over the years. Perhaps an attempt to portray herself as anything but the loud, "sassy" figure that is so strongly associated with black womanhood, your African-American female co-workers may choose to conduct themselves in a cool, quiet, and poised manner. While to some this may seem polished and professional, to others it may seem standoffish or snobbish; to others still, it may seem defensive and, yes, even angry. But, more than anything, it is most likely an aim to let her work speak for her, not her gender or her race. Alas, this tactic - one that has been passed down from many middle class black parents of the 1960s to their children of the 1980s - may have backfired. For, it has taught us that simply producing excellent work is enough to get ahead. But, indeed, it is just one piece of the puzzle. Those other factors - networking, finding key mentors and sponsors - are also critical and one that we have really neglected! But I'm getting off-track here. The bottom-line is that the mere lack of a jovial and outgoing personality doesn't mean that your black female co-worker is angry. Maybe she's reserved. Maybe she's shy. Or maybe something more serious is going on....
- She might be depressed. During a 2010 interview on the Black Women's Health Imperative podcast, Dr. Cheryl Chisholm shared that for African-American women - and really any person who doesn't have time to "slow down" and "be depressed," depression manifests itself in other ways. In the case of African-American women - who are often working full-time (if not multiple jobs); heads of their households; caring for children, elders, or extended family members; there isn't time to stop and deal with your underlying issues. So, instead you lash out at those around you. (You may also inflict harm on yourself in the form of abusing food, alcohol, credit cards, etc., etc.) Discussing weight issues, in particular, author Veronica Chambers stated in her book, Having It All?: Black Women and Success:
Many experts say that our weight issues are the outward expression of inner turmoil. We've overcome so many of society's limitations on us: stereotypical and punishing beliefs about our abilities, our sexuality, our beauty, and our intelligence....Yet, the stress of combating the issues of race, class, gender--not to mention all of the universal stresses of modern life--takes its toll. Increasingly, black women suffer from clinical levels of depression.
- Like all women, she makes less money than men...as well as white and Asian women. According to the American Association of University Women, African-American women earn just 64% of what white men earn whereas white women earn 78%. Both white women and Asian women surpass African-American and Hispanic/Latina women in weekly take-home pay. (Honestly, though, we're all worse off than the men. So...yeah. #SistersInTheStruggle)
- Even though she has multiple degrees from Name Brand College and Ivy League University, she will still get mistaken for The Help in the hotel lobby at a conference at which she is being honored. No, ma'am, I don't work here. I can't fill your ice bucket. I'm sorry my pinstripe suit didn't give you that hint. (I wouldn't have believed it myself if it hadn't happened to me just a few weeks back.)
- Well meaning compliments are often delivered in a back-handed manner. You all remember Chris Rock's joke about Colin Powell...about how everyone would always say, "He speaks so well!" Uhm, he was the Secretary of State. That is pretty much a rudimentary requirement, no? (If you don't remember the joke - and don't mind foul language - click here to revisit it.) Although I, too, pride myself on being a polished public speaker, I get the "well-spoken" remark quite a bit. Oh and "strong." I'm "sooo strong"...because, you know, that's what black women are.
- Celebratory moments can be quickly marred by rude, ignorant, and even downright racist incidents. For instance, right before the premiere of a network television series in which you play the starring role, one of the largest newspapers in the world can publish an article calling you "less classically beautiful." Or, during said premiere, a notable celebrity magazine will juxtapose this fierce leading character - a sexy, powerful law professor at a prestigious university - with a supporting character who is admittedly a stereotypical portrayal of an uneducated domestic worker. *sigh* Finally, if all of the above proves to be untrue...
- Maybe she just has Bitchy Resting Face. Because, apparently, this is a thing. And this leads us back to the very first item. She's not angry. She's just not conforming to some happy-go-lucky, pancake-making stereotype...and she doesn't have to...she's just needs permission to BE.
Editor's Note: The author was somewhat angry when she wrote this blog post. That fact, in and of itself, does not make her an Angry Black Woman.