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You Won’t Like Me When I’m Angry

Beyonce holding a baseball bat
via "Hold Up" music video

We owe an apology to everyone we’ve reduced to an “Angry Black Woman.”

In April 2016, Beyoncé released her sixth solo album and I was forever changed. The album was Lemonade, and while its true purpose was to showcase the Black woman’s experience (and to call out her unfaithful husband and his lover, who will forever be known as “Becky with the good hair”), it also served another purpose: it allowed Black women to stand up and state that they were angry. It allowed Black women to claim a feeling that they may have been afraid to claim for years because they didn’t want to seem unbearable or threatening. Watching Beyoncé stroll down that street, smashing car windows at random, with a big smile on her face, was therapeutic. It was refreshing.  

For a race of women that have had our emotions stereotyped and thrown back in our faces for centuries, it was necessary. I feel as though an apology is needed. Why, you ask? Because for every offhanded comment calling a frustrated Black woman “an Angry Black Woman,” there are white women dancing in cowboy boots, singing along to Carrie Underwood as she depicts keying “the side/Of his pretty little souped-up four-wheel drive.” If we compare the two videos, both Beyoncé and Carrie Underwood are livid that their respective partners are cheating on them. Both resort to violence, although Carrie’s character’s violence is a lot more personal. She’s destroying the actual car of her boyfriend, as opposed to Beyoncé’s character. I use the term “character” here because that’s also important. While we may not know any of these women personally, nothing in the tabloids have shown us that either one of these women would willingly destroy your items. In fact, Beyoncé might prefer you to place “everything you own in a box to the left.”

While Beyoncé and Carrie are feeling the same emotion, and demonstrating their anger in the same unhealthy manner, only Beyoncé receives the label of “Angry Black Woman.” Only her anger will be addressed. I would ask why that is, but a smart aleck would reply that it’s all in the name: Beyoncé is Black, and Carrie Underwood is…well, not, and “Angry White Woman” isn’t a universal trope. The idea that a Black woman sharing her frustrations deserves a term, but not a white woman doing the same thing, is racist.

Think about how Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) is treated when she expresses her disgust with Trump, and other members of the Republican party. Her name is dragged through the mud. Trump famously called Waters “an extraordinarily low IQ person” after she publicly called for people to confront White House officials on their immigration policies whenever possible. However, Bill O’Reilly said it best, reducing his feelings towards Waters’ comments about our president back to her appearance: “I didn’t hear a word she said. I was looking at the James Brown wig.” I would like to apologize to Rep. Waters and to every single Black woman who has had their arguments reduced to a punchline about their appearance. It’s a cop out. It’s something that we have all faced. Whenever a man attempts to call me out of my name, I remind him that I was “a fat bitch” before he showed his ass. He’ll continue being an ass and I’ll continue being right.

The idea that a Black woman sharing her frustrations deserves a term, but not a white woman doing the same thing, is racist. Click To Tweet

Growing up, whenever I expressed my unhappiness with an issue, I would get called an “Angry Black Woman,” even if angry wasn’t the word that I would use to describe my emotions at that time. I tend to be vocal about my feelings, and sometimes, people—usually White people, but not always—believe that I’m acting aggressive towards them, even if my anger isn’t geared towards them.

When Serena Williams was accused of coaching at the U.S. Open, she argued back, calling the umpire, Carlos Ramos, a “thief” and a “liar.” She was tired. She worked hard, and to accuse her of cheating was too much for her. She has kept her mouth closed for years, but no longer. She was ready to speak, and she was angry. But Williams lost, and commenters attacked. A cartoon by Mark Knight that depicted Williams stomping on her racket was called racist, because it depicted Williams as a brute; her opponent, Naomi Osaka, a Haitian-Japanese woman, was depicted as blonde and white. The whole story was a mess, but Williams has been targeted by the media for years. Everything from the fact that she married a white man to her strong, built body have been insulted all over the Internet.  

A Black woman is never supposed to show her anger. In fact, showing her anger outright can lead to her being “objectified and dehumanized” in comparison with her white female counterparts. A Black woman needs to make sure she isn’t seen as a threat. She needs to be “strong” and “independent” but never angry unless it suits a narrative that is being used against her. I’ve had men tell me that they love it when I’m angry, because it makes me seem so sexy. They view my anger as passion because it excites them in ways that they haven’t been excited before. However, that narrative quickly changes when I’m angry at them or angry about something that has affected me in a negative way. Then their tones change, and suddenly I’m acting defensive or I’m being too aggressive. I have been called threatening by a partner before, all because he didn’t like my tone of voice. He had dated Black women before, but he hadn’t dated a Black woman that was so quick to call him out on his shit. Men view my anger as sexy until it doesn’t benefit them in the bedroom.

I’ve had men tell me that they love it when I’m angry, because it makes me seem so sexy. Click To Tweet

I truly believe that if you ever used the term “Angry Black Woman” to describe a Black woman who wasn’t looking to take your shit anymore, you need to sit back and apologize. Maybe you don’t know how to. It’s not the easiest thing to do because it requires you to eliminate racist and sexist bias, but it can be done. I want you to go back and think about how much garbage this woman has had to put up with before she decided that this was enough. Black women must calculate the risk that will surely present itself when she decides that she is ready to call someone out. In an opinion piece for the Guardian, Ruby Hamad discusses the “strategic tears” that white women use against women of color to make themselves play the part of the damsel in distress. It is seen as a power move, and coupled with men dismissing Black women’s feelings due to their skin color and the issue of likability, it doesn’t make Black women eager to raise their hands and voice their discomfort with an issue. It isn’t as easy as one would think.

Give this woman the chance to express herself and listen to her. If you listen closely, most of the time, she isn’t attacking you personally; she’s most likely asking you to treat her with empathy. Stop touching her hair. She is not a Chia Pet. If she isn’t being physically or emotionally abusive, let her be angry. Let her scream from the mountain tops if that’s what she needs to do. Let her take a walk around the block or take a long car ride if that’s what she needs. Confront your own issues with her before you attempt to confront her personality. Now, take a deep breath and let the fear wash over you. You owe her an apology. She deserves it.