August 2015: Stereotypes

ABWS: Angry Black Woman Syndrome

What do Sandy Bland, Michelle Obama, the neighborhood ‘black’ girl and Aunt Viv from Fresh Prince of Bel Air all have in common? Surprise, they have all been labeled at some time in their life as an ‘Angry Black Woman.’

First, many condolences to Sandy Bland’s family for the recent loss of their family member and friend; may they be comforted in this time. Before Sandy’s passing earlier this month I had been working on revisiting a very sensitive yet pertinent topic, specifically the Angry ‘Black’ Woman Syndrome.

ABWSFor those who may not have heard the news story, Sandy Bland was a #blacklivesmatter activist who, after getting arrested by authorities, was found dead in her jail cell three days later. The whole ordeal was captured on video. Sandy’s appearance on the dash cam tape sparked a media storm of stereotypical imagery projecting her as an ‘angry black woman’ who incited her own arrest. News commentators and internet personalities like Tommy Sotomayor openly shared their views of the incident leading up to her death.  Harry Houch, a former NYPD detective, was featured on a CNN discussion panel. Houch unapologetically points out that in his assertion Bland was “arrogant from the beginning”, “uncooperative”, “dismissive”, and, in no uncertain terms, had an “attitude” – aka ABWS.

The face of the ‘Black’ woman in society is seriously blighted. She is often classified as rude, dismissive, argumentative, and hard to get along with. This topic, as stated, is one that we can no longer afford to watch as mere spectators. Sandy’s case has pushed me to further pursue and understand this social breakdown within our society. As if what just happened in Texas was not enough, what I am about to share next solidifies the need for this conversation.

In the midst of all the ‘What Happened to Sandy Bland’ news headlines, I came across a video on social media. It was posted on July 3rd, one week before Sandy Bland was taken into custody. The video brandished a young ‘black’ mother disgruntled and certifiably laden with symptoms of ABWS. The woman was present with a cohort who also displayed very aggressive signs of having ABWS.

The combative exchange can be viewed in 3:03 seconds of footage. We can hear the guard in the video warning the women to step back, or better yet in his exact words “you betta back it up.”

Can we continue to sit back and not address a very present danger amongst the ‘black’ community? This damaging, stereotypical, self-fulfilling behavior of nursing anger without tools and techniques to manage our personal feelings is becoming increasingly detrimental. Beyond commentary and condemnation what is there that we can do to get to the root of all of this anger?

Below are a few symptoms or characteristics of ABWS Stereotype:

  1. The woman is known to be loud all the time or during times of disagreement
  2. She may appear or be bitter about her life and hyper critical of others
  3. She is argumentative and loves the opportunity to disagree with any and everyone. Extreme cases she loves arguing with her male counterpart
  4. The woman is mean spirited person
  5. She makes a lot of decisions surrounding her; she is selfish and may be the center of her world
  6. Her tongue is sharp and she is sassy, the words of her mouth cut others without reason. She is very sarcastic.
  7. This woman is unyielding, even in the face of being wrong: she is bull headed and stubborn. She is unwilling to humble herself to anyone.

Once you have looked over what ABWS looks like to others the next step is to acknowledge if you display any of these qualities.

Acknowledgment is an important key for this process; the harsh reality is that this stereotype exists. Whether one likes it or not, they are being viewed through this lens. How does that make you feel? Remember stereotypes are born out of another person’s perception of you. For this reason, this next exercise is going to be about perspective. Keep in mind I am not saying that I agree or disagree with the ABWS stereotype right now: the focus is identification.

So where is the ABWS stereotype coming from? In short, there are many sources. This stereotype became nationally known via the character Sapphire in the famous 50’s show Amos and Andy. She was scripted as the typical portrayal of Angry ‘Black’ Woman. She was loud, dismissive and abrasive, not to mention the writers made Sapphire’s mother even angrier than she was. Sapphire became one of the mold’s for representing ‘black’ women in popular entertainment. Her image and characteristics have been replicated hundreds of times she can be seen featured in sitcoms, movies, books and all forms of entertainment.

The negative perpetuation in media of the Angry ‘Black’ Woman has been subconsciously infecting the minds of public for over 65 years. Six and a half decades ago she was introduced for mass consumption and today her life has begun to imitate art.

Being termed angry all the time paints the ‘black’ woman as emotionally unstable; this instability makes it easy to dismiss and invalidate her as a person. In all fairness there are women in the community that gladly exploit and capitalize of this image. They use it as a form of intimidation and a defense to ward off impending danger. Personally, I have had my fair share of exposure to this emotional state of being angry for long periods of time. Many say the attitude and mentality that some ‘black’ women have adopted is a remnant of slavery. Some slaves had to adopt and angry disposition to combat their dismal reality.

The ‘black’ community as a whole still carries a lot of emotional and mental baggage. Few seek counselling or therapy.

My exposure to anger as a social norm comes from a Caribbean perspective. My immediate ancestry is from Jamaica, and Jamaicans are faced with their own stereotypes. We are often branded as angry, hostile, hot tempered people who love reggae and smoke alot. I personally battled a number of these stereotypes, some of which have affected me more than others.

I did struggle for some time with an anger/temper and in my case this stereotype was true, minus the neck snapping. After many years of operating in a mode of being angry and not knowing how to take deal with it, I had to stop and take an honest assessment of myself and life. I did this not because I was trying to change everyone else’s opinion of me, I desired only to change and genuinely improve myself. In this process of self-improvement others began to see me differently.

You may be asking: what am I trying to say?

I am saying, yes, there is a stereotype about ‘black’ woman being angry. Yes, stereotypes are not always fair but none the less they may be anchored to some degree of truth. This being stated acknowledgement and a fair assessment of one’s behavior is imperative. For the purpose of revisiting this topic try and take a look at what signals you may be sending out. The time is now, and change is an inside job.

If you need a place to go to speak about your feelings concerning ABWS there is a community forum where people who need to talk about these issues can come. The Take Time to Heal teleconference happens every Wednesday 8 pm EST. The number is 857 232 0156, dial in code 688286.

Learn this from me. Holding anger is a poison. It eats you from inside. We think that hating is a weapon that attacks the person who harmed us. But hatred is a curved blade. And the harm we do, we do to ourselves.”
Mitch Albom, The Five People You Meet in Heaven



Emunah Y’srael

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