Why is it my duty to be graceful, to be poised, to be reasonable, and to be exceptional in the midst of absurdity and disrespect? Why should I go out of my way to avoid being a stereotype, when I’m probably being mistreated because of a stereotype? Once again, society is making it my job to fix a problem I didn’t create and making it my responsibility to uphold a social order that doesn’t benefit me.
I have the right to get angry if I feel that I have been disrespected. Yet, I can’t because if I do, I lose, and that would prove “them” right. Well, then if having dignity means losing, society was never meant for me to win in the first place. I have to outsmart a double standard. I have to be strategic in my approach in the workplace, in the classroom, in everyday exchanges with people. I even have to question myself around others out of fear.
Why do I consider MISOGYNOIR to be a double-edged sword? Because, often times, when black women are experiencing racism and sexism, it is the same racism and sexism that will discourage them from speaking up and taking a stand.
Let me give you two real life examples of misogynoir that I’ve experienced:
Real Life Example 1: An Arab/White woman touched my afro at work without my permission (already a violation) and asked me with an attitude, “How do you comb this thing?” I responded “What?” She says, “Nothing” and quickly walks away.
Example 2: I complained to my supervisor that a cashier in our office was mistreating me. He sarcastically responded, “Did you give him that attitude?” I replied, “What do you mean?” He responded, “You know…that attitude” while rolling his neck in the stereotypical angry-black-woman manner. I said, “Uum, no. I just ordered my food” and sat in frustration at the fact that my boss tried to crack an “angry black woman” joke with me after I confided with him about possible discrimination.
**I’ve experienced other overt and covert moments of misogynoir but those were the quickest examples**
In both examples, I experienced racism and sexism first. Had I took a stand or called them out, I would have further proven their preconceived stereotypes of black women. I knew that instead of receiving sympathy or remorse, I would have been seen as overreacting. Calling out the racism and sexism would have labeled me “hard to work with” and could have cost me my job (see Naomi Campbell speaking on racism at 4:00).
Women are already called “bitches” for speaking out, but being black and a woman means that people will perceive us as being angry for no reason at all (see Michelle Obama). This means that we can never be right even if/when society is dead wrong.
Furthermore, racialized misogyny is worse than general misogyny because there is at least some dignity left in being called a “bitch”. Feminists embrace the term as being a woman who isn’t submissive, demands her just due, and is unapologetic about her needs.
The term “angry black woman” carries the connotation that a black woman does not possess the capacity to discern right from wrong, isn’t civilized, and therefore, her point of view comes from a place of irrationality (almost like an animal), not justice or civility.
THIS IS FRUSTRATING AS HELL.
Just as many women are afraid of coming off as a “bitch”, I deal with the fear of coming off as an “angry black woman”. Why? Because, just like Naomi and Michelle, I have been accused of being one even when I wasn’t angry at all. People project that crap on me.
“Did I have an attitude?”
“Do I appear too threatening?”
“Should I smile more?”
“Wait, no – I should just be myself! Why cater to sexism and white supremacy?”
“But wait, I’m not in a position of power where authenticity will advance me.”
“Michelle Obama can’t even be expressionless without people assuming she’s in a rage.”
“Keeping it real can go wrong.”
You see my thought process? I have to factor in misogynoir before I even speak IF I decide to. I have to be socially intelligent at all times. Sometimes, my freedom and my survival feel mutually exclusive. I can’t rely on the white female privilege of people sympathizing with me when I make mistakes. I don’t have the white female privilege of people trusting and believing me when I get upset about something. I don’t have the white female privilege of my perpetrators and abusers immediately being incriminated without loads of speculation and doubt. People won’t investigate my concerns. SlutWalks aren’t for me. Black lives matter protests aren’t for me. Instead, I will be vilified for speaking out. I will be just another “angry black woman”.
It’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more we call black women angry, the angrier we actually become, because instead of respecting our humanity and our personhood when we convey dignity, we become accustomed to being reduced by these three deadly words. We become silenced by white supremacy, misogyny, and respectability politics. We are placed last.
For this reason, I carefully negotiate and regulate my emotions when I’m in precarious social situations to make sure I gain legitimacy and won’t be disregarded. I run a cost-benefit analysis of how I deal with confrontation from non-black co-workers in my mind knowing that I’m already at a disadvantage.
Honestly, as I replay the video of the girl in South Carolina being flipped in her desk by a police officer, I still try to find the “attitude” and the “sass” that the U.S. mainstream media accused her of, and I’m still wondering how that is a justification for her enduring the excessive force that hospitalized her. I’m still trying to figure out why I just can’t be an angry human being sometimes instead of an “angry black woman”.
What I do know for sure is that as a person who is both black and a woman, if I convey dignity, many people will rush in to reassure me that I did something wrong.
So, say that we, black women, really are disproportionately angrier than other women. If we, as social creatures, are products of our environments, then we must live in a world that makes black women feel insecure, on guard, defensive, and uneasy. Black women must have internalized implicit cues that indicate that we aren’t valued and must fight to be respected – What kind of world is this?