FOR someone who has spent her life in a constant state of “inbetweeness,” my personality traits seem only to reside on either extreme of the spectrum sometimes referred to as “what it takes to be a normal fucking human being.”
This is evident from the very fact that I mess up relationships with other people far more than I would like to. This is something I have known for a while but altogether repressed under a guise of my Twitter popularity, which frankly speaks for itself. Friends fade because I am too blasé about replying to the group chat and I lose potential-significant-others because I’m too “intense.” Some may refer to the latter as “fiery,” but this is just an alternative way of saying the same thing, and is equally as derogatory.
If you’re a woman of colour, there is one thing that the world expects you to be, whether you like it or not, and that is mad with a capital M-A-D. First, a little background on this stereotype: unlike most stereotypes about black women which stem from concrete and historically evident examples, such as the mammy or oversexualized jezebel, Iyanla Vanzant suggests that the roots of the “angry black woman” are to do with black women’s emotional development. Historically, black women have been conditioned to believe that their feelings do not matter. Thus, anger has become “what we exploit, bowing down to express it or bending over backwards to deny it.”
Many black women will recall their mothers and grandmothers telling them to control their temper, i.e. sit down and shut up. This, unfortunately, just leads to further implications and opportunities for the exploitation of our feelings. When people discover that you are not, in fact, an inherently angry person, they suddenly think it grants them full license to unleash their often wrong opinions on race starting with I’m not racist but… Similarly, if there is even a hint of disagreement or disapproval in your tone, body language, or general presence, you will inevitably be faced with the one question that has a million and one answers but always succeeds in leaving you speechless: why do you have to be so mad?
“All the time I had been fighting against the ‘angry black woman’ stereotype, I had lost myself in an abyss of head nods and forced smiles”
In my rebellion of the angry black woman stereotype, I tried the cool-girl approach that seemed successful with so many others. Cool girls, to quote a line from the terrible but equally readable novel Gone Girl, are “hot and understanding. Cool girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want.” I tried it, I really did. And like spin classes or getting to the top floor of my university library, it was fucking exhausting. I was pretending not to care that the same friend kept cancelling plans; refusing to tell the guy I was seeing how I really felt so not to rip apart my “cool-girl” image.
At the other end of the crazy-train, I was nodding through clenched teeth when someone in my seminar jumped to the conclusion that there were no “good schools” in the Caribbean (FYI, there are) so not to make everyone wet themselves with awkwardness and subsequently, you got it, be painted as the “angry black girl.”
As predicted when you hold onto things for far too long, eventually, my cool-girl bubble burst. I told people how I felt and was surprised about who stuck around. All the while I was blowing off steam, I came to the realisation that all the time I had been fighting against the angry black woman stereotype; I had lost myself in an abyss of head nods and forced smiles that left my jaw aching at the end of the day.
I’m gradually accepting that I don’t have to be mad, but I have the right to be. I’m passionate, and chances are, if I care about you, you’ll know about it. Likewise, if disagree with you, you’ll know about that too; just perhaps a little further down the line. I’m not “mad” and I’m not “quiet,” (another word that is just code for “boring”), I’m just trying to be real.