Friday, January 13, 2012

These Ladies Explain Their Justifiable Anger ... For Those Who Think They Know Better (But Don't)

As we know, our First Lady, Michelle Obama, recently answered back in an interview about the latest Obama gossip book, where she's less-than-overtly portrayed as the ubiquitous embodiment of an "angry black woman."

It's been interesting to see how the public have responded to that interview; indeed, that the book should be taken with any credence at all is mind-boggling, because - as a friend of mine says - it's all third party hearsay. The people directly involved weren't interviewed at all.

Gotta love them pesky, little third parties! They do more damage than good.

Subsequently, I hope to do a piece on what MSNBC's resident expert on black people and black voices (yes, I'm looking at you, Joan Walsh) had to say about Mrs Obama's recent interview and the book in general, but first, I thought that some African American and Afro-Caribbean women should give voice about the "angry black woman" epithet, themselves. And they did so in The Guardian - two Brits and two Americans, one of whom - like me - married a Brit for her sins.

First, the British ladies:-

From Hannah Pool:-

I'm not so much an angry black woman as a livid one. I live in a state of perpetual rage, only ever one news story away from flying off the handle. I start most mornings shouting "racists" at the radio, and end many of my days shouting "sexists" at the TV. When I'm not bawling at inanimate objects, I'm applying cocoa butter to my skin, which is incredibly dry, or trying to manage my "unruly" hair. If I'm not the wrong gender for a position of power, I'm the wrong colour: invariably my face doesn't fit for both reasons.

When racism and sexism collide, feminists call it the theory of intersectionality – where multiple identities combine to increase oppression – but for black women it's just known as reality. I collect statistical evidence of injustice against black women in the same way others collect football facts: in 2002, minority women made up less than 8% of the total female population, but 29% of the female prison population; despite often high academic achievements, we are twice as likely to be unemployed as white women; we make up over 1% of the population, but under 0.5% of MPs (just three black women). If parliament were representative there'd be 55-60 BME MPs. Let's assume half of those were women, and if just half of those were black, we'd still have more than three times the black women MPs we currently have. Why does this matter? Because decisions are taken in the corridors of power that affect all our lives, so why shouldn't we be represented at the table?

And then there's the seemingly frivolous stuff: told by mad scientists that we are less attractive, and by the rest of the world that we are highly sexed exotic creatures is it any wonder we're miffed? The fashion world really should get some sort of award for its dedication to constantly letting us know that it finds our hair type, skin colour and bodies to be the least desirable.

Despite all this, I've spent my life fighting the label angry black woman because it's a handy way to put a black woman down, modern-day shorthand for telling her not to have ideas above her station. The truth is, black women are no angrier than white women; if anything we could do with being a lot angrier. But we get labelled because deep down everyone knows we've got a right to be mad as hell.

From Bim Adewunmi:-

The meme is old and tired: it's from the same school of thought that sees women as overly emotional creatures with an equilibrium so delicate, the slightest thing upsets them. It's similar to the stereotype of the strident feminist, and much like that old gem, the ABW limits you – every response has to be calibrated, because one angry (justified or not) reaction is all it takes for you to become known around the office that 'angry black woman'.

Comedian David Chappelle talks about an experience he had in a Mississippi restaurant where the waiter jumped in before he could order and suggested the chicken. "It's no secret down here that blacks and chickens are quite fond of one another," the waiter says. "All these years I thought I liked chicken because it was delicious," Chappelle tells the audience. "Turns out I'm genetically predisposed to liking chicken!" To paraphrase: "I thought I was angry because the situation called for an angry reaction, but it turns out I'm just an angry black woman. Whoops, sorry!"

The fear of being labelled an ABW makes you bite your tongue all the time. It's designed to shut you up. It allows people to get away with things they would never try anywhere else – and then blame you and your reaction. It's a catch-22 situation: I'm angry about this, but I can't show it, or else they'll use that anger as a stick to beat me with.So, I say: screw it. Get angry – and show it. There's a lot to be angry about.

And now from the Americans:-

From Latoya Peterson:-

I'm loth to reclaim stereotypes – which, after all, are just fictions applied to people on the thinnest of pretexts by others. There's nothing to like. But I think anger gets a bad rap these days. Why shouldn't we be angry when poverty is growing – and not just in the United States, but around the world? Occupy Nigeria was kicked off when the president removed a fuel subsidy that doubled and tripled the price of fuel overnight. While all across the world, from Greece to Bahrain, to Iran, to Egypt, to the USA, the youth have taken to the streets.

But we can't just stop at being angry. Maya Angelou prefers anger to bitterness, noting: "Anger is like fire. It burns it all clean." But it is far too easy for that blaze to become all consuming. Instead, we need to channel all this righteous anger into action. We should demand more of our governments and our fellow citizens to create more equitable societies. We should feel our anger, understand it – and then push it outwards, allowing it to be the catalyst for collective action. We no longer need to rage at the machine – it is time to figure out how to dismantle it.

And, finally, from Bonnie Greer. Just a note. I'm not Greer's biggest fan. Like me, she married a Brit and relocated to Britain around the same time I did. She swiftly became the BBC's resident American voice, but I never felt she said or contributed anything viable to whatever discussion the Beeb happened to be having at whatever time, but I give credit where credit is due, and Greer knocks the ball firmly out of the park and out of sight in this one, because she knows exactly whom to address and for what specific sort of behaviour.

As a Chicago Southsider born and raised, I know where Michelle Obama is coming from. Southsiders are blunt, honest and pull no punches. We can't afford to, because life is too tough. To step back and take it goes against our very grain – and as the mother of two black girls, there is no way that Michelle is not going to go on the record about her purported activities in the White House. If indeed she was "F-bombed" by former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, it would have been water off a duck's back. And that book doesn't really bother her, either.

A Southsider's motto is: "If I don't know you, I don't care what you say." The expression "tell it like it is" comes from the Southside. So in that spirit, this is just a little of what makes me angry: the establishment left, they are arrogant, clueless … and everywhere. No other segment of society dares to presume that they know what you think, how you feel, what's best for you. Once upon a time they made room for you, gave you space. Now it's all about patronage – and only the very young are allowed into the golden circle.

Bleaching crème: an abomination, and the single most dangerous force working against black women today. Dark-skinned women – and light-skinned women, too – are its victims. Shame on the media that carry advertisements for it.

Also, white women who sing like black women: all these ladies with the Mariah Carey whoops, the Beyoncé flourishes, the Aretha Franklin vibrato. At first it was wonderful and slightly flattering. Now to hear some home counties girl singing like she comes from the Southside of Chicago sounds phoney and insulting. And it keeps the real ladies from the world's various Southsides, out of the loop. I blame that killer of music: Simon Cowell – and having Sinitta as his close friend doesn't let him off the hook.

I totally understand why Michelle Obama and the President, himself, cannot slip into the stereotypical "angry" mode - there are too many people who still buy into racial stereotypes, just waiting to shake their heads and tut at such behaviour. But there are just as many on the Left, who want that "anger" to be shown, because that's the sort of stereotype for which they voted. It fits into their radical chic mentality and justifies their hipster level. The Right and the Left both suffer from cognitive dissonance, and I applaud Bonnie Greer, an expat like me, for stating what should be, for many on the Left, a lesson in stating the bleeding obvious.


  1. I agree with most of what these women have expressed...right on target. I have experienced and lived a variation of these situations everyday. In particular, Bonnie Greer's remarks regarding the establishment Left is dead-on. There are too many Black women allowing their compassion, donation of time and money to be used and abused in the name of liberal conformity, religion and "knowing your place". I see too young people who are selling out to the highest bidder. Ultimately it hurts all of us because too many are left out from the table and too many sell their souls for chump change.

  2. Great post. I'm more along the lines of "Well, of course they're angry, and they have every right to be!" God, if they're not, they're either terminally clueless or drugged out of their minds.

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