Creating the Angry Black Woman

It is a sad truth that in the imaginary of some white people in the United States there is a vivid conjectured  stereotype of ‘the angry black woman.’  There is first the fact that some whites, and indeed most Americans, know that there are many things that might indeed make black women angry, and with reason. That is a healthy and rational interpretation of events. In this essay that is not the circumstance that I am talking about. Those are not the people I am talking about.

Here, I am talking about situations where a white person, often unconsciously, creates a situation that engenders conflict and presents unnecessary discomfort or hardship to a black woman, and then continues to push the situation forward. When the ploy does not produce the (unconsciously desired) angry and explosive outcome that could have happened, irrational responses from the perpetrator follow. These responses, instead of de-escalating the situation, typically proceed to amplify antagonisms.  But that’s not all.

The really fascinating thing about these scenarios is that they are most often not about big issues. They are about small, mundane issues. They are about trivia, things and tasks that should normally proceed easily without particular notice or perturbation. These actions might be productively described as ‘passive-aggressive.’ Some internal machinery seems to make it attractive to the white person in question to draw out and prolong, and to amplify, a very small and negligible circumstance.

It seems to me that these are ‘triggered’ responses, deeply buried in the psyche, that make up part of the repertoire of race conflict, or if you like, race war in the United States.  Unconscious aggressions that operate to frustrate the target, engender strong reactions, and push the target to ‘act out’ are efficient acts in the making of the ‘angry black woman.’ The results of such actions are twofold: conflict and opposition around ‘small stuff’ can wear a person down; they are signals that say ‘it is worth it to me to oppose you on even the smallest grounds’ and second, they have the potential to create the ‘angry black woman’ that the white person in question perhaps already sees when he/she looks at her – she will be pushed to conform to the unconscious stereotype that the perpetrator carries around in her/his head. I have heard of many such situations from friends of color (“non-whites”).

Here’s the thing: it is BORING. It is so boring, and a little tragic.

The white person who is unaware of their unconscious desires and needs to thwart and discourage nearby black persons in the course of everyday life by throwing small barriers and other negative ephemera at them is a rather tragic figure. The need to do such a thing is tragic. The lack of self-awareness is particularly tragic. And especially, the unnamed programming that produces such behaviors is very tragic. These acts cannot and should not be elevated to significant white racist behavior. They can be classified, perhaps, as ‘habits of racism,’ buried deep in the psyche. These acts recall the behavior of a child who thinks that his/her naughty behavior or bad thoughts cannot be discerned. They are like a small, mean bacteria that such a white person is unknowingly host to. But to persons of color, or people not from the U.S., these behaviors are often painfully obvious.

For a black woman who has had the good fortune of distance from the petite race games that proliferate in this country, these games are only tiresome. Often, one sees the expectation of such a white person for the black person to join into this old American tradition. But really, nobody wants to be bothered with this kind of small, but insidious, intrusion on their mental well-being. These utterances and acts are part of a very strange game that whites and blacks play in the United States; I say this as an American. To respond strongly is to join the game, and to uphold an undignified struggle that is child-like and pathetic for adults.

The work needed to resolve this engagement with illusion and fantasy is not for the layperson. This work needs to be done by trained psychiatrists and psychologists.

For the rest of us, those who have been able to get ‘out of the box’ and observe from a distance, it is just boring. Boring and sad. And that’s all I have to say about that.

Published by wendywilsonfall

Wendy Wilson Fall is Associate Professor and Program Chair of the Africana Studies Program at Lafayette College. Her research engages questions of socio-cultural change, ethnic identity, and multi-sited historical narratives. She has published numerous journal articles and book chapters addressing these themes in the context of nomads in West Africa and the African diaspora of the U.S. Wilson-Fall is from Washington, D.C. and has traveled extensively in Africa, particularly in West Africa where she lived for more than ten years. She's also traveled to Madagascar, Egypt and Morocco as well as in Europe.

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