The angry black woman is arguably one of the most recognizable American stereotypes. The thick-figured, outspoken, abusive, big-assed, weaved-out monster is a frequent persona attributed to black women.
As local pastor Toni Benn said, “Being a black woman, I am seen as loud, not taking care of the kids, beating the system, boisterous, talking ghetto … I am none of those things.”
While this aggressive stereotype can be a hindrance in social and professional situations, there are perks to being labeled an “angry black woman.” When “done right,” the twerk queen can use her assertive behaviors and hidden body as a tool to help her progress.
Being opinionated, strong-minded, frank and loud are common attributes to “the angry black woman’s” communication style. These behaviors are often used as a defense mechanism to dominate conversations. However, they don’t have to be painted as angry. A recent study conducted at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management discovered black women who exhibited these assertive behaviors were viewed more positively than their white female coworkers. The behaviors were perceived as strong and independent, not angry and ignorant.
A second element to the “angry black woman” stereotype is being labeled as unattractive in relation to Western standards of beauty. For example, Benn said her 11-year-old daughter has been criticized for having big lips and a “different” body structure.
“She will always be labeled — she has been called ‘n***er’ [and] ‘that black girl’ instead of her name,” Benn said. “She will have to work twice as hard as [her] counterparts.”
But despite the implications of the stereotype, society’s twisted perceptions can actually free black girls to speak their minds in professional settings. If black girls’ bodies don’t align with society’s perception of hypersexuality, then they have one less hurdle to clear as a woman progressing in the industry. Meanwhile, white girls may have to swat male attention because beauty standards are based off their image. This presents a golden opportunity to repurpose one of the aspects of the “angry black woman” stereotype.
To be clear, this does not diminish the struggles of the black girl. The “angry black woman” stereotype is a burden that will always precede people’s first impressions. However, there is hope. In addition to trying to rebut or counter the stereotype, black women can be empowered by reclaiming it.
I am proud that people make these stereotypical assumptions about me. The “angry black woman” stereotype is typically seen as a negative portrayal of a forceful and unattractive woman, but in professional settings, that can be perceived as assertive and unsexualized. And that’s good. In an ideal world, black women wouldn’t have to deal with this. But until then, here is a tool to help rewrite the story.
Maria Kroeger is a human relations senior.