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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Anger trope is racist and limiting to Black women

    No one called Shonda Rhimes an “angry Black woman” when she was writing for white protagonists.

    About a week before the premiere of The New York Times ran an article that opened with, “When Shonda Rhimes writes her article, it should be called ‘How to Get Away With Being an Angry Black Woman.’” Alessandra Stanley, the writer of the article, went on to laud Rhimes for her three-dimensional representations of black women on the small screen, saying that three of Rhimes’ characters are good examples of representing “angry black women.”

    But herein lies the problem: The three characters Stanley chose to discuss (Miranda Bailey of “Grey’s Anatomy,” Olivia Pope of “Scandal,” and now Professor Annalise Keating of “How to Get Away With Murder”) are multilayered and three-dimensional, yes. But they are not angry black women. In fact, I would argue that the “angry black woman” does not exist at all. Sure, there may be women of color that express feelings of anger, but the “angry black woman” is a stereotype, an urban legend so flimsily fabricated that she cannot exist anywhere besides on paper or in the minds of the uneducated. The “angry black woman” is a two-dimensional and incomplete story.

    Jennifer Donahue, a visiting assistant professor and advisor in Africana Studies whose research has included African-American women’s literature and feminist theory, articulated the immediate dangers in the angry black woman fallacy.

    “In short, the stereotype of the ‘angry black woman’ renders black women as ticking time-bombs, the embodiment of liability and objects more likely to explode in a virulent tirade than engage in theoretical discussion,” Donahue said.

    This raises the question: How can black women express their frustration with a system that consistently fails to represent them without being brushed off as “angry black women”?

    The danger of this stereotype is not that it is necessarily always wrong — black women are allowed to be angry, too — but that it is reductive. Shonda Rhimes, in reaction to The New York Times article, is not “allowed” to react in anger, because she would somehow be proving a point and perpetuating a reductive image.

    Audra McDonald, the most Tony-awarded actress of all time and a prominent African-American political activist, tweeted, “So offended by nytimes REDUCING shondarimes 1 of the most powerful, brilliant, successful, & creative women in TV to a racial stereotype,” later adding, “I am an offended black wom”“: over here.”

    The stereotype of the “angry black woman” is just another way of stripping black women of their full humanity. While Meredith Grey can express every emotion in the gamut of human experience, writers have to be careful of how they “deal with” Olivia Pope or Annalise Keating, lest they confirm the “angry” stereotype.

    And this, I think, is the saddest point of all: That we have to tailor our black women away from certain emotions for fear of fulfilling a stereotype. As Gloria Jean Watkins, also known as bell hooks, writes in “Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism”, one of the biggest chapters in the Black Feminist bible, “When people talk about the ‘strength’ of Black women, they are referring to the way in which they perceive Black women coping with oppression. They ignore the reality that to be strong in the face of oppression is not the same as overcoming oppression, that endurance is not to be confused with transformation.”

    Black women, and black women characters, can be strong. They can be authoritative. They can even be mad as hell. But they’ll never be the angry black woman.

    Paul Thomson is a senior studying BFA acting and Africana studies. Follow him on Twitter @BePaulite

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