By Jedine Daley
Far too often am I in situations where I am forced to leave words unsaid because I don’t want to be viewed as “that black woman.” You know what I’m referring to when I say this. The black woman who is considered as loud and demanding; the “angry black woman.” It’s as if I don’t have the right to voice my opinion on matters I disagree with, because my opposition will be considered as anger.
The typical “angry black woman” image has been portrayed in the media for centuries. Stemming from other images such as the “mammy” figure which represents a caring mother-like individual, the “angry black woman” is a stereotype used to stifle the voice of black women. In most scenarios, a black woman expressing herself is conveyed as her being upset, loud or arrogant, and the media in return tries to capitalize off such stereotype.
Professional tennis player Serena Williams was attacked by media outlets all over the country following the last U.S. Open Tennis finals for having a “meltdown” during the game. I was casually scrolling through Twitter when I stumbled upon a drawing depicting Williams with very masculine, yet animal-like features on the tennis court whilst wearing a baby’s bib. The picture was published by the Herald Sun and was drawn by a Australian cartoonists. My first impression was that the drawing was a clear case of racism as it resembles Jim Crow imagery, but after seeing the defense to this drawing being that Williams depicted poor behavior on the court, I quickly was reminded of all the times a black woman was called angry for speaking up for herself.
Williams, a well accomplished player in the sport, felt like she was being misjudged by umpire, Carlos Ramos and in return expressed that notion. Ramos accused her of cheating after noticing her coach giving her hand signals during the game. This was a coaching violation, and Williams was not pleased with the call. Williams received three code violations — for on court coaching, racket abuse and verbal abuse. Williams smashed her racket and called Ramos “a liar” and “a thief.” All three violations added up to a game penalty. Williams was fined $17,000 following the altercation.
Her reactions to being misjudged were referred to as a meltdown, an outrage and a breakdown. Billie Jean King, former world number one professional tennis player tweeted following the incident that “When a woman is emotional, she’s ‘hysterical’ and she’s penalized for it. When a man does the same, he’s ‘outspoken’ and there are no repercussions. Thank you, Serena Williams, for calling out this double standard. More voices are needed to do the same.”
Male players such as Roger Federer have displayed similar or even worse behaviors and have faced little to no penalties. Federer berated an umpire while using expletives, and was only fined $1,500. British tennis player Andy Murray kicked a ball towards an umpire’s head during a game in 2016 in Ohio, and was not penalized for this.
For centuries, women have been painted as being the lesser sex. Projected as being inferior to men, women have dealt with labels of submission and are said to be overly emotional. This has led to the unequal treatment we face daily, in the workforce, schools and more commonly in the media. Among those are the black woman, a double minority who is often misrepresented in the media.
In most movies and TV shows black women are portrayed as being loud and angry. This stereotype harms us in our everyday lives as people tend to believe that this reflects our real-life persona. We are not all loud, angry and arrogant, we are allowed to have feelings and to express ourselves however deemed necessary without being dehumanized.
Our anger has never been deemed necessary despite the many challenges we face daily as a double minority and the backbone of our community. Our voices are hindered and limited by those who paint this image that all we do is get angry in vain. This makes it hard for us to advocate for issues that are breaking up our community. Our confidence is viewed as a threat and undermines our potential.
The media and society paint us as being such monsters that we are afraid to express ourselves, many black women today suffer from this negative stigma. We try to bring ourselves in a manner that is acceptable for society, and in some scenarios we are afraid to speak up in a room filled with white people because we know they will only view us as a threat or as “the angry black woman.” When trying to deflect the image that you see in movies and in TV shows, we are often reminded that we do not have the privilege to be outraged.
This stereotype is very much active in the black community as well, where our own men neglect us for being “too loud.” I have met black men who proudly say that they do not date black women because of this exact reason. It’s as if being strong minded equates to being loud.
As Malcolm X once said in a speech he gave in 1962, “the most disrespected woman in America, is the black woman, the most unprotected person in America is the black woman, the most neglected person in America, is the black woman.” The speech was aimed at getting more black men to protect black women in the black community.
The misrepresentation of black women in the media and society as a whole is nothing new, we just want the chance to express ourselves without the fear of being dehumanized and silenced.