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The Angry Black Woman

You are not intimidating, they are intimidated.

Someone once said that to me and it’s stayed with me ever since. You’re not intimidating, they’re intimidated.

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As a person of color, I’m usually called aggressive, angry, passionate, cold, and intimidating regardless of the actual emotion I am expressing. I could be direct yet polite and called rude. I could be assertive yet kind and called controlling. It’s easy for others to place their feelings towards you, on you. Because my tone isn’t bubbly or sweet. Because I don’t speak in fluff. Can you relate?

Well let me tell you, it has nothing to do with who you are and what you’re actually expressing versus how you make someone feel. Inadequate, small, surprised... probably. It’s like there’s this inability to see complex emotions from people of color and move beyond the monolith in so many people's minds that we have been placed. The trope of the angry black lady has followed me my entire life and weaves its way into many of my interactions.

What do you mean the trope of the angry black woman? To this I will give you some homework. This BBC Article, "Serena Williams and the trope of the 'angry black woman' "

and this episode of Code Switch, one of my favorite Podcasts, "Anger: The Black Woman's 'Superpower' and Brittany Cooper's book, Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower will help explain to you what I'm talking about. This isn't in our heads as women of color, but rather a stereotype that is so ingrained in our culture that many people don't even know it exists. Brittany Cooper so perfectly states, "Whenever someone weaponizes anger against black women, it is designed to silence them. It is designed to discredit them and to say that they don't have a good grasp on reality, that they are overreacting, that they are being hypersensitive, that whatever set of conditions that they are responding to, that their reaction is outsized."

Do I get angry sometimes? Sure. Doesn’t everyone? But does my confidence translate to anger? No. Am I not allowed to be assertive? Should I pretend I am meek to make other people more comfortable? Why is it that men (and sometimes white women) are seen are seen as leaders when they show confidence and assert themselves but black women are seen as scary, intimidating and disrespectful?

It used to really bother me when people would claim that I was angry or aggressive when I really wasn’t. The idea though that my very existence is intimidating to someone is a false perception. I’ve learned that it isn’t my responsibility to live up to someone’s image of me. People will see you for how they are, not how you are. The science of perception is really interesting.

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Have you ever been labeled something you aren’t?

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