What Emotions Am I Allowed to Have as a Black Woman?

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It seems as though Black women in America are not allowed to express anger, otherwise we're seen as combative, mean or "having an attitude." So what emotions are we allowed to show? | Read more on The Girl Next Door is BlackYears ago, my visiting sister and I were teasing each other about one of those random topics siblings joke about. My roommate overheard us as she climbed the stairs in our apartment and gently admonished us:

“Now girls, don’t fight.”

My sister and I turned to each other with the same puzzled expression. We weren’t fighting. We were joking around, having a good time. What was she talking about?

I considered my roommate’s perspective: she saw two sisters in conversation with raised voices, using animated gestures.

I studied the situation from a different angle: my not-black roommate, saw two black women being loud and assumed we were fighting. This is the same roommate whom I once heard describe me to a white friend who’d asked about her new roommate, as “African-American from a middle class family,” and I wondered what my race or socioeconomic class had to do with anything.

That situation stuck with me all these years later and led me to review past and future encounters with different lenses.

America (specifically, the USA) thinks black women are loud. America finds a black woman with a raised voice angry and potentially threatening. Don’t believe me? Google: “loud black women” or “angry black woman.”

A few days ago, rapper Nicki Minaj tweeted out her frustration that her big booty-full, controversy-generating Anaconda video was overlooked for a Video of the Year Award by MTV. Soon after, media darling and America’s archetypal sweetheart, singer Taylor Swift, inserted herself into the situation, which was NOT ABOUT HER, tweeting Minaj with her hurt feelings and ivory tears.

A flurry of comments followed from Minaj, Swift, their loyal fanbases (the “Barbz” and the “Swifties”) and the media. On Air with/Ryan Seacrest got in the fray, framing the events in Swift’s favor:

It seems as though Black women in America are not allowed to express anger, otherwise we're seen as combative, mean or "having an attitude." So what emotions are we allowed to show? | Read more on The Girl Next Door is Black

The tweet has since been deleted since they were called out by the many who saw what actually happened. I took a screenshot because I knew their hot racist bullshit would be retracted. Nicki did not “jab” Taylor Swift. She addressed the erasure of black women in music and the double standards in societal standards of beauty.

Black women whom, as she said, “influence pop culture so much but are rarely rewarded for it.” Think about how many of your favorite songs are sung, written or produced by black women. Now include the women who sing background for some of your beloved artists. Never receiving proper credit for their contribution to songs which, without them, wouldn’t be the hits they are.

Perhaps Nicki was angry. Is she not entitled to feel anger? Frustration? Just being a black woman in the United States is reason is enough to be angry sometimes. She got angry and tweeted her discontent – likely to start a discussion. She used her words to vent. Dylann Roof, a white male, got angry and killed 9 black people after they welcomed him into their church.

Yesterday, I watched as Access Hollywood continued the portrayal of Nicki Minaj as an angry black woman, even going so far as to list all the times she dissed the show.

 

Meanwhile, Taylor was let of the hook for being oblivious and distracting from a racial discussion with her self-involvement. “Poor innocent Taylor”, attacked by that vicious, “angry black woman”.  They ignored the opportunity to elevate a real world, important issue – tied to pop culture, therefore relevant –  to center a white woman and her feelings. Racism? Yeah, that sucks, but what about Taylor’s feelings about how that mean ol’ black woman treated her?!

Sandra Bland, the young black woman from Texas (an “African-American from a middle class family”) who was arrested for “switching lanes” and somehow ended up hanged in her jail cell three days later, has been accused of being “combative” with the arresting officer – as though that would excuse murdering her!

Let’s see:

You’re a black woman minding your business, happily driving to your new job, where you’ll be helping others, when you notice you’re being trailed by a cop. No person with dark skin in the United States wants to be followed by a police officer. So you switch lanes, hoping he’s not, in fact, following you. You’re not doing anything wrong, as far as you know, but you’re pulled over.

The officer speaks to you like you’re beneath him and becomes increasingly agitated during what should have been a routine stop. When you ask, at least 14 times, why you’re being arrested, you don’t get an answer and are physically abused. I don’t know about you, but I’d be angry as hell. I am angry just writing about it.

I am angry.

Black women are being diminished, degraded and dehumanized in the media and in our real lives because racist people find our righteous anger scary. That makes me angry.

It makes me VERY FUCKING ANGRY.

But, I can’t be angry. Black women get fired for being angry. We get derided for being angry. We get killed for being “angry.”

I can come back from losing a job. I’ll survive being mocked. But please, tell me how I am allowed to behave that won’t get me killed?

 

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33 Comments
  • Gregory Daniel Stanton
    August 20, 2015

    Be angry. Anger is a perfectly natural emotion and Black women have the right to it just as anyone does. But don’t let the anger control you, as you said let the “righteous”-ness control you. Be right in your actions even when you are angry with emotion.

  • Cody
    August 6, 2015

    I wonder if Sandy Bland was on her way to socialize and was a bit more “scantily clad” , how many more people would blame her for what happened to her? I am just curious.
    Its a very scary think when you watch it play out and you know that that’s exactly how you would have responded to the police man. #stillfuckingangry

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      August 14, 2015

      I hear you. So much victim blaming goes on when black people are the killed by police. Black people have every reason to be scared of law enforcement – we just now have video proof.

  • Joel
    August 3, 2015

    Any you want and fuck anyone who says something different…

  • Brit
    July 31, 2015

    People who aren’t black just don’t understand that they’re stereotyping black women in this way, and then they bristle when someone else acknowledges their racism. Racism continues to be totally invisible to so many people, but if we all just realized it and talked about it more constructively we’d learn how to get better at alleviating it. That’s why your blog and others like it are so important. I wish this conversation were more common among my white/ Latin@/ Asian friends. We just have no idea. Keep posting your experiences, we need your voice.

  • Trecia
    July 29, 2015

    The one thing I admire about The man Nelson Mandela after prison was his love for Africa n his forgiveness https://www.google.com.jm/search?client=safari&channel=iphone_bm&site=&source=hp&ei=17y4VdHSB4TQevnvqvgO&q=nelson+mandela+on+forgiveness&btnG=#btnG=&imgrc=d2K3kFK6RrnV8M%3A

  • Debbian
    July 29, 2015

    Is everything about race nowadays!!! I want to scream!!!! We are perpetuating racial tension with all this race baiting. Enough already!!!

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      July 29, 2015

      Pointing out where racism and inequality exists does not perpetuate racial tension. People being racist and racially biased and not making behavioral changes perpetuate racial tension.

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      July 29, 2015

      Because i don’t think Nicki was angry, but she was characterized as angry by several media outlets and everyday people because the “angry black woman” stereotype is so pervasive in the US. What was angry about her comment that caused people to say she “attacked” or “jabbed” Taylor Swift?

      She made a comment sharing her viewpoint. In my opinion, it was blown up because America’s darling drew attention to it by claiming Nicki was pitting women against each other.

      Also, I think it received more attention because some people are “tired of hearing” about racism. They’d rather just pretend like black people whine all the time and blame “white people” for our problems and dismiss our experiences, instead of actually digging deeper and considering her statement.

      It goes back to blaming black people for the outcomes of our own oppression. Like how that dingbat Elizabeth Hasselbeck tried to blame Sandra Bland for her own (possible) murder instead of focusing on the deplorable behavior of the police officer and Waller County.

      • Sandee M.
        July 31, 2015

        I’ve been pretty horrified at the number of pieces/posts/comments in the media and on social media that blame Bland, suggesting if she’d only behaved differently everything would have been fine. To me that’s much too much like blaming a woman who wore revealing clothes or drank a little too much for being sexually assaulted. The officer was responsible for his behavior and choices, period, and he made some terrible choices. Powerful post.

      • Meena
        August 29, 2015

        I think it’s important to address it. Nicki Minaj, who in my opinion is a fabulous artist + performer and WAY more talented than Swift, (my personal preference, not particularly relevant in the larger picture,) makes a statement. She’s not allowed to rant a little? Express her frustration? A video that held the most number of views till *cringe* Bad Blood released? What you are saying, D, is the hidden issue you can’t see. It’s ok for Taylor to get hurt and vent but it’s NOT ok for Nicki to express her frustration or anger, because God forbid we ruffle the feelings of the White!! And let’s not forget Nicki did tweet later that she didn’t say a word about Taylor, just about how awards function in general.

    • Debbian
      July 29, 2015

      I do not disagree with you. But I don’t see how Nicki Minaj’s comment leads to a conversation about race. Maybe I’m not seeing the hidden message in this one.

  • Trecia
    July 26, 2015

    Can I ask a next question
    Is every act upon blacks with white involve racial? I’m not saying it doesn’t exist but couldn’t the situation be plain old argument that has gone wrong n end up in death? I’m just asking

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      July 29, 2015

      There’s certainly not racism in every situation involving transgressions against blacks.

      However, this is a country that’s in part built on first the free labor and later, continued oppression of black Americans. It’s so ingrained in our society that many people don’t see it because they’ve learned not to or refuse to acknowledge it because it makes them uncomfortable.

      People mention slavery and how it was so long ago, but leave out all the horribleness that came afterwards, some of which still exist. Jim Crow laws, lynching – for which the murderers and audience largely went unpunished, as well as job, housing and educational discrimination, unfair sentencing laws,and police brutality, among many other tools used to prevent black Americans from actually achieving equality.

      I highlight situations where I think people should at least think critically about different peoples’ perspectives because we certainly can’t count on most media outlets to do it.

    • tina
      September 5, 2015

      It could, but if u notice topics were specified and they certainly weren’t from “just an argument”

  • Trecia
    July 26, 2015

    I am so tired of people, living in a world where people are so mean towards each other plain n simple. Yes racism exit, so is classism, among any group white or black, yes nicki wanted to be nominated n yes maybe she should have been nominated but does that give her the right to call out a skinny girl, isn’t that attacking someone features hmmm skinny girl, black girl hmmm just because our race endure 100 yrs of slavery still doesn’t give us the right to be rude. You said your white school mate thought you were loud black girls so what, that’s her view hmmm isn’t she sharing room with you? Let me ask you something are we all free of never labeling someone?

    • Lamekia
      August 1, 2015

      I agree totally with you. Nicki video and song was not that great compared to the videos nominated. And her trying to make this a skinny versus thick thing disgusting. Especially at a time when almost every woman is trying to have that curvaceous body that Beyoncé, Kim k and Jennifer Lopez have. Some literally dying getting injections to immulate her body. And her song actually put down women of a certain body type. And she was being a spoiled entitled brat and I agree with Taylor’s comment because she was the only nominee that fit nicki description

  • Kenya G. Johnson
    July 26, 2015

    And you can’t come back from being dead. I’m angry too but I’ll never be as brave as Sandra Bland. God didn’t give us a spirit of fear but I am going to have to continue to pray on that fervently because I am scared. Scared for everyone. All of us. I am exhausted by the news, angry and ashamed but fear or what will happen next outweighs it all.

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      July 28, 2015

      She was brave, but I’m sure she was terrified and that’s what makes this all the much worse. She was terrorized, but they’ll probably get away with it. Some people are more willing to believe that a bright, active and civic-minded young woman went from defending her rights to suicide, rather than admit our “justice system” has a dangerous racism problem.

      Take care of yourself!

  • QvShellz (@FurRealB)
    July 25, 2015

    What happened to Sandra is down right wrong and we can’t ignore such things. However Beyonce was nominated and last I checked she isn’t skinny so Nicki’s point just ends up being irrelevant in that case. She got other awards and I understand she was disappointed but her comment was unnecessary and made her seem like a bit of a whiner. You got other nominations there are others out there who got nada. You missed it this year get up dust yourself off and come harder next year. And Imho Anacando isn’t that great of a video. There are ways to flaunt your beautiful other than tasteless ass shaking in a video. Just my opinion ofcourse.

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      July 26, 2015

      I see your point. However, I think Beyonce is slender and her size, including her butt, are generally considered desirable in mainstream. She may not be as skinny as Taylor Swift, but I’ve stil seen women across color lines obsess over her “thigh gap” (SMH) and “perfect butt.”

      7-11 also didn’t have people clutching their pearls like Anaconda did, nor calling the video and the ample bottoms “grotesque” or “disgusting” (terms I’ve also seen used to describe Serena William’s body just playing tennis). Nicki later brought up the difference between MTV’s reception of her video and Miley’s nakedness in Wrecking Ball which was nom. in previous years. I don’t think that was a diss against Miley anymore than she tried to shade Taylor.

      It coud very well be that TPTB at MTV just didn’t think Anaconda was as good as the other vids. But, I still think Nicki is entitled to express her frustration without it becoming a huge media story that potrays her as an angry black woman.

  • Jarret Ruminski
    July 24, 2015

    Great piece, Keisha. I wrote about the “angry black woman’ stereotype a while back as it pertained to Michelle Obama. http://thatdevilhistory.com/index.php/2013/12/11/michelle-obama-selfies-and-historical-stereotypes-about-black-women/. The more things change…

  • Heather
    July 24, 2015

    Keisha, I’m going to respectfully disagree with you on this one, to a degree; at least in using Minaj as your example and taking the tone of defense for her behavior. Regardless of her skin color, she appears as an angry sore loser. Taylor Swift was the only skinny (slim) white girl nominated and Minaj called out those attributes. Having worked on projects where she is present and basing it on personal experience, she is widely known for her bad behavior, rudeness and disregard of courtesy. I personally don’t feel she is a good example and I do feel she was calling out Taylor Swift. Unless there was another skinny (slim) white girl nominated who I don’t know about.

    Eta: I am on my phone and the bottom half of your post cut off. I feel the comparison you used is apples and oranges. I apologize if I’m being obtuse, but a comparison between Bland and Minaj don’t add up to me. I understand being angry about the former. The latter, Minaj (and all celebrities) don’t deserve the attention over a Twitter feud in my humble opinion.

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      July 24, 2015

      For me this isn’t really about Nicki Minaj. “Anaconda” isn’t even her best work. To me, Nicki’s point was bigger than a Taylor Swift video. This year it’s a Taylor Swift vid with skinny women. Next year, another awards show, it’ll be someone else. I believe Nicki’s point still stands.

      In the US, we do not celebrate women with curves the way we do slender women, whose sexuality appears non-threatening. Minaj brought this up when screen caps from “Anaconda” of her very round butt were censored, but Sports Illustrated models baring their flatter, paler butts weren’t and were seen as more tasteful and artistic.

      This double standard between acceptance and reverence of white beauty vs black beauty has been going on for centuries. Whether that’s what happened in the case of the VMAs, I don’t know. But that’s kind of the rub of being a black female. Nicki will never really know if her race and body type kept her out of the running. Something Taylor failed to understand and acknowledge. Taylor Swift walks through a world that greatly values her looks, style and very being.

      Even a congressman had the audacity a few years ago, to make insulting comments about Michelle Obama’s backside, claiming she’s unfit with her “big butt.” The FIRST LADY, disrespected by a member of Congress over her natural physique.

      As far as Nicki’s behavior in the past. I question that perception too. So many famous man are allowed the freedom to act like they are hot shit and don’t get called on it. Let a woman do it, let alone a black woman…some people get angry.

      Ultimately, I don’t expect everyone to agree with my perspective. But, I ask people to question their perceptions of situations, particularly when it comes to the portrayal of blacks in the media, as the media likes to tell the story they think will sell, regardless of the damage done by perpetuating negative stereotypes.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Heather. I appreciate being able to disagree with civility.

      /mini blog post

    • Heather
      July 24, 2015

      Correct me if I’m wrong. Wasn’t Beyonce nominated?

      I completely understand and agree with your points (though I do feel SOME progress is being made on celebrating women who are curvier) celebration of diversity is lacking.

      As for Minaj I based my opinion of her on my own experience in working with her/seeing how she works with others. I believe the hype because I found her rude and quite awful over a period of weeks. I’ve worked with other celebrities who were more gracious…

      Swift writes her music and has creative control. Agreed Anaconda wasn’t Minaj’s best work. She re-did an old rap hit, was provocative and scantily clad. I can see that anywhere. She lacked originality there.

      More importantly, it overshadowed what happened to Bland and Chapman. I’m concerned and disturbed. I frankly don’t have the appropriate words because it is easier for me. I know I don’t have to worry. But I still feel the grief and I’m worried about the regression the nation continues to experience because much of our police force is made up of profilers and racists.

      Anyway, I’m rambling. Just my .02. Thanks for the perspective.

  • Heidi
    July 24, 2015

    I wish I could tell you. Because I would tell all my friends. I am so scared that this could happen to someone I know at any time. It most likely will never happen to me, no matter how loud and angry I get. But it could happen to someone I love… Just because they are a different colour. And it’s so fucking wrong.

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      July 24, 2015

      Thank you, Heidi.

      Sandra Bland’s death left me even more shaken than usual. I have a sister that went to the university where Sandra was headed to work. My sisters and I used to go to HS less than a hour away from where Sandra was pulled over. Sandra Bland spoke out against police brutality. She knew her rights. But, she’s still gone.

      It terrifies me. It really could be any of us.

  • rlcarterrn
    July 23, 2015

    More often than I’d like to admit, this country just makes me sick. What happened to Sandra Bland is nothing short of atrocious & inhumane. I think we can all be reasonably sure that the media would be all over this case if she had been the proverbial “cute, innocent white girl.” Ugh. Shit like this makes me ashamed to be American.

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      July 25, 2015

      Not sure if you watch The Nightly Show (or Fox News), but they showed a clip of Fox News anchors outraged over what happened to Sandra Bland. When Fox News is upset about injustice and brutality towards black people, you know there’s something seriously wrong.

      Our country has such a complicated, and too often downright barbaric and shameful, past and present. One moment we’re applauding progress and the next, sickened and outraged by the depravity of some of our fellow citizens.

      • rlcarterrn
        July 26, 2015

        I don’t watch Fox News, but you’re definitely right. When they’re saying something like this is messed up, you know we’ve got a problem. So sad.

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