Angry Black Woman: The Myth and the Mockery (Part one)

Part 1-Background

Thanks to my student access, I have accessed many articles written about the Angry Black Woman stereotype. However, the fact that there are so many articles written about ABW (Angry Black Women) proves how embedded the stereotype is into how black women are seen by wider society. This also is indicative that the use of this terminology is a huge problem that needs to be addressed.

So first, we need to discuss the origins of ABW and what it means.

According to Wikipedia:

‘The angry black woman stereotype is a trope in American society that portrays African-American women as sassy, ill-mannered, and ill-tempered by nature. Related concepts are the “sapphire” or “sassy black woman”. 

Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America was written in 2o11 by Melissa Harris-Perry. She explained the position of black females in the US and how they fit into the structure. According to Harris-Perry, black women in America are placed into three main categories- Mammy, Jezabel and Sapphire. 

The Angry Black Woman label is another name used to refer to the Sapphire category. Women who fall into this category are deemed to be loud, angry or short-tempered and emasculating.

Based on first-hand experiences of other black women, the ABW stereotype is not confined to the US. In fact, ABW has been a topic of discussion on numerous platforms in the UK since 2015 (maybe even earlier).

Even though I have only heard of ABW in the last ten years or so, the ABW stereotype is deeply rooted in the time of slavery. Enslaved black women were described as aggressive, dominant and masculine and, at the same time, helps support the belittling of black men.

Fast-forward to the 1930s, a radio show first introduced Americans to the Angry Black Woman stereotype. The ‘Amos and Andy’ show was produced by two white men and ran for over 30 years!!! They played black female characters who were portrayed as loud, violent, sexually fuelled, driven only by a man’s financial position and mocking black men. In my opinion, if I look back at some of the black shows I’ve watched both from the UK and USA- and like a cameo appearance, ABW has their 15 minutes of fame-remember the black lady in Scrubs; who was the ‘sassy’ nurse? The media has been used to popularise the ABW stereotype and still is, regardless of how they want to rebrand the stereotype. 

Pilgrim (2015) defined ABW as a ‘social control mechanism employed to punish black women who violate the societal norms that encourage them to be passive, servile, non-threatening, and unseen”. So how I interpret that is ABW is a slave handlers whip but with an upgrade.

In my opinion, ABW is a self-fulfilling prophecy- where you describe a prediction and causing it to come true. e.g. if a teacher labels a student a trouble maker and constantly treats them as such, there is a high chance that they will just live up to that label and become a trouble maker. The only difference is that despite how the media portrays black women as angry, the black women I know are quite the opposite. However, the ABW ideology has now overstayed its welcome-You better call Tyrone…

Please note, I am not an academic, so my interpretation of the research that I refer to is based on my own personal experiences. Also, I am speaking for myself and not as a spokesperson for all black women.

Article written by Creta James