How to counter the 'angry black woman' stereotype

ESSAY - We may never be able to debunk the myth of the Angry Black Woman -- but we can take these steps to advance our ball down the court of life...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

In a recent episode of the Oprah Winfrey Network drama series, The Haves and the Have Nots, the almost destitute maid Hanna Young (played by Crystal Fox) seemed to epitomize the stereotype of the Angry Black Woman when her adult son sets her up with a blind date.

I sat there rooting for her to find love and emotional support amid all the negativity in her life. On the surface, the fine black man from her church seemed like a perfect match. Notwithstanding, Hannah treated him with hostility from the moment she laid eyes on him.  Then, from their ensuing private conversation, we learn the ugly back story. “Mr. Perfect” is in fact her son’s father and had never provided financial or emotional support for him!

Hanna’s hurt and disappointment could not be dismissed. But at first, it was all too easy to dismiss her behavior as stereotypical, and unwarranted. It was too easy to label her as something even first lady Michelle Obama has been called: an Angry Black Woman.

Encounters with the Angry Black Woman

No doubt you have encountered an Angry Black Woman:  the unfriendly checker at the supermarket, the unhelpful postal worker, the surly retail clerk, the co-worker with the chip on her shoulder who finds racism under every rock, among many figures from daily life.  While these sisters do not represent the general population of black women, they do perpetuate a myth that makes others paint us all with the same “angry brush.”

As I’ve researched and written on the subject of anger over the past year, I’ve come to fully embrace the concept that anger is indeed a secondary emotion. And, as I’ve learned the painful history of some of the bitter, intolerant, and demanding black women in my circle of observation, I have not found that a single one of them is inherently angry.

Many have experienced a myriad of primary emotions that often underlie their negative behavior. Such behavior has caused society to undeservingly label black females in general as angry.  These primary emotions are the reality for far too many black women, and they stem from the type of initial slight that the character Hanna Young experienced. They include  feeling disrespected, disappointed, denigrated, rejected, betrayed, taken for granted, abused, manipulated, discriminated against, unsupported, and numerous other painful events that lead to hurtful feelings.

Learning to cope positively with negativity

I recently chatted with two black women at the opposite ends of the socio-economic scale about the myth of the Angry Black Woman. “Shanell,” with limited education and waning motivation on the job, was struggling with her relationship with her supervisor. She related that she’d recently told him off and declared to him, “You can’t tell me anything because you are younger than I!”  I cringed at her lack of professional savvy.

On the other hand, when I queried “Ruth,” a highly-celebrated, award-winning, and nationally known physician, about the stereotype of the Angry Black Woman, she became highly-animated as she rattled off the same litany of aforementioned primary emotions that black women have experienced due to what tends to be our collective treatment.  However, she concluded by saying, “In spite of our history and our reality, we have to find a better way of coping.”

She is right.  Many of us who were reared in a matriarchal environment have mimicked the dominant behaviors (necessary for survival) that we observed in our mothers, grandmothers, and other women who influenced us. Others saw passivity and abuse and have gone in a totally opposite direction, declaring all the way, “Never will I tolerate unfair treatment from anybody!”

Deborah’s powerful antidotes to anger

Frankly, I don’t think we will ever eradicate the prevailing perception that we are angry.  The battle to debunk this myth will have to be fought and won on an individual basis. Here are some strategies that have worked for me over the years in my private and professional life:

  • Smile… smile anyway. Don’t be the “skunk at the picnic” that pollutes the atmosphere with a stinking attitude. People like to work with and associate with pleasant folks. Further, some black women may have a facial bone structure (not an uncommon occurrence — forgive this language, but it makes a point!), that often makes it appear to others that we are unhappy or upset.  A genuine smile will counter this.
  • Be proactive in joining others for social outings (lunch, company gatherings, etc.). The rewards often go to people that the benefactors know, like, and trust. Don’t wait to be asked.
  • Limit your “ain’t it awful” sessions to those who can change your situation. Complainers are frequently isolated from career enhancing opportunities and fun social situations.
  • Remember that the rest of the world doesn’t know your painful history, so don’t take your anger out on customers, co-workers, friends, boyfriends, husbands, or others.
  • Be the best you can be in personal and professional situations — then, ask for what you want. Don’t let fear of rejection silence you when you are clearly an asset!
  • Submit to those in authority—with a pleasant attitude. It’s amazing how far saying “okay” will take you—as long as the request is not illegal, immoral, or consistently outside of your area of responsibility.
  • Don’t assume that others are always out to hinder your progress. Have faith and believe that nobody can thwart your God-driven destiny.
  • Support your man with wisdom. Don’t hesitate to encourage him; it is not the same as enabling irresponsibility. Always make him look good in front of others; you’re sure to reap a reward.

While we may never be able to debunk the myth of the Angry Black Woman, we can take the steps above to advance our ball down the court in every arena of life, rather than getting stuck in the prison of anger because of unfair events of the past.

Deborah Smith Pegues is an award-winning author of 15 transformational books.  She is an international speaker, Certified Behavioral Consultant, and Certified Public Accountant and counselor to several celebrities.  In her latest book, 30 Days to Taming Your Anger, she gives practical strategies for dealing with irritations, frustrations, and rage.  She has been happily married to her soul mate Darnell Pegues for over 34 years.  They live in Los Angeles.  Check her out at