The Myth of the Angry Black Woman…
I woke up, off schedule, with a headache, toothache and really bad breath. For those reasons, I entered the bathroom, took some Co-drydamol and ran a bath before work. I wanted to ‘immerse myself in the comforting blend of honey and sweet almond’ like the bottle suggested. With the tendency to over-think things, a relaxing cocoon sounded like just what I needed. The bath milk trickled into the water, a drop of the solution falling gracefully between my toes. I climbed in, assuming the water was tepid, but my entire left foot had been completely submerged in what had felt like liquid hell. ‘Always sample the water with a toe dip’. That’s bath rule No.2… No.1 being, ‘keep a close eye on the water level.’ Last year, I flooded my apartment when I was distracted by the finale of One Tree Hill. No regrets. I still need to retile my bathroom floor though.
The water had cooled, so I lay in the bathtub and played some UK chart music, hoping it would motivate me enough not to call in sick at work. Lately, the office has become an extremely awkward environment. A couple weeks ago I snapped at yet another co-worker over something so insignificant.
Brad, the fresh faced teen in the department, sometimes eats lunch on the 5th floor where the rest of us editors convene. Conversation started, as usual, about things which didn’t relate to work. We like to keep ourselves feeling normal – the demands of the office can sometimes have us forgetting that we actually have a life outside of the office – so we chit-chat… about, you know, personal stuff: family life, relationships, things we do for fun. New guy Brad, however, broke our ‘no work talk’ policy one afternoon and began taking ideas for his new column piece on culture and tradition, but we liked him, so it didn’t bother us so much. Brad Hunt is 19. Uncomfortablly tall – around six foot three inches, dark, almost obsidian hair, practically gelled to the sky. And how could I forget? The most perfect Colgate smile – he could be mistaken for a Ken doll (no, not my dad, Barbie’s other half.) You should see the way some of these middle aged women fight for his attention – it’s laughable. He’s in training to become a junior columnist in one of the lower offices and I hear he’s got a promising future here at ‘HappyHour’. So anyway, he took suggestions from around the room. “How about a piece on how race is a social construct”, one voice offered. “Maybe you could talk about how there needs to be more diversity in children’s toys. My little girl is 3, last night, she asked me why there aren’t any brown dolls..” , another lady so greatly proposed before Brad interrupted, “Great ideas guys, really, though I was thinking of something a little less heavy, something fun… A common topic the public can relate to…” “Okay, well how about food? Everybody loves food. You could write about different traditions and cultural dishes around the world,” I suggested, “you could call it ‘Commonly Cooked.'” The room seemed open to my idea as I observed nods of implied approval from each corner of the room. “Nice one Hannah,” Brad responded, “We’ll go with that. The question is: which cultural foods should I explore?” Again, many suggestions were offered. We must have discussed, maybe eighteen different options in that moment, from the Veitnamese Pho Ga, Montenegrin styled beef liver, even the French delicacy Escargot. Despite all these amazing suggestions, Brad did not seem satisfied. “We don’t have any ‘black’ foods written down. I don’t want to offend any readers.” Ironic. I think if they had heard you refer to them as ‘black’ foods, they would feel just that, ‘Brad’. I was clearly offended but he continued, “What traditional foods do your family cook, Hannah?” I was shocked, but replied anyway, “Fish and Chips…” I couldn’t mask the sarcasm. Brad laughed, “Oh, and all this time I believed that it was a British thing. I guess it’s more native than I thought…Where in the world are you from?” I flung my lunch into the bin. It didn’t all go in. I think a piece of chicken hit Cheryl on the head. I’m not sure. I didn’t care. “London. I’m from London.” I left the room, enraged.
That moment gave me the same anxious feeling I used to get when I was in school. I was the only black child in the class… One of three black kids in the entire school. We would read ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ in class and my stomach would just fall straight out my arsehole every time the reader read the words “Nigger-lover” aloud. Every eye in the class would direct their focus towards me, checking if I was ‘okay’. The same feeling would fall upon me each time we studied slavery in history class. The opening scenes of Amistad would guarantee an audience to the ‘see if Hannah reacts’ show. I remember one specific lesson where we discussed America in the 1800s and viewed pictures of the naked mutilated bodies of black men, women and children hanging from trees. That lesson, I was asked to leave by a substitute teacher because she didn’t want me to become insulted and have my parents come to school, outraged, accusing her of being insensitive. On another occasion, a friend and I were discussing how Black History Month is in February in the USA but in October in the UK. That same sub interrupted with the question, “Why is it fair for black people get a whole month for themselves?” She should’ve been fired.
I haven’t seen Brad on the 5th floor, since. I can feel the resentment in the entire building. “Fish and Chips…” was hardly a sufficient enough comeback to get this level of retaliation. Have you ever thought of a better comeback after the argument has ended? I did. Part of me wishes I’d have handed him his hat, but perhaps my sarcastic performance proved me to be harsh enough already… After all, how was he supposed to know? Even so, I hate how presumptuous he was being. Maybe if he had selected his words a little more carefully, I wouldn’t have backfired the way I did.
Now I’ve become the Angry Black Woman in the workplace, always on high-alert… Hyperconscious of my actions, tone and words, out of fear that I may come across as too angry. Whether I’m making a suggestion or instructing my subordinates on what they ought to do, I ask myself: am I being the Angry Black Woman? That’s the stereotype a lot of black women are handed. If we aren’t characterized as exotic, lustful, man-stealing, whores, we are confined to the group known as the Angry Black Women: short-tempered, finger-snapping, head-rolling, emasculating women of colour. We see this everyday! Say her name: Sandra Bland. The perfect example. She was portrayed as the Angry Black Woman after becoming irritated at a highway police officer for pulling her over for a failure to signal, moments before her first day at her new job. I think we would all become agitated if we were to become late on our first day at work. What about Beyoncé? After releasing the video to her song ‘Formation’, social media become furious, labelling her as the Angry Black Woman for simply being pro-black (which might I add, doesn’t equate to being anti-white.) This archetype implies that we are the Angry Black Woman because anger is in our nature, or that it’s a ‘batteries included’-type feature we all come with, thus engineering the perfect target for discrimination. I’ve been trying to decide whether or not to seek Brad out and apologise, so that things can revert back to normal. I don’t want to seem prideful to the others, then again, I don’t really see what I have to apologise for.
The bath is cold now. I have to go to work. Wish me luck.