‘Angry Black Woman’: Doomed if You Speak Up, Doomed If You Don’t

Heckler incident brings to light a social label that needs to be retired

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First Lady Michelle Obama became a hot topic today after refusing to compete with a heckler during a recent speech. (Image: File)

Well, it seems, that in many arenas, simply speaking your mind wins you a raggedy crown for Miss Angry Black Woman USA. And yet another nod to the nonsense came as the First Lady made top news today.

Michelle Obama became a hot topic, not for the eloquent words of encouragement and graceful dignity she’s known for, but for refusing to compete with a heckler at a fundraiser event and threatening to leave if the heckler wouldn’t be quiet.

The incident sparked major debate on the Web about whether Obama responded to the heckler in the appropriate manner, with fears and mentions of that age-old phrase “angry black woman” showing up somewhere in there. (And this isn’t the first time this phrase has been uttered in connection to the First Lady.)

Though Obama received support for her response from event attendees and advocates on the Web, many professional women of color still face the backlash of a label that needs to be put to bed. In 2014, that tired prevalent notion that any time a black woman speaks up—and it’s not to coddle, coo or sweet talk—she’s “angry” or “aggressive” is getting old.

I’ve spoken up and addressed topics and issues I’m passionate about several times in my career and have been met with “Uh ohs,” side eyes, fearful requests to “Bring it down,” and dismissive responses like “Don’t get your panties in a bunch.”

I’ve even seen notions broached by a male in a similar manner and met with much more positive responses and back-patting.

When I’m passionate about something, I speak my mind very vividly, candidly and I’d think, respectfully, but to some, being passionate equals “angry.” If I am convicted and strong in my speech and demeanor, I must be mad at the world— at everybody—especially since I’m a woman of color.

And all women of color have a chip on their shoulder. None can utter their opinions without that extra dose of stank, right?

(I’m sure some people even read a little stank in that last sentence.)

As women, in general, if our voices are not deep enough, we’re ignored or not taken seriously.

If we speak too softly … again, ignored.

If we speak with authority, we’re called choice b-words or seen as unattractive battle-axes.

If we don’t lean in or we don’t take an engaging and powerful stance on anything, we’re seen as passive, yes women who will never even get close to gaining a seat at the table with key players in our industries.

The balance between being a lady and being a power woman can be a tricky one in a highly competitive and sometimes cut-throat business world where women have yet to see equality in pay, position or progress.

Women already have enough barriers to being taken seriously in the workplace. I implore everyone: Add “Angry Black Woman” to that list of archaic, overused phrases that should not apply to all women of color —women who actually have opinions and feelings and care to share them—even if they’re not laced in sweetness or passivity.

Get rid of the blanket judgments and take each incident for what it is. Listen. Hear us out. Respect our voices, and then assess.

Do you think women of color get an unfair label when speaking up in social and professional arenas? #Soundoff and follow Janell on Twitter @JPHazelwood.

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  • Autumn GetEqual Leaf

    I’m disappointed that the focus went to race so quickly. The protestor is not a person with an ounce of hatred or bigotry in them, their intent was to ask Mrs. Obama to address her husband’s 2008 promise for an ENDA executive order.

    The “angry black woman” stereotype is unacceptable, and obviously not what Sturtz was speaking about. It’s not everyday that the First Lady offers to hand the microphone to a protestor, and I think that individual is allowed to express surprise at being approached.

    With that said, I think the media bears much of the blame for inflaming this issue. Similar to how the headlines read “First Lady Shouted Down”, when nothing similar to that description happened.

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  • Jerry S.

    In all of this debate we are overlooking the fact that this heckler was
    from a group that is constantly facing all sorts of discrimination.
    From the logic of this and other, similar editorials, can we then conclude the First lady is homophobic?!

  • evianalmighty

    Her in your face stunt was extremely low class. It does not matter what race.

  • Overly Sensitive Nation

    Pretty much all of what you mention in the article above applies and happens to all women, in fact, it happens to men as well. Not sure how this turned this into a racial/gender issue but I guess when the name of your column is Black Enterprise, clearly everything is one sided, narrow minded and anyone who questions you is a racist or bigot, right?

  • Janie

    While Michelle Obama’s ascendancy to First Lady status has been a walk through fire for the new alpha female in North America, her very visible position at President Obama’s side has proven a godsend to Black women in North America. For those who labored under false labels and have been whispered about, backstabbed, and gossiped as “angry, aggressive, defensive, etc” for speaking up about unacceptable treatment, it is now crystal clear that it is not just imagination, sensitivity, or race cards. The real phenomenon of vicious disrespect followed by victimized whining upon confrontation of that vicious disrespect is laid out for the entire world to see and judge. I’m still “taken aback” at the way the Governor of Arizona behaved in vulgar and aggressive manner towards the President of the United States by waving her finger in his face (probably covering him in alcoholic spittle at the same time), and then reporting that the President, in her words, “had an attitude” and that she felt fearful of what he might do. Oh, it’s all very clear now and I thank First Lady Obama for her fortitude in the face of systemic racial aggression.