By Bethany Bair
Posted on September 10, 2021
Black women’s emotions are always patrolled. Contrastive to Black men or white women, when Black women voice their opinions they are automatically seen as loud or sassy. Society constructed a stigma that misconstrues Black women’s feelings. This stereotype is called the “Angry Black Woman”, which suggests that all Black women are angry and ill-tempered by nature. Georgetown Law mentions that society’s perception of Black femininity carries three dominant paradigms that originated during the era of the enslavement of Black people. These paradigms are the Jezebel, who is a hypersexual woman and the exploiter of men’s weaknesses; the Mammy, who is self-sacrificing, nurturing and loving; and the Sapphire, who is emasculating, aggressive, and angry. We will be focusing solely on the Sapphire paradigm. This caricature of Black women’s femininity further breaks down into different sections of our public consciousness and impacts social and mental perceptions.
The stereotype of the Sapphire creates real-life consequences for Black women today. For example, at the 2018 U.S. Open final, Serena Williams received multiple penalties from the referee after confronting him for a call he made. This decisive moment resulted in Williams losing her chance at winning her 24th Grand Slam singles title. Every time she spoke up, she received more penalties and fines that resulted in her losing her opportunity to win. Unsurprisingly, her reactions were no different from any other athlete facing the same problem, yet she was penalized more harshly for expressing her emotions and was refused a review or officiating help. Whenever Black women speak up about their mistreatment, they are deemed to be aggressive or threatening. Black women are constantly discouraged from expressing their emotions and sharing their thoughts. Consequently, some women might give up trying to be heard and refrain from advocating for themselves because their feelings are constantly misunderstood. Countless Black women are physically, emotionally, and verbally attacked because their tone can be perceived as “argumentative.” Some women even run the risk of losing their job, getting physically attacked, or receiving a lower grade in a class for speaking up. The Sapphire stigma gradually silences them as they progress through various stages in life. Hence, Black women face more violence than their white peers but are ignored when exposing or confronting that violence.
The “Angry Black Woman” stereotype affects Black women mentally because they have to be careful about how they act, what they say, and how they display their emotions. Even masks in this COVID-19 era do not help Black women escape judgement. They are judged based on the visibility of their eyes alone. Black women also have to carry themselves in a particular way that is deemed acceptable in society, which can become emotionally and mentally draining. Repressing emotions places their health at risk. Studies show that Black women are experiencing numerous negative health outcomes like anxiety and depression at a disproportionate rate. The weight of being negatively perceived is overwhelming. For example, to some Black women, their hair is like a precious crown and they barely let anyone touch it. So what happens when someone asks if they can? If the woman says yes, she won’t feel good afterward, but if she says no, they’ll think she is rude or “dramatic,” which leaves her in a double bind. Therefore, explaining why she is uncomfortable with someone else touching her hair puts her at risk of confirming the “Angry Black Woman” stereotype. Along with that, the explanation of why the question made her uncomfortable requires an added emotional labour that can leave her feeling more vulnerable. Black women’s emotions are constantly looked down upon by others which progressively makes them feel stuck.
How do we overcome the “Angry Black Woman” stereotype?
This Sapphire paradigm has been ingrained into society’s consciousness. Like many other biases created from racism and sexism, it is not a stereotype that can be changed with the snap of a finger. Hence, it is a matter that Black women must first work towards overcoming personally. Many times, Black women bottle up their pain because to let it out leaves them very vulnerable; however, bottling up emotional unrest damages their health and sooner or later, these emotions will flow into other areas of their lives. Studies show that Black women are encouraged to express their true feelings because it will help their health in the long run.
For allies, it’s important to be educated about the issues that the Sapphire stereotype creates for Black women, and speak up when witnessing the trope being applied to any of them. Just like everyone else’s, Black women’s emotions are valid and are meant to be accepted the same way. They should not have to hide their feelings in order to protect their reputation or avoid being silenced. Moreover, Black women have every right to express themselves the way they want to without being labelled, judged, or condemned. Thus, let us change the narrative imposed upon Black women.
If you are a Black woman, it is time to start unapologetically voicing your opinion and holding your head up high because you choose how you characterize yourself, not society.