'Angry Black Woman': Doomed if You Speak Up, Doomed If You Don't
Black Enterprise Magazine July/August 2018 Issue

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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Janell Hazelwood

Janell Hazelwood is associate managing editor at Black Enterprise, managing content across core areas of Money, Career, Small Business and Technology. She is also a featured blogger with My Two Cents, providing insights on branding, millennial career development, employment trends and leadership. She was previously a content producer and copy editor for Black Enterprise magazine, working across several editorial sections. The Hampton University graduate got her start in the newspaper industry, having worked for companies including The New York Times and Scripps Howard News Service. Her works and insights have appeared on The Huffington Post, MadameNoire, E!Online, Brazen Careerist, CBS News, and Arise TV.


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