A stereotype is defined as “a standardized mental image that is shared by members of a group and that represents a simplistic opinion, prejudicial attitude, or uncritical judgment,” according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. Under-represented minority groups often have to overcome widely held stereotypes about their groups. To Asians, they are dubbed model minorities, with many labels and stereotypes about this group being more positive in nature, although they experience stereotypes about their lack of interpersonal skills and their inability to assert themselves. Women in the workplace have to overcome the glass ceiling, which is the invisible barrier that keeps them from ascending and advancing in their careers. For black women in the workplace, that glass ceiling can seem even more impenetrable. Black women must overcome the stereotype of the angry black woman, which characterizes black women as cranky, hostile, and overly aggressive. For proof of this stereotype, we should look no further than recent headlines about Serena Williams. Other examples of this applied stereotype include Michelle Obama, Jemele Hill, and Shonda Rhimes. The origin of the stereotype of the angry black woman is believed to be from the 1950s radio show Amos and Andy, who portrayed black women as sassy and domineering. The stereotype of the angry black woman persisted more than half a century later. Columbia University professor Kimberle Crenshaw says in his research that the intersectionality of the black woman’s experience is unique to that of black men and white women. Crenshaw also claims that black women’s double-minority status makes them more vulnerable to further marginalization. How can black women overcome the stereotype of the angry black woman in the workplace? What can organizations do to prevent this stereotype from persisting?
1. Inquire. Part of the problem and the reason this stereotype persists is a lack of awareness that this stereotype exists as well as a lack of understanding regarding the experiences of black women. There are a number of different books that detail the experience of black women and will give strangers a better understanding of what black women go through on a daily basis. Education is a powerful tool in dismantling racist prejudices and ideals. A lack of understanding and awareness of the experiences of different marginalized groups only further widens the perceived gap. Take the time to learn more about your black colleagues.
2. Express yourself. While the stereotype of the angry black woman can lead to negative experiences and outcomes in the workplace, a groundbreaking study found that because black women are more likely to be seen as assertive, dominant and exhibiting traits often associated with white male leaders, they were not penalized. to display these traits, while their white female and black male counterparts were. Research found that due to the dual minority status of black women, they experienced something like a cancellation effect, which downplayed the discrimination they experienced compared to their counterparts. This research is encouraging for black women who fear expressing their emotions and displaying certain traits at work.
In addition, black women had many health issues, including anxiety, at a higher rate than their white counterparts. Suppressing emotions like anger out of fear of adhering to the stereotype of the angry black woman can actually end up being more damaging in the long run. Besides the fact that suppressing one’s emotions is an unhealthy practice in general, when black women display a range of emotions, it can help others see that black women are multifaceted and vibrant. Seeing black women display different emotions, be it anger, sadness, or joy, helps normalize it.
3. Check yourself. Unconscious biases can still perpetuate the stereotype of the angry black woman at work. Diversity and inclusion training should focus on those uncontrolled beliefs and opinions that each employee has about other groups. Employees should have the opportunity to listen to the experiences and stories of black women. Employees should also be encouraged to amplify the voices of black women and women of color, especially during discussions and meetings in boardrooms. When was the last time you supported a black woman at work? What formal or informal mentoring opportunities does your business offer? In what ways can you use your knowledge and expertise to raise a black woman in your business? These are all important questions that every employee should ask themselves. Speaking up is imperative when you witness the etiquette being applied to black women. Whether it’s you who are tagged or another employee this stereotype is applied to, speaking and expressing yourself is essential. When stereotypes are left unchecked, it gives employees the perception that this behavior is acceptable. It could even be something as benign as a colleague commenting on Michelle Obama’s behavior or giving advice on Serena Williams’ approach. Any employee who is complicit in witnessing the perpetuation of stereotypes contributes to the larger problem. The responsibility for deconstructing racism and sexism rests with each employee. Using your voice to amplify the voices of black women, learning more about how you might be contributing to the problem, and speaking out against labeling and stereotypes are all methods employees can use to foster a more inclusive workplace.