I was at a literary festival a few weeks ago.
At one of the talks, I attended one of the speakers said something incorrect. Well, when I say incorrect, she said she was colour-blind* and said that black authors don’t really need any help and if they did then it wasn’t really her job to help them (she was a literary agent)
I looked at the friends that I was with to do a double check and in fact my question to them was “Does what she just said stink of white privilege?” The answer was a resounding yes.
I sat for a while contemplating how I should challenge this. I was a guest at the festival, I was in a 95% white audience, I was tired, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be the lone voice, I didn’t want to be overly sensitive, was it worth the fuss? Then I looked again around the marquee and I thought “I also don’t want all of these white people going away thinking that what this woman said is true or okay.”
So, I put my hand up, the mic came to me and I challenged what had been said. I pointed out what the landscape really looks like for black authors and said we all needed to be disruptors. There were three speakers on the stage. All of them white literary agents. Two of them immediately apologised and corrected their responses. The other dug her heels in, she squirmed, passed the buck, threw out some incorrect stats and she told me I should come back and shout at her again next year!
When all of this woman’s arguments had failed her, she went back to her safe place, the angry black woman trope! She made herself the victim by simply implying that I had been shouting at her. Now the gaze shifts form her ignorant comments to the woman who was attacking her, now she can say how unsafe she felt. Anything she said doesn’t count because she was under pressure and she just said anything.
Of course, she is not a racist or ignorant, of course she didn’t mean it when she said she didn’t see colour, of course she understands the needs of black authors and she might have said all of that if the black woman hadn’t been shouting at her!
If you are black woman reading this it will all seem so familiar to you. If you are nonblack, think about your workplace, think about the last time you were in a setting when a black woman challenged someone. Google angry black woman and you get a lot images of, well, just black women! Hey just think about press coverage for people like Serena Williams. Read here
The angry black woman trope is often a cheap shot made by nonblack women and comes at a high cost for black women.
You see every time the trope is portrayed the stereotype is embedded a little further and the impact of this is far reaching from how we are viewed when we complain in consumer settings all the way through to the medical care we receive. The angry black woman trope is costing black women their lives!
The strain of dealing with this mentally is immense. You see, before I challenge racist and prejudicial concepts privately or publicly like my white peers do, I have to go through my mental checklist to decide if I can cope with the inevitable fall out and attitudes.
In her paper Aggressive Encounters & White Fragility: Deconstructing the Trope of the Angry Black Woman Professor Trina Jones says "Black women are not supposed to push back and when they do, they're deemed to be domineering. Aggressive. Threatening. Loud."
"Black women should be celebrated for not being completely consumed by anger," Robin Boylorn, an intercultural communications professor "Men are allowed to be angry as a performance of masculinity. White women are allowed to be angry as a clarion call. So black women should be encouraged to express their anger as well, particularly in the face of injustice."
It benefits all of society for everyone to have a voice, that is obvious. And so, we must do all we can to challenge stereotypes that are intended to silence and deprive any people group.
I wish I could say that I challenged the literary agent again, but I just didn’t have the energy to keep going with the conversation and that is okay. Black women do not have an endless supply of energy or capacity for these conversations which are happening daily.
The good news is, I was wrong about the other people in the tent. They too were outraged by the agent’s treatment of me and her stereo typing and many came to tell me afterwards, including several who said they were complaining to the festival organisers about her behaviour.
And this is how we change the world. By standing united and holding one another up.
The Pink Elephant by Janice Gassam Asare
Sweetwater by Robin M. Baylorn
White tears, brown scars by Ruby Hamad
Carefree black girls by Zeba Blay