Other than race (black) and gender (female), what else do April Ryan, Maxine Waters, Joy Ann Reid and Angela Rye have in common?
The answer? They’re smart as heck, forceful in expressing their politics and views, and more than able to defend themselves against disrespect. You see, while others (yes, men, this also includes many of you too) sit in silence these powerful women won’t hesitate to hit back despite the potential for being tagged “An Angry Black Woman.” (If you’re unfamiliar with these women Google them before reading further.)
First, both Ryan and Waters have been disrespected in the media; Ryan by Sean Spicer (“Stop shaking your head.”) and Waters by Bill O’Reilly (“I was too distracted by her James Brown wig to listen to anything she had to say about Donald Trump.”).
Second, and like Ryan and Waters, commentator Rye and MSNBC’s Reid have had their share of attacks but have demonstrated that they can duke it out with the best of them when nonsense comes their way.
But let’s do a deeper dive into the politics of the ABW/M (Angry Black Woman/Man) thing, okay?
Recall how the media caricatured first lady Michelle Obama years ago on the cover of a magazine as a fist pumping, angry black woman. That’s the label placed on strong black women who express their views with little regard for how others perceive them. And, as many point out, President Obama himself had to walk a fine line to curtain his true feelings on the issue of race because of the ABM politics lurking around him.
No doubt that the ABW/M label can be a debilitating moniker, one that can send the recipient of that characterization into a tailspin of second-guessing, carefully measuring words, voice tone and body language in anticipation of negative reactions. And the back-of-mind worry is that the bigger and blacker you are – black men in particular – the more threatening, the more intimidating.
Often any form of disagreement, or just speaking up, from a powerful black man or woman can be met with being tagged an ABW/M. And for those who cannot handle being challenged by strong black women and men, ABW/M becomes a convenient tool for bludgeoning them into submission, debasing them as human beings.
Now there’s a delicate tightrope to walk between being perceived as an ABM/W on one extreme, an “Uncle Tom” on the other, or somewhere in the middle, especially when you know that if the scale is tilted toward being seen as an ABW/M, your voice – and your career- is likely dead in the water. In the politics of the workplace, the ABW/M stereotype threat can become a hidden hurdle to overcome, one that shows up behind a code word …”fit”… loosely translated as … Will we have to choose our words carefully around her? Will he explode in anger and get physical if we give him negative feedback?
Educator Gian Fiero once wrote that entry into the corporate environment for black men is especially rigorous and that there are high barriers to entry that many are simply not aware of. These barriers, which also serve as filters, are predicated on the fears of those who create them.
“The office dynamics between black men and their co-workers are something to behold. You can see it in their eyes when black men show up for interviews (especially when they don’t have a “black” sounding name). Once hired, we have to quickly put people at ease by making others feel comfortable. This is why so many black men who work in corporate America fit a particular profile: educated, articulate, cultured, and non-threatening. When these characteristics are on full display, they contribute to the comfort level of others.”
So my message to Ryan, Waters, Rye, Reid and others is to wear the ABW label as a badge of honor because that’s what make you all so special. You are refreshing and sorely needed. Plus, I got the TV channel set and my popcorn ready for when the sparring begins.
Oh, and as for me folks, please don’t write me off as still another ABM because of the stuff I write about. Because in reality I’m just a lovable teddy bear at heart, with more bark than bite.