This weekend saw plenty of black girl anger on display from Serena’s throw down on the court to Cardi B’s blow up at Nikki Minaj during fashion week. Seems like everywhere you turn a black woman is getting kicked out or called out for being angry. Before you start with some respectability politics a-la-well-calm-down, remember Black women are often stereotyped as out of control, but with a world on fire, acting nice is a privilege they can ill afford. I’m not saying you should start ripping off wigs but beyond soundbites and stereotypes, anger has a place in every black girl’s arsenal.
Serena Williams’ journey to capture her 24th Grand Slam title stopped short when she received a game violation for verbal abuse, effectively ceding the match to first time Grand Slam winner Naomi Osaka. The high drama played out on the court with Williams accusing a judge of sexism for issuing a rarely-called penalty for coaching. Unlike her brooding and unrepentant male counterparts who made screaming at refs their brand, she was penalized for her verbal outburst, costing her any remaining focus she had and the game.
She complained bitterly that the rules were being applied differently for her versus her male counterparts–textbook sexism–and has been supported by many of her peers from Chris Everett, covering the Open as it happened to tennis and sexism expert Billie Jean King.
Despite having a point about sexism in tennis, Williams lost the match and of course faced the usual hateful representation as an angry ape/child. Oh, and she was fined for her outburst about unfair treatment of women–she’ll pay $17,000. Also textbook sexism
Across town in a less athletic display of rage, Cardi B threw a shoe at Nikki Minaj in a scuffle best described as rap beef with great dresses. In a scene right out of Love and Hip Hop, Cardi B pulled up on Minaj at the Harper’s Bazaar Icons party at New York Fashion Week. The fight garnered lots of buzz throughout the weekend with bloggers turning history professors as they run down the back and forth between the self-proclaimed Queen of rap and the newcomer for the throne.
But it wasn’t an episode of reality TV–it was two women who have more in common with each other than they have with many of the other party goers. Both are entrepreneurs doing their best to ride the wave of celebrity before time and the next big starlet leaves them on the shore. While their public beef will help drive records sales and blog hits this week, this is just another chapter in the ho-hum tale of ghetto girls acting badly. Their out-of-control anger over some she-tweet-she-said is exactly what is expected out of both stars and out of angry black women in general. This didn’t happen backstage at a Migos show–this was a show they put on for the international fashion crowd-tres boughetto. What ever happened to go high, ladies?
Before we chalk up this weekend to the same ole angry black women story we always hear, let’s not. When we talk about how angry black women are, we ignore that black women, in reality, are not angrier than their white counterparts. What we are repeating is an old stereotype that was used to justify oppressive practices to keep black women in check. Black women do–and have a right to–respond to attacks on their community and character with anger. But the conflation of their temporary mood and their permanent color is classic racism, providing an easy excuse to invalidate any given black woman’s righteous anger as just a character flaw of the race.
In fact, recent studies show that white people are more likely to describe themselves as angry than members of other racial groups. The poll should come as no surprise: everywhere we look we see internet videos of white women going off at Starbucks, on the street, at Michael’s–and let’s face it, if crafting makes you angry you really need help. But we don’t call them angry white women–we refer to them as Barbeque Becky, or the lady freaking out at Michaels, but their whiteness is not a key descriptor in their internet moniker like it is for Serena. Go google angry white women, and then angry black woman–what difference do you notice in the results?
It’s not just the women who are mad as hell–there was no shortage of male violence competing for airtime this weekend–from real stories of shootings, rape, and murder to hours of news with men yelling at each other in silk suits or a day reserved for men running full speed at each other and knocking each other’s memories out of their heads on the football field. Male aggression is nothing less than the great American pass time. The consequence for men who act aggressively is winning. They are rewarded on the field, in the workplace, and in the White House for acting aggressively, threatening and pushing, dominating and snarling.
We are a sharply competitive nation who prizes the flash of sharp teeth and the rule of the bone. To give up your anger is to put down one of the most powerful tools in American culture, and to silence your own voice in the face of oppression. Still, public displays of anger by black women have little benefit for them beyond being weekend clickbait and conversely carry the consequences of hundreds of years of history. What’s a black woman to do?
Anger is a valid and valuable human emotion. Like any weapon, you have to be careful with it: using it to try to right the wrongs of the world is a solid move, even if you don’t always land you blow. But using your anger to slide into a petty feud best left in subtweets is like bringing a knife to a fist fight.
Unlike Cardi B, never, never let them see you sweat over the next b. Cardi B has been riding a wave of love for her plucky weird vibe from bump reveals to Met Gala Virgin Mary glam. Being something other than a wild rapper is what’s getting her invited everywhere. Don’t lose your seat at the table fighting over scraps. There’s no black girl magic in playing out the same tired trope of hood chicks who don’t know how to act. Best to keep your knives virtual and your bag–and your plus 1–secure.
But anger has a place and black women have the right to display anger, to call people out with their anger, to wield their anger like everyone else in America. We know that sexism is unlikely to disappear with a whispered “excuse me, please.” Like Serena, don’t let them talk you down when you are busy pointing out systemic inequality. Serena may have lost the Grand Slam but she proved herself a superhero in a tutu scoring again in a match against sexism. She kept her anger directed at a system that wasn’t treating her fair. Instead of attacking her young opponent she lifted up her sister with grace and love, despite her being all the way in her feelings. She showed us rage done right: a new play that has room both for fierce competition and for grace and respect for the winners.