I don’t have OWN on my cable package anymore, so it’s taken me a bit of time to catch up on my favorite show, Iyanla: Fix My Life. The season has started with a four-part special that finds spiritual healer Iyanla Vanzant addressing “the myth of the angry black woman” and orchestrating a house of healing for women who have been labeled with the popular stereotype. Vanzant operates under the premise that these women, and women like them, aren’t so much angry as they are hurt. She aims to give them the tools to process their feelings in a more productive way than lashing out.
I get it. The show works, and the premise and intention are solid. But as these women, and women watching, “do their work” to manage their reactions in a healthier way, I want to take the time to acknowledge the rightful anger of the black women who are pissed off. There’s a lot that happens specifically to us that is worth righteous indignation. This list won’t cover it all, but it will give a glimpse of why some women are fed up and flipping out.
1. Being thought of as “the help.”
Look, if you’re in Target wearing a red shirt, you’re fair game for being mistaken for someone who works there. But it’s beyond annoying to hear that squeaky “Excuse me?” in your direction when you’re shopping in your coat and/or holding your gigantic purse and someone asks you where the dressing room is. It’s not one customer seeking a little insight from a fellow shopper; it’s assuming that you, the black lady, can’t possibly be looking for a cute outfit, too. You must be “the help” because you’re black. It grates on the last good nerve.
2. Touching our hair.
I get the fascination with black women’s hair, especially natural hair. There is an endless array of styles and textures that occur on one head or within one head of hair. The waves, curls and coils and kinks can defy gravity and definition. I get why people would want to touch it. But black women’s hair ain’t a public art exhibition for kids. Shoving a hand into a stranger’s roots without permission isn’t just bad manners (clearly we weren’t all told not to respect the space of others); it feels like an assault.
3. Appropriating our style.
It’s infuriating to constantly receive messages, whether from our mothers or mainstream media, that our hair textures, hairstyles, bodies, fashions and features are not good enough, and then see those exact same traits and style choices celebrated when they’re worn by people who don’t have our melanin.
Big lips on black women get called ugly. On white women, they’re the impetus for a beauty empire. On nonblack women, suddenly cornrows and dreadlocks are cool, not a sign of laziness or being unkempt. Door-knocker earrings and name plates and grills aren’t “ghetto”—they’re suddenly trendy. And worse, the styles and traits that black women have had since forever get attributed to nonblack women who “discovered” them, like, yesterday. That burns.
4. Being bashed by black men.
There’s a group of men who seem to have made it their life’s work to tell black women “You ain’t s–t.” It’s the guys who share memes that clown black women’s hair, weight, eyebrows or attitudes. Or it’s the men who pop up in black women’s spaces to extol the virtues of nonblack women who are “better.” And it’s the guys who blame black women and their “feminism” for the demise of … well, everything. These men don’t get that self-love doesn’t mean hate everyone else. Or better, they get it when the concept applies to Black Lives Matter, but not when it applies to women.
5. Black male silence.
I’ve lost count of the number of days I’ve woken up, clicked my Facebook app and seen video of another police shooting of a black man. Or for that day and the following day, it’s all my timeline is talking about, especially if the victim is male. Everyone, male or female, sounds affected, and the conversations run from outrage to organizing to larger contemplations about what the community response should be.
I don’t see the same interest from men when the victim is a black woman. And I don’t see the same interest from men when there’s a story about a black woman being raped, or a black woman being the victim or survivor or domestic violence. To them, these are not equally important issues that affect the community; these are “women’s issues,” as if men are not involved or affected. The male voices that cluttered comment sections for police violence are suddenly absent when the conversation turns to violence against women.
6. Constantly being blamed.
If you’ve spent any length of time online discussing any issue involving women (which I happen to do a lot by nature of my job), you’ll quickly see a theme of blaming women emerge. It’s similar to the way some nonblack people blame black people for everything bad that happens to them.
A woman is beaten? Without fail, there’s always a collection of men who want to know what she did to deserve it. A woman talks about her child’s father not being present? There’s always a group wondering why she picked a deadbeat instead of holding the man accountable for not being there. A woman is raped? There are always guys wondering why she drank so much or was out so late, instead of shaming the man for rape. A woman is single? It must be because something is wrong with her; even her education and adult independence become problematic.
It’s exhausting to always be seen as the problem, no matter the scenario.
Demetria Lucas D’Oyley is a contributing editor at The Root, a life coach and the author of Don’t Waste Your Pretty: The Go-to Guide for Making Smarter Decisions in Life & Love as well as A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life. She is also a blogger at SeeSomeWorld.com, where she covers pop culture and travel. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.