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Jamaica Kincaid Rejects the 'Angry Black Woman' Label

Jamaica Kincaid (Kenneth Nolan/Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Jamaica Kincaid (Kenneth Nolan/Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

For Harriett blogger Kimberly N. Foster agrees with author Jamaica Kincaid's rejection of the "angry black woman" label that critics try to stamp on her work, saying that it wouldn't be an issue if she had "blond hair and blue eyes."

Jamaica Kincaid is one of the preeminent literary voices of our time. That's why her work is featured on our list of 100 Books by Black Women everyone must read. But many Black women know that exceptional brilliance or achievement will not shield you from the closely-held misconceptions many hold about our womanhood. In a recent interview with The American Reader, Kincaid explains why critics so often call her "angry."

People only say I'm angry because I'm black and I'm a woman. But all sorts of people write with strong feeling, the way I do. But if they're white, they won't say it. I used to just pretend I didn't notice it, and now I just think I don't care.

There are all sorts of reasons not to like my writing. But that's not one of them. Saying something is angry is not a criticism. It's not valid. It's not a valid observation in terms of criticism. You can list it as something that's true. But it's not critical.

You may not like it because it makes you uneasy — and you can say that. But to damn it because it's angry … They always say that about black people: "those angry black people." And why? You're afraid that there might be some truth to their anger. It might be justified.

I promise you, if I had blonde hair and blue eyes this wouldn't be an issue. No one ever says, "That angry Judith Krantz…" or whatever.

Kincaid's words are familiar for those of us who've hesitated to show emotion in mixed company for fear of the stereotype. Somehow Black women must navigate these landmines while retaining our integrity and confidence. However, Kincaid's life and work reveals that, perhaps, self-censorship isn't the answer.


Read Kimberly N. Foster's entire blog entry at For Harriett.

The Root aims to foster and advance conversations about issues relevant to the black Diaspora by presenting a variety of opinions from all perspectives, whether or not those opinions are shared by our editorial staff.

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