Last evening, I enjoyed a very stimulating discussion with my sisters at the Black Women in Business (www.bwib-nc.com) meeting held at Cisco. Although we’ve had very important conversations about such topics as formulating financial strategies, becoming an effective board member, and marketing your brand, we talked about a red-hot topic at this meeting: “Angry Black Women.” A series of panelists, primarily from corporate America, relayed their stories of how they’ve spoken up and still moved up in spite of lingering stereotypes around “angry black women.” Women shared how they have survived, even thrived, using strategies such as:
- Learning how to communicate more effectively with male co-workers by developing collegial relationships and better understanding their perspectives
- Speaking up on controversial issues when it really matters
- Viewing perceptions of “angry black woman” as being in the eye of the beholder
On the latter point, there was significant agreement that we are often misunderstood by our colleagues. We can be described as being overly emotional or unreasonable. “Passion,” “enthusiasm,” and “assertiveness,” qualities that are often lauded when displayed by Whites and men, are often mischaracterized as “anger” and “aggression” when exhibited by Black women. (Ask Michelle Obama.)
However, the reality is that sometimes, we ARE angry black women, and rightly so! Anger is an emotion that results from being hurt and/or losing something very important to you. How often have Black women been abused, treated unfairly, or simply overlooked despite our brilliance? Historically speaking, how often have we lost our children, our families, our freedom, and our rights? But lest we be accused of being mired in the past, how often have we lost access to important information, opportunities for promotions and other forms of advancement, and equal pay, all just last week? Although we may work in vastly different environments, there are many legitimate reasons for our anger in various workplaces.
Nevertheless, our Christian culture reminds us to be angry and sin not (Ephesians 4:26). Easier said than done given some of our situations. Still, suppressed anger is a key ingredient in a recipe for a host of psychological and physiological ills. So both morally and practically, we must manage our anger wisely. Here’s the wisdom that emerged from the group:
- Remain connected to mentors who can help you discern the degree to which your anger is justified
- Send yourself a voicemail or e-mail at the height of your anger, then listen later to monitor your reaction when you’re calmer
- Establish and maintain friendships that provide support and encouragement, especially when times get hard
- Seek the guidance of a therapist, coach, or clergy member
- Just as the Japanese repair broken pottery with gold filling (the art of kintsugi), appreciate your scars for the lessons they provide to create a stronger future
In your angry moments, may you grow in your discernment of when to hold your peace until later, and when to speak up for the sake of justice and righteousness.
À Votre Santé (“To Your Health”),
Tonya D. Armstrong, Ph.D., M.T.S.