Those who deploy this stereotype do so in an effort to silence black women. Hill’s suspension from ESPN for weighing in on the NFL saga is just the latest example
ESPN host Jemele Hill was suspended on Monday for tweeting, once again, what some would consider to be inflammatory statements. After the Dallas Cowboys’ owner, Jerry Jones, said Sunday that he would bench any of his players who “disrespect the flag” by kneeling during the national anthem, Hill suggested that fans who disagreed with Jones should boycott Cowboys advertisers in order to have their grievances heard.
Hill tweeted “Change happens when advertisers are impacted … If you feel strongly about JJ’s statement, boycott his advertisers.” This didn’t sit well with the network or, indeed, with the White House. Donald Trump attacked her on Tuesday, saying in a tweet that it was her fault ESPN’s ratings had “tanked”.
Interestingly, Jones’s friend Donald Trump also called for a boycott of the NFL during his now infamous speech in which he called NFL players “son of a bitches”, for participating in the protest against police killings of black and brown people.
The difference is that Trump was seen as being patriotic, while Hill was being mislabeled as a stereotypical mainstay in the American imagination: the angry black woman.
When the stereotype of the angry black woman is evoked, it characterizes black women as irrationally angry, hyper-aggressive, verbally abusive, raucous and argumentative.
When employed, the stereotype of the angry black women is used to discredit black women’s standpoint, render them invisible in an effort to mute their individual and collective voices, and it dismissively couches their concerns as tantrums of emasculating emotions.
This stereotype delegitimizes black women’s justifiable anger in reaction to intersectional inequality based on their race, class and gender. Instead it is a weapon used by character assassins, looking to shoot black women down, who have the audacity to magnify social inequality, point a spotlight on uncomfortable truths and publicly advocate for the human rights of black women specifically.
Take the reaction from Clay Travis, one of the most famous American sports journalists. He said most sports fans want to “pop a beer & chill” and instead “they got a chick in a feminist t-shirt talking about police shootings”. That “chick” that he crudely spoke of is Jemele Hill, and the “police shootings” that he spoke of are centered largely on black males such as Oscar Grant, Michael Brown, Ezell Ford and Tamir Rice.
Strong black journalists have a history of being silenced in the United States. Ida B Wells-Barnett reported on the inhumane lynching of black men in the south at the hands of white supremacists. Racists were so upset at her that they burned down the building where she produced her newspaper, and threatened to kill her if she ever set foot in the southern part of America.
But these days, it is more common for black women to be silenced in other ways. You may recall that former first lady Michelle Obama was accused of being an unpatriotic angry black woman in 2008 when she said that: “Hope is making a comeback and, let me tell you, for the first time in my adult life I am really proud of my country. Not just because Barack is doing well, but I think people are hungry for change.”
This was the same year that the New Yorker ran with a cartooned cover depicting Michelle Obama as a machine gun-toting, afro-wearing black woman, playing not only on images of Black Panther party members, but also on America’s targeted fear of women like Angela Davis and Assata Shakur.
Obama herself suggested that the angry black woman label is rooted in fear. Maybe critics want black women to internalize and muffle their anger because they fear the potential ramifications of them having an opinion. Maybe they fear black women taking the sexist trope of the angry black woman as a loathsome figure and turning her into an agent of change.
It was Audre Lorde, who said:
“My response to racism is anger … black women are expected to use our anger only in the service of other people’s salvation or learning. But that time is over. My anger has meant pain to me but it has also meant survival, and before I give it up I’m going to be sure that there is something at least as powerful to replace it on the road to clarity.”
My challenge to those who, for whatever reason, have taken issue with Jemele Hill is to ask yourself: are you upset about what she said, or are you unglued by the fact that an Angry Black Women had the nerve to say it.