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The Makings of an "Angry Black Woman"

Updated on June 17, 2011

Before I begin let me just beg your pardon for the term “angry black woman”. I am aware that the sound of it can be jolting to some. For some of my white sisters it might feel a bit intimidating. For some of my sisters of color this term may be offensive. The perpetuation of a racist slur.

However, I use the term intentionally for particular reasons that might become clearer later and will help you understand why I chose such a title for this blog.

I would like to speak on my personal experience with this idea and term “Angry Black woman”.

I grew up in the South Bronx of New York. My reality was much like what is depicted in some old-school movies (and perhaps today) in reference to Harlem, Spanish Harlem and ‘da Bronx.

There were very few white people in my world (with the exceptions of the teachers and doctors. They were white).

I never gave oppression and racism much thought on a personal level. People of color were all around me and none where on TV. I never thought much of that either. It was just my reality.

Even when I witnessed the raucous around Martin Luther King’s assassination and the Black Panthers on rooftops with guns did I give it all much thought. I suppose I was too young to feel the impact or understand the severity of those events.

I remember one particular incident that will demonstrate my feelings about the racial divide and will explain again the point of this blog.

When I was in high school, I remember seeing a black guy standing in the corner of our school smoking a cigarette. I asked him why he never went to classes and; didn’t he want to graduate and go to college? I remember his words to this very day. He said, “The white man will NEVER let me get anywhere, so why even try.”

My response was, “Well, I’m gonna go to college and prove that I can be SOMEBODY.”

I never understood why “they” were so angry. I remember considering that perhaps Latinos' experiences were not the same as blacks and that they had more of a reason to be angry.

In any case, I was determined and convinced that the trick to being respected by “the white man” was to get an education and become a productive member of society. That sentiment was what launched my plunge into the “white world”.

I was fortunate that in those days, there was plenty of financial aid for those that were poor and I was able to received financial aid to get into a small private college in Allentown, Pa.

My experience in that small private, predominantly white women’s college was surreal. Out of about 800 students in the school, there were only eight women of color in my class. It was an excellent school known for its century old traditions. I remember thinking early on that living on campus was “just like being on TV”. My high school best friend and I enrolled together but she only stayed a semester as the surroundings and traditions were too different (and “not home”). I relished all the events and activities. I welcomed learning all about a culture that was never exposed to me.

My first year there I noted that all the black and Latino women would sit together in the cafeteria and I was the only one amongst all the white students. I remember being invited to join the “African American Society” and declining because I had no interest in separating my self from the rest of the school. I had noted that this group would hold their separate functions. That is, they held their own Dad and daughter dinner, etc. I, on the other hand, wanted to experience the traditional events along with the entire school.

Right after I declined, I remember that the group changed their name to the “Minority Society” assuming that because I was Latino it was the reason I declined. After the name change, I did go to a meeting and brought with me a white lesbian friend and an ally who also felt she was a minority. The club was not too happy but tolerated it and the following year they changed their name back. That experience is marked by my college yearbooks. Out of four, only my sophomore yearbook had a “Minority Society”. I point this out because again this reflects what my sentiments were about race relations. I had no desire to separate myself and truly believed that being so divisive was part of the problem. I embraced all races and cultures and trusted that in turn others would receive me in kind.

Throughout my young career I remained in the suburbs and as circumstances would have it spent most of my time (if not all) socializing with white people. I worked with, socialized and dated mostly Caucasian. Noting that I was always the ONLY person of color in the office, room, club, etc.

Still I was not bothered by this although well aware that others might be. I realized that most of my co-workers considered me a “friend” although they would probably not invite me to a barbeque at their home. I was convinced that eventually they would see that I was just like them and their view about people of color would change.

Professionally I was determined to work hard, continue to pursue further education and be respected for my intellect and dedication to the work I chose for my career.

After some years in the field, I did notice a pattern. Employers were always praising my work. Affirming that I was well spoken, wrote well, had a calming affect in times of crisis and developed a great rapport with my clients. Moreover, I was often placed in a position of leadership in the absence of my superiors. When my Director or supervisor was out, I was placed in charge. When there was a vacant position, I was often “acting” supervisor. However, when the positions were finally filled, a white woman from outside the agency filled them. Hmmmm. This began to be a little frustrating to me but I persevered. After all, with so many putting in a good word for me, I could not be passed over forever. Right?

This went on for 10 years (two different agencies) and I felt I needed to move on and find a position in which I would be valued for my education and years of experience. Lo and behold, I finally landed in a position that allowed me to move up to leadership and eventually as a Co-Executive Director of a wonderful agency. After 30 years of work in this field, I thought this a well-deserved appointment and was excited to be in the position to affect positive changes within the agency that works for an underprivileged community the likes of which I had dedicated the last 3 decades to.

Then, a restructuring of agency personnel found me once again in middle management (and unfortunately a subsequent "lay-off" five months later). Still with the praises of 'the great job I have done but…"

For the first time in my life, feelings of anger and resentment surged through me and I understood. I understood how years of being passed over and given the message that "you are good" but not quite good enough would make someone bitter. I understood that no matter what praises and niceties are offered you may still fall “just short” of your aspirations without any concrete reason. For the first time I understood how you can grow resentful and distrusting. How one can get to be... "An angry black woman”. It is not a pleasant feeling or one that you put on as a mask in the morning to intimidate or annoy others. Not an attitude you force yourself to take on in order to remind others of your oppression. It is just something that festers and wounds your soul.

I recently watched a workshop given by a woman named Dr. Joy Degruy Leary, where she speaks of her theory that people of color are still suffering from what she calls Post Traumatic Slavery Syndrome. The wisdom of this woman and the words she spoke not only made sense to me but continue to resonate as I reflect on my recent experiences. There is so much "truth" I believe she speaks, that I will have to dedicate it to a future blog. Nevertheless, for now, I am satisfied that my thoughts and feelings are NOT my imagination and that my speaking of them is not my attempt to "play the race card" as so many accuse us of when we try to share our experiences and explain our perspective.

I continue to be a peaceful person. A Christian woman that believes in the importance of loving all people and understanding that most people are good inside. What is different is that naïve innocence from which I once operated is shattered. The idea that if you were good to others they would respond in kind. I now understand that the problem and subsequent difference does not lay in me but in those that insist on seeing me as "less than" and therefore disposable.

I am grateful that the spirit that lives within me (that which I call the Holy Spirit) tells me different. My personal challenge now is to listen to IT and wait for others to do the same.

By Evelyn Rivera (c) Copyrighted May 2011


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    • profile image

      David Flint 

      6 years ago

      You just have to be loyal to your tribe!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      EveryRiv :0)

      Loved it, so very honest and real....Was praying for you yesterday and asking God for guideance....My wife Cynthia is Latino from Argentina and reading your story was like hearing Cynthias again just different venues. I thought there was only one person like her in the world and Im delighted to meet another :0)

      Those of us that truly love unconditionly seem to go through some of the toughest trials and as we go through life we begin to understand to some small degree the rejection Jesus went through and then they put him on a cross?

      This world is not fair and life is hard. My personal struggle was with the religious christian church. The very place I expected to find real unconditional love mostly what I experianced was jealously among many other things and Now I`m a missionary to Ninivea ( Spelt that wrong LOL) Honestly there are times I wsih God would just destroy the city. The very place I wanted to find love , I experianced rejection Etc. Ok Will send you an email...Great hub Later Mike :0)

    • EveyRiv profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Foxboro, Mass.

      Thank you for reading Laurie. Yes, I do agree that racism is deeply imbedded in our culture and truly denied. However, the light that shines within me refuses to believe it is impenetrable. Silence is not our ally. It is up to us all (in fact a duty)to stop looking the other way.

      Thank you for YOUR dedication to seek social justice. May the sounds of all the voices dedicated to it resonate throughout our communities.

    • Laurie Holmes profile image

      Laurie Holmes 

      7 years ago

      I am always reminded how really important it can be to hear one another's stories. Sometimes we know someone for years, especially if we meet in the context of work, and miss out on the light of understanding that is shed just in the very listening. Thank you Evelyn for sharing this piece of your story.

      I have to comment too though about the idea that there is a universal experience for women in the US. I am a white lesbian who has spent most of my life working in so-called feminist organizations with stated anti-oppression principles. Sadly, the entrenched racism in (most of) these organizations seems both impenetrable and utterly denied.

    • EveyRiv profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Foxboro, Mass.

      Hello Meg and thanks for your comment. You're right, I'm not all that "angry". Never have been but in the first week after I was laid-off, the betrayal had me so resentful that I could actually understand why other's were so angry.

      Thank you also for pointing out that women in general experience the same. Its funny how our perspective colors (no pun) our world. I could only speak to my experience and hard to know "which came first" the color or the gender. It's sad but good to keep in mind that we as women are still struggling.

      Thank you also for your observations on the President's situation. I too believe that it is racism "thinly disguised". I am proud of this time in our history and happen to like him but I know he is a politician and has made good and bad decisions as they all do. But that other scrutiny? Definitely racism.

      It is heartwarming to hear others want to see life just be fair to all. Thank you again.

    • megmccormick profile image


      7 years ago from Utah

      I love this Hub! Thanks for sharing in such a open way the experience people of color (and most women regardless of color) go through trying to be successful in a system that is and has historically been stacked in favor of white men (sorry white guys, but it's just a fact). Biggest example, the way President Obama is being subjected to such nonsense as having to "prove" he was born in American and having to "prove" he was actually a good student. All that is is racism thinly disguised.

      I applaud your positive attitude and you don't seem all that angry to me, maybe a bit peeved, but you do seem loving and good willed and just wanting life to be fair. Me too sister, me too! I'll be following your hubs!


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