Studies say Black women who display "dominant behavior" go further up the corporate ladder.
Over the weekend, The Washington Post ran a story called “An Upside to the ‘Angry Black Woman’ Stereotype?” that attempts to find a silver-lining in the long-held assumption about all Black women. Ashleigh Shelby Rosette, an associate professor at Duke University, found that Black women leaders who displayed “dominant behavior” when interacting with their employees received more favorable reviews than their White female or Black male counterparts who behaved the same way. In fact, Black women were evaluated comparably to White male leaders who displayed similar dominant and assertive behavior. So the logic goes: because assertiveness and dominance are a prevailing stereotype for Black women, displaying such may not provoke the same backlash as they would for White women, who suffer significant negative repercussions for displaying “angry” behavior, according to studies.
Rosette points out that Ursula Burns, CEO of Xerox, and the only Black female chief executive in the entire Fortune 500, is known to use a style of leadership that has been described as “candid, forthright, and exhibiting a no-nonsense approach.” Rosette argues that Black women looking to climb to the pinnacle of the corporate ladder should adopt a similar leadership approach.
Maybe it’s me, and maybe I’m being picky. Rosette’s description of what works for Black female executives, including Burns, sounds like frank communication and high expectations, not anger. Characterizing those communication styles as “angry” when applied to Black women just plays into the stereotype against us, doesn’t it?
Either way, the miniscule advantages for a rarified few don’t stop me from wanting the stereotype of being Black, female, and angry, to die a rapid death. As a Black woman in America, I have a long list of valid reasons to be angry and to be ticked off to the highest level of ticked-tivity. But I’m not. And much like FLOTUS Michelle Obama, I’m tired, too, of people thinking I’m angry.
I could live a better quality of life without reading blog comments by Black men explaining why they don’t date Black women because of their “attitudes.” Or even better, without encountering another man who upon meeting lil ol’ easygoing me, thinks its complimentary to tell me I’m “not like most Black women” (because he’s met and evaluated them all, of course) because I’m not always yelling, criticizing, or complaining. Huh?
If another store clerk or waitress didn’t look nervous when I have a complaint, like I’m going to morph into some neck-rolling, finger–snapping, loud 90s stereotype, I could live a fuller, less baffled life. And if I never again became reflexively aware of lowering my voice or choosing my words carefully when I am quite validly angry, I could probably add another year to my expiration date. Spare me the silver-lining, and the stereotype too.
How do angry Black woman stereotypes affect you?
Demetria L. Lucas is the author of “A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life” (Atria) in stores now. Follow her on Twitter @abelleinbk