The "Angry Black Woman": she is independent but single; an emasculating man-eater; never light-skinned; possibly has kids but no ring; thinks brothers are trifling but refuses to date outside of her race; has bobblehead-like tendencies; must shove her two cents up everyone's ass; an envious hater of white women; above all else, she is angry about her station in life.
The ABW trope, or some version of it, is commonly used in Hollywood -- we got the mammy-like best friend Tara from True Blood who hates everyone but Sookie, the freeloading but righteous Loretta Black in Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Shirley, a single-mother who thinly veils her rage with false high-pitched sweetness in Community (and these are the better ones). Even highly successful black directors with their own platforms aren't immune to injecting the ABW junk into their movies.
Reality television is no different -- you could probably argue that it's worse. The genre gives the illusion of reality and the shows a document of personalities put in a situation in which they react instead of act.
The oversimplified performance of reality television characters is normalized through the guise of a low-budget, documentary style. This is why I loathe the Nenes and Omorosas of the world, why I can't stand The Bad Girls Club.
Since I don't scream at TV's anymore I decided to confront the latest ABW to hit our screens: Deena Jacobs. Appearing on the now-shelved reality series H8R -- a weak show hosted by Mario Lopez that gave celebrities a chance to confront their number one hater with the hopes of changing their minds -- Deena was more than happy to represent ABW's everywhere and confront her number one rival, Kim Kardashian. Her main complaint? That Kim was taking our men without inhabiting or bigging up their spaces, capitalizing on features attributable to black culture (i.e. beauty, booty and braids) and not doing enough for the black community. (KK is of Armenian descent, for the record).
Deena seemed to hate Kim, and I hated Deena -- or at least what she stood for. But this was her chance to change my mind. The interview:
Q: When I saw you on H8R I thought 'How typical for Hollywood to pick an envious and "angry black woman" to portray women of color in general.' Aren't you providing fodder for stereotypes already held by the status quo about our women?
A: That's why I released the YouTube video, to elaborate on the reasons behind the hate. It's not just about her booty or the fact that she doesn't give back to the community. The hate stems from jealousy, jealousy stems from a feeling of unworthiness that comes from a historical sense of rejection.
Q: What feeling of unworthiness and historical sense of rejection are you referring to?
A: ...This goes back to slavery, and no we can't "just get over it." We have to bring it all to light, tell the story so we can move beyond the stereotypes like the Angry Black Woman. Her pain is rooted deep in the systematic denial of her beauty both inside and out. She is angry because she is longing to be see.
Q: So if this is bigger, why attack KK directly?
A: Attacking her is attacking the idea. She had to f#*k RayJ to get put on the map so I f&!$ed her. If you read the comments on my Youtube video and on some of the blogs, you will see this supported by men and women of all races. As with any hater, it's a love-hate association. You hate them because you're jealous and you want what they've got. So yeah, my intention was to speak my mind in a humorous way.
Q: You have a site called http://NewAmericanDivas" target="_hplink">NewAmericanDivas, that highlights your "other" personalities. For example on Ru Paul's Drag U you are a frumpy, "defeated" and unemployed but not angry. Was your "Angry Black Woman" act is just that-an act?
A: OK, so I'm an entertainer who works in Reality TV. Everything you see comes from a real place in me. Every show I've done reveals a truth in me and that's why I enjoy doing reality. My embodiment of the Angry Black Woman comes from a real place in me that has observed this story time and again and has become bitter. I spoke the truth. My purpose is to speak the truth in a way that's entertaining.
Q: In the show, you mention Kim doesn't do enough for the black community -- she isn't black so what exactly should she be doing for our community? What does she owe us?
A: My main point here is to give credit where credit is due. She was elevated to celebrity-dom because of her similarity to our flavor. She should give credit to the community that made her; show us some love after you've made it. [In the show] it was brought to light that she has actually given more directly than I was even referring to with Katrina and her visits to Africa.
Q: You said in a previous conversation that KK has capitalized (forgive me if I am paraphrasing) on attributes that women like yourself have been taught to be ashamed about. What shame have you had to deal with?
A: When I was younger, my round shape was a target of ridicule as well as hypersexualization. You had a big butt you were seen as being overweight, too big, or on the flip-side too sexual. I felt like, as an actress -- when I was younger -- I would look at film and the media and see this idealized beauty and you felt like there was something wrong with your body.
Q: How do you feel about Kim Kardashian now?
A: Still jelly but she gained my respect instantly when she was willing to confront me. I got to give it to her and the producers of H8R for allowing that conversation to happen. This is an old topic that needed to be addressed publicly and it opened up a conversation that was needed. The time has come to push aside the cheap imitation and experience the real deal.
So what exactly did we learn from this latest ABW rendition? Well, I'm still scratching my head and on the fence on how I feel about the ABW stereotype being used as a badge of honor but there is something to be said about the Deena-approach: she provided context for her anger -- instead of seeming out of control and extreme on the show she gave a reasons for her rage, she had the nerve to confront KK and what she represented (and in turn she was somewhat listened to by the celeb), and she used the ABW mechanism to be recognized rather than dismissed.
There are of course more pressing issues concerning the female body that black women have to be pissed off about i.e. the racefails of SlutWalk, and the shackling of our incarcerated women in labor, that just won't be reconciled over painting out the pain. That said, if we take a cue from reality television and make being an ABW OKAY through contextualizing an emotion, shaming us into silence won't be so easy and we'll own the right to be the angry, stereotype-turned-slur be damned.