“Angry Black Women” Who Have Changed The World


by Gina Carroll

Who is this figure who strikes both dread and relentless criticism with the simple mention of her title? How is it that she has become the symbol of all things gone individually and collectively awry? Why is it that anyone can invoke profound disdain by simply speaking the three words that describe her?

Angry. Black. Woman.

These three words are powerful because they somehow produce a curious mixture of fear and social diminishment. The words are used in a way that strongly imply that Black women are always unjustifiably angry and ready to erupt.

We’ve seen how the inference of the Angry Black Woman (or ABW) has been wielded to undermine Michelle Obama. First was the New Yorker Magazine, “Terrorist Fist Bump” cover – Michelle Obama with a big Afro, and a defiant raised eyebrow — not to mention the bullet strap and AK-47 on her back. And then more recently, the First Lady was motivated to speak out about the depiction in a recently released unauthorized biography that says that she is angry, unhappy and meddling.

Minny Jackson, the fictional character in the popular book and movie “The Help is the quintessential ABW — anger always simmering barely below the surface, threatening to boil over, until she is driven to do the terrible thing which is to bake a special ingredient into her boss’s favorite pie. This perception of the ABW is devastating because it effectively devalues a whole portion of humanity and ignores the powerful history of African American women as agents of change in this country and the world.

I recently had the pleasure of attending Houston’s opening night of “The Ballad of Emmitt Till.” This play explores the 14-year-old African American boy who was tortured and killed by white southerners who accused him of whistling at a White woman. As an African-American mother, I was completely riveted by the portrayal of Mamie Till, Emmett Till’s mother. In the midst of her devastating loss, upon viewing her son’s mutilated body, she moved through her sorrow to her anger. And in her anger, she decided on an open casket funeral so that the world could see the atrocity that was bestowed upon her son. The story and image of Emmett Till’s body was picked up by the media and spread worldwide. Anyone who has seen it will never forget it…and how it happened. It helped galvanize the civil rights movement and became the “emblem of the disparity of justice for African Americans.”

This is the story of a boy, and as Diane Peavy of Dramturg, says “one of the most important stories of the last half of the twentieth Century. But it’s also a story about an Angry Black Woman who changed the world. We have overwhelmingly benefited from Angry Black Women who act on their anger.

You do not have to look very far backward or forward to see Angry Black Women in action. Black activist mothering has a long tradition from Ida B. Wells and the Black Women’s Club Movement. The anger over the Jim Crow laws and the proliferation of lynchings moved ABW to take to the streets. (I won’t even go all the way back to Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth – we all know about their anger and how it fueled their stories.) We must remember Marian Wright Edelman – her level-headed but relentless defense of children is legendary.

How about the new breed of ABW? Don’t you dare get in Gina McCauley’s way when it comes to advocating for girls and women. Tonya Lewis Lee – whose indignation about the sky-high infant mortality rates among women of color moved her to become an advocate and national spokesperson for the Healthy Baby Campaign. And be careful to avoid getting Dani McClain of ColorofChange.org miffed, or she might unleash her formidable ability to move individuals, groups and corporations to do the right thing.

The Mom’s Clean Air Force honors the Angry Black Woman. We encourage African-American women and mothers to look at the disproportionate impact air pollution has on their communities. Because we MCAF mothers know that when you see the numbers of brown and black children with chronic breathing  and toxic-air related illnesses, you ought to get angry. We all need to put on our butt-kicking boots and act out. That’s what anger is for — to right wrongs and take a stand for justice.

Join us and channel you anger and righteous indignation and fight to defend clean air. Let’s work together towards making our children and the world a healthier place.


Related Stories:

Air of Injustice: A Reason to Celebrate Black History Month

Air Pollution: Latinos at High Risk

The Girl Who Asked the UN to Save the World


Photo credit: Scott Griessel


federico bortoletto

Grazie per l'articolo.

Joan Quarles
Joan Quarles5 years ago

To continue. . .
alice J: It just ain't about *you* or Simon or anyone else who's "suffered" at the hands of someone from another race. It's about the administration of justice in states where young Black boys and men can be wasted under the PRETENSE of self-defense by a racist cop wannabe. Last time I checked words haven't killed anyone. Black women who hate you because you exist are as emotionally limited as you appear to be (I say that because, again, the article was not about how WE readers have suffered but how a "stand your ground" law can be twisted by nut jobs like Zimmerman to fit his sick purposes and how poor administration by the police feeds into wanton acts of violence against people of color).

We can all cry the blues about SOMETHING but as long as no one's blowing us away because of how we look, I'd say we're doing better than Trayvon, Amadou, Emmett, and a host of other Black males who were murdered because their attackers knew they could get away with it. Words will never kill you, regardless of how wounded you may feel. And if you're terribly hurt, find help. Think you're going to be physically attacked because of your orientation or the way you look, seek help from gay organizations OR start a petition HERE.

Joan Quarles
Joan Quarles5 years ago

@alice J.: I'd say to you what I'd say to *any* human being: defend yourself. You have that right, just as Black women have that right. Or if you're being verbally "attacked," you can also use the tactic I often use when faced with nut jobs of that ilk. Walk away. They HATE it when you refuse to give them the attention they seek.

HOWEVER, do not assume that I swallow that baloney that infers that every time a black woman is angry it's because she's "uppity" (Simon B's red-button word used almost exclusively in conjunction with "nigger," "woman," "angry bitch," etc.) or just "crazy" because she sees racists in her sick little mind everywhere she goes.

I think we've all heard about those "uppity niggers," who just don't know their place. As for anyone who hates you because you exist, Simon, it's *their* problem, not yours. Why engage them? They obviously have difficulties that need the kind of help you're incapable of giving if for no other reason than you're not in a field that lends itself to that sort of assistance.

Even the Zimmerman fellow who murdered young Trayvon Martin is reported by some news outlets to have uttered a racial epithet ("coon") just before he blew the kid away. It takes more than being raised in an interracial family to erase racism, which I think is a kind of mental illness. And going back and forth on a message board about which one of **us** has been more wounded by some other race ain't gonna do it.

So, wah, wah, wah, alice J. Th

Debbie L.
Debbie Lim5 years ago

Thanks. I think any angry woman is scary enough, you don't really need to be black.

Andrea A.
Andrea A5 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

KS Goh
KS Goh5 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Rosie G.
Rosie Godinez5 years ago

Angry Birds

Rosie Lopez
Rosie Lopez5 years ago

great article thanks!!

Lauren B.

In response to some comments: Maybe we can listen to why people are angry before we start defending ourselves?

Lilithe Magdalene

I love the handful of blogs I have come across, harnessing the ABW stereotype with an "oh yeah?".

I am an angry woman - if I was black growing up in this world, damn right I'd be a heck of a lot angrier. I celebrate and encourage all women to harness their anger for real and enduring change. Thank you for this article!