In the days since Sen. Kamala Harris was tapped to become Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s running mate, some not-so-typical political jabs have cannonballed their way into the media. While it’s normal for vice presidential candidates to be grilled and criticized, especially in the period directly after they’re thrust into the spotlight, Harris, a former presidential candidate herself, has already seen most of her dirty laundry aired out to dry. But now, her opponents on the right have turned to classic misogynoir — a term that refers to “the anti-Black racist misogyny that Black women experience” — to rebuke her.
Most notably, there were President Donald Trump’s initial remarks about Harris: “She left [the presidential race] angry. She left mad. There was nobody more insulting to Biden than she was.” While it’s a known fact that Harris was a staunch critic of Biden’s previous politics, the “angry Black woman” trope was clear throughout Trump’s attacks.
Though many politicians are often characterized as being “tough” or even “harsh” toward an opponent or topic, Harris was specifically pegged as “angry” in regards to the same behavior, something that women of color and Black women in particular are forced to combat daily.
Then, some media outlets starting using misogynoir in a different way. In Australia, for example, a political ad in The Australian used misogynoir in a different way by portraying an aging Biden offering to hand the nation over “to this little brown girl.” And in the United States, a sports reporter was fired for sharing a meme that referred to Harris as a “hoe.”
In an age when the concept of intersectionality is placing social issues in a newer, “woke” context, misogynoir artfully summarizes the ways in which Black women are attacked on the basis of both gender and race. While the term is often used in discussions within the Black community, it also applies to mainstream situations like the ones mentioned above.
By discounting our passions and creating a negative connotation around the subject of anger, Black women are pushed into a proverbial corner of silence and discouraged from expressing an ‘aggressive’ emotion.
One of the many damaging effects of misogynoiristic profiles, such as the “angry Black woman,” is that they both demonize and invalidate righteous anger. By discounting our passions and creating a negative connotation around the subject of anger, Black women are pushed into a proverbial corner of silence and discouraged from expressing an “aggressive” emotion.
This stereotype has empowered white supremacy and misogyny to harness the anger of racial and ethnic minorities, and the result is the general belief that 1) their anger is unwarranted, and 2) their anger is unproductive at best and destructive at worst.
The truth is that anger is completely constructive and has long been the catalyst for reformation in modern society.
The soul of virtually every modern American protest was rooted in a form of anger, including the Boston Tea Party, the American Revolution, the women’s suffrage movement, the Vietnam War protests, ACT UP and Black Lives Matter, just to name a few.
When I wrote about being an angry Black woman myself just a few months ago, it was important to not only reclaim the phrase but also illuminate just how crucial anger can be to improve our society.
Anger gives birth to petitions, protests, demonstrations and other direct actions and social movements. It powers grassroots organizations and can inspire people to use and lift up their voices.
Demonizing anger is a barrier to progress. Anger, after all, is a strong feeling of displeasure. To disrupt oppressive or inefficient systems, you must first be able to identify the problem and your dissatisfaction with it. And, my goodness, there certainly are a great deal of things to be displeased about, aren’t there?
The list goes on and on.
The incredible thing about anger is that it can be channeled into creating change and doing good. My anger led me to activism, as it has for so many other Black women, including Black Lives Matter founders Patrisse Cullors, Opal Tometi and Alicia Garza, and fellow activists Tarana Burke, Raquel Willis and Johnetta Elzie.
Anger is why I petitioned my state leadership in 2016 after they passed a bill seeking to conceal police body cameras. Anger is why millions of people around the world took to the streets during a pandemic to protest police brutality. Anger is why more than 130 Black women are congressional candidates for major parties this year.
As the election looms, I’ve thought a lot about voter suppression. I read Stacey Abrams’ book on suffrage, ”Our Time Is Now,” and was inspired by the way she took her anger following Georgia’s 2018 gubernatorial election catastrophe and turned it into Fair Fight, the nonprofit that promotes fair elections, voter participation and voter education in the United States.
I know that our American freedoms come with the responsibility for us to be watchdogs of those in power ― and that anything falling short of our American ideals should indeed make us angry.
I’ve been volunteering for North Carolina’s voter protection hotline and have heard about the personal obstacles that make voting difficult for many people — rural residents who can’t print their ballot requests because they don’t have internet access, essential workers who don’t trust mail-in voting but don’t get time off to wait in line to vote, a single dad who doesn’t have anyone over the age of 18 in his household to act as a witness for an absentee ballot and doesn’t know anyone who will meet with him due to COVID-19 concerns. None of these things should be an issue in the United States, and yet they are.
When dissatisfaction over injustice ― aka anger ― grows inside me, I know it’s a sign that I need to do more. I know it’s the same sign that guided women before me, such as Angela Davis and Fannie Lou Hamer, to make their voices heard so our nation could become better. I know anger is what made Michelle Obama’s fiery speech on Tuesday night at the Democratic National Convention so powerful and so widely praised. I know that our American freedoms come with the responsibility for us to be watchdogs of those in power ― and that anything falling short of our American ideals should indeed make us angry.
If we lack anger in the face of corruption, we flirt with ― or fall head first into ― a state of apathy, which is a direct threat to our future. People may call Kamala Harris or Michelle Obama “angry” as if they have no right to be dissatisfied, but we must ask ourselves: Are we satisfied? Are we satisfied with Donald Trump’s administration? Are we satisfied with our sheriffs and judges, our cabinet members and the Supreme Court, our foreign relations and infrastructure? Are we satisfied with representatives calling their female colleagues derogatory names? Are we satisfied with Jared Kushner’s promise that the economy would be “rocking” by July? Are we satisfied with Trump pardoning Susan B. Anthony (God rest her soul) while our nation’s children walk into coronavirus hotbeds at school? Or are you, no matter what race or gender, like so many of us, angry?
While you’re considering where you stand, know this: you may call me, a proud Black woman, “angry” any day of the week. Not matter how it is intended ― no matter how hurt or harmed anyone, from our president to a stranger on the street, may intend for me to be, it is not a slur to me. It is not something to be ashamed of or to work on getting over or giving up. Acknowledging and embracing my anger means that I am engaged, I care and I’m committed to doing something productive with this powerful emotion. Shoutout to all the angry Black women who are living, loving and still persisting despite the seemingly insurmountable challenges that stand in our way.
Candace Howze is a North Carolina-based writer, podcaster and multimedia artist. In her spare time, you can find her listening to music, baking or online shopping. Find her on Instagram and Twitter at @aceisjoy.
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This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.