Tag: Black

Why Be Angry Over “Angry Black Woman?”

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Shonda Rhimes

Which would you rather be called?

A b&$%!, or an angry black woman?

If you said neither, you’d be on the right track.

If you asked “aren’t they the same thing”?, then you would have hit the heart of the matter.

Folks are wondering why Alessandra Stanley’s New York Times Article about Shonda Rhimes is causing such an uproar. Stanley wrote an article about television writer Rhimes (of “Scandal”, “Gray’s Anatomy” and “How to Get Away With Murder” fame), and while complimenting her success, focused largely on Rhimes’ ability to get away with being an “angry black woman”.

For the record, Rhimes has not been known for any publicized rants or bad behavior; her characters are the furthest you can find from angry black women; yet somehow, the article focused on this aspect.

For African American women, the stereotype of the angry black woman is parallel to the struggle that White women have had with the word “bitch”. Some women embrace the word “bitch” to mean a tough, aggressive, no-nonsense woman that threatens men on their own turf in the corporate world. The majority of women view it by its actual definition – a female dog, and a derogatory term that has no connotation of respect. Women of all races have fought for the right not to be called that word (including the ongoing battle in the music industry).

The image of an “angry black woman” conjures up that of an angry ghetto chick, snapping her gum, screaming at someone for no apparent reason, and making a scene “just because”. It embodies that of a bitter nasty woman who you certainly would not want to be friends with, much less date.

It even justifies (in some people’s minds) domestic violence (well of course he had to hit her…you know how those angry black women are). This becomes even more relevant in the current discussions of the recent arrests of NFL players Ray Rice and Jonathan Dwyer.

The last image that comes to mind when one says the term “angry black woman” is an educated, polished professional woman, who is the top of her career, has great credit, is a pillar in her community, and is a loving family member/friend (which all of Shonda Rhimes’ characters are in some way or form). But from a quick reading of Stanley’s article, Rhimes, as well as her body of work, is reduced to a simple stereotype.

That’s the dangerous thing about stereotypes – it paints all with a very wide brush. This is not to say an African American woman can’t be angry. But there is no “angry White woman” syndrome, or “angry White man”….so why make such a big deal about how Shonda Rhimes defied the odds and is NOT an angry black woman? If we were not sure before, reality television certainly has shown us that EVERY race, gender and sexual orientation can be good, bad and downright ugly. Why not characterize the individual by how they behave, instead of by some perceived stereotype that you believe is the standard?

Stanley has since stood by her article, saying that she “complimented” Rhimes for defying the stereotype. To draw another analogy, it’s like calling the female CEO of a major corporation  “a smart bitch with a heart of gold”, and as folks recoil in horror, saying “but I said she was smart!”
As we explore Stanley’s description of Viola Davis’ character in “How to Get Away with Murder”, she discusses how she is not classically beautiful due to her dark skin (!!) but has a sexy but menacing quality. Menacing, angry…common theme? Certainly not the way any woman would want to be described.

In truth, Stanley does chronicle the television evolution from the “uh uh-ing” maid, to the beloved Claire Huxtable from the Cosby Show, to the characters we see today. But she gave, and took away at the same time.

In summary: happiness comes from within, no matter what race you are.

So here’s a hashtag for you: #happyblackwoman.

Or better yet: #happy.

Weigh in with your thoughts!

M.

Even the Monsters Are Worth Saving…

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So, like many of you, I am an addict of the show “Scandal”. Not that I want to be Olivia Pope (although I do love her clothes, but hate her romantic decisions), it does give an interesting look of the behind the scenes of the dirty world of politics and national security. Whether it’s art imitating life accurately remains to be seen. But in last week’s episode, Olivia’s dad gave an impassioned speech about “even the monsters need saving”. This was in response to Olivia’s frustration about the fact that everyone around her seemed to be amoral at best, and used murder as a tool. “No one wears the white hat anymore” was her complaint. Olivia’s dad basically said, “YOU are the savior, and the one that drags every last one of us into the light.”

The monologue really hit home for me. Many times, people ask me, “why do you bother?” In my line of work as a prosecutor, I have challenges left, right and center. At times, I have victims who have no interest in participating in the prosecution. Even though they were the ones that were hurt, they are reluctant due to fear, apathy, or a deep distrust of the system. The community, especially the African American community, distrust the motives of a prosecutor. They assume your role is to lock up young men of color at any cost. On the other side, the hard core conservatives (some of whom are in my profession), look at the work I do in the community and say “why bother? You can’t save them”.

So why do I bother? Why do I take time away from myself, from my husband, skip lunch hours, to give lectures to young students in rough areas? Why do I get hands on in the nastiest housing projects? Why do I get frustrated when the media takes a narrow, sensationalized view of the legal system instead of the truth? Why do I sit down next to defendants, shackled, and who are facing a life sentence based on my recommendation but are about to take less as a plea and say to them “get it right this time…F$&! it up and I personally will lock the door and throw away the key?” Why do I persist in a job where no one thanks you by word or by paycheck?

Not out of weakness. Not out of my liberal leanings. Not out of perceived government employee laziness.

But because I want to touch one. Just one person a day. I know I can’t save them all. That would be ludicrous to believe.

But if one kid can say “you know, I remember when this chick who was a lawyer came to speak. She said xyz, and it stuck with me”. If one defendant says “someone offered me a chance, and I took it and turned my life around”. If one person in the community says “I was wrong about what prosecutors do, they are not all bad.” Then, I have succeeded.

Not everyone is born a monster. Some are, and yes, they need to be put down. HARD. I have no problem doing so. Others are monsters by lifestyle, and nothing in this world will change them. And again, I am there, ready with the proverbial smack down.

But it is those minds who are still open. Those minds, that need a nudge in the right direction, to get right. To get it right. Those in the crowd are who I want.

And now, I can quote Olivia Pope’s dad and say “even the monsters need saving”.

A Hairy Situation: Can You Be Fired For Your Hair?

A Hairy Situation: Can You Be Fired For Your Hair?

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Is my hair distracting?               Image   

This week, stories emerged about a woman who is in danger of losing her job at an insurance company for wearing dreadlocks.  In a related story several months ago, a little girl was sent home from school for wearing dreadlocks.  The common theme in both of these stories? The powers that be deemed the hairstyle to be somehow distracting or unacceptable.

Ashley Davis, from Missouri, was told that due to a change in company policy, she would have to cut her dreadlocks.  She was hired with dreadlocks, but several months after her employment, the company policy changed to say that “dreadlocks, braids, mohawks, mullets and other hairstyles are against company guidelines”.

7 year old Tiana Parker was forced to leave her school due to their ban on dreadlocks.  The school’s policy stated that “hairstyles such as dreadlocks, afros, mohawks, and other faddish styles are unacceptable.” Her situation is different, since the policy was in place at the time of her enrollment.  Still, this is a reflection of a refusal to accept a hairstyle of a particular culture.

To give some perspective, removing your dreadlocks is not a simple process.  As Ms. Davis stated in her interviews, she had been growing her dreadlocks for over 10 years, and it is a part of her identity.  Additionally, due to the permanent nature of the hairstyle, it would basically require her to shave her head, and regrow her hair.

From a legal perspective, there are several issues in Ms. Davis’ case.  The company hired her, then subsequently changed their policy; in light of this, a grandfather – type clause should have been applied, in which current employees would be exempt.  Can the company’s policy be considered to be racially discriminatory? Yes and no.  Yes, because it is clear that hairstyles that apply to a certain ethnicity (dreadlocks and braids are generally worn by persons of African descent) are targeted by the policy.  However, on the other side, the policy also targets mohawks and mullets.  Interestingly, mullets and mohawks are not usually worn by folks seeking to work in corporate America.  It had its day when the song “Achey Breaky Heart” was popular, but not so anymore.  So to be practical, the wording of this policy directly targets persons of color…but is cleverly worded to avoid discrimination claims. A good lawyer wrote this policy; but a good lawyer may be able to bring the policy down.

On a day to day level, these policies are a result of ignorance, fear, and a tinge of racism.  There is a perception that dreadlocks = drug dealer, hoodlum, or filth.  This is simply not true.  Dreadlocks have a long history, and quite bluntly, is an easier hairstyle to maintain as opposed to putting a myriad of chemicals in your hair on a regular basis (which is the other option to create the look of straight hair).  As an attorney, I choose to wear my hair in dreadlocks.  I try serious cases, including homicide cases.  Depending on the occasion or trial, I wear my hair in a bun, or a tight ponytail.   What style your hair is in should not matter as long as it is clean, maintained, and professionally styled for the environment you work in. 

Can you be fired for your hair? Yes.

Should Ashley Davis sue her employer? Absolutely.  

Will she win? Maybe not. But it is the principle…and a way to open employers’ minds.

Weigh in below and tell me what you think!

Melba Pearson is an attorney, writer, speaker, wife and Resident Legal Diva.