The Truth about the “Angry Black Woman”
"Black women are not supposed to push back and when they do, they're deemed to be domineering. Aggressive. Threatening. Loud." – Trina Jones, Duke University School of Law Professor
You can make it all the way to the top of your field — BUT if you’re a Black woman, all it takes is one blowup to get slapped with the stereotype: “Angry Black Woman.”
Serena Williams knows it.
Maxine Waters knows it.
First Lady Michelle Obama knows it.
And I know it. Because we’ve all CRINGED at the sound of those 3 words after reacting the way most people would in a difficult situation: for example, Katie in admin asking, “Are you really going to wear your hair like that to the presentation?”
How do you handle microaggressions, so they don’t derail (or even KILL) your career?
Here's a 5-step process.
What Are Microaggressions?
Before you can learn how to handle microaggressions, you have to understand what they are. Microaggressions are verbal or nonverbal slights, snubs, or insults. For example, a hiring manager telling me, “Wow, you really did go to Carnegie Mellon!” Or this common one: “I don’t see color; I just see you.”
These statements are subtle — but they pack a powerful punch!
That’s what’s so tricky about microaggressions: a colleague can level one at you in front of everyone and get away with it. Coworkers may even laugh, while you burn with rage.
Like “subtle landmines,” microaggressions are dangerous. But only to you. And they’re difficult to discern. You don’t know you’ve “stepped” on one until it’s too late: your anger just blew up your career.
You need a plan for making sure they don’t take you down.
Your 5-Step Process for Navigating Subtle “Landmines”
Step 1: Pause and Gather Yourself
Your emotions are like a kettle: touch it when it’s whistling, and you’ll get burned. Wait until it cools off, and you can make a mean cup of coffee. When you feel them boiling up, remove yourself from the situation as soon as possible.
Then take as long as you need to calm down — whether minutes or days. Just don’t let too much time pass after the incident.
Step 2: Pick Your Battles Wisely
Once you’ve calmed down, it’s time to think. Did Katie’s question about your hair rock your world enough to take her to task over it?
Just as importantly, does Katie know she’s biased (& just doesn’t care)? Or do you think she made that remark without thinking about how it might land on you?
Finally, what are your personal and professional boundaries? If you don’t know, now’s a good time to define them. Then decide if they’ve been crossed.
Step 3: Calmly Approach Your Aggressor
You can’t talk to a wall, right? So be careful not to trigger their defenses. Calmly approach them and say, “Something happened earlier that I’d like to address. I think this conversation would be beneficial for both of us. When you said (xyz), what did you mean by that?”
Step 4: Listen
Don’t make assumptions. It’s critical you give them a chance to explain.
If you discover they were oblivious to how their comment landed on you, then you’ve just uncovered an opportunity to…
Step 5: Educate
Now is your chance to change the narrative: instead of feeling like the victim, you can educate your colleague — and hopefully shift the office dynamic in your favor.
How to Handle Subtle Landmines with Confidence
Confronting microaggressions is difficult, even with this proven process. The one thing that can make it easier? Confidence. Because when you know who you are, even the slightest, well, slight can’t hurt you.
Building confidence starts with peeling back and taking a hard look at your stuff: the past traumas shaping how you respond (or react) to the present. Then working through them, so you can start letting petty comments roll off you.