I’ve been stereotyped before. Last week, my neighbor told me that I speak like a white person, as if African Americans cannot speak properly. When I was around the age of ten, a counselor at a Girl Scout camp complimented my intelligence and asked me why I was so smart. To her surprise, black people are educated.
In Dec. 2019, my friend told me during a sleepover that her mom believes every black person smokes cannabis and walks on the side of the road. Typically, I do not let stereotypes alter my perspective of myself. I am confident in who I am and I brush aside the comments about me that are based on prejudice and racist notions. However, when my former roommate applied the “angry black woman” trope to my character last semester, I began to question who I am.
A few days before winter break, my roommate declared she was changing rooms because my “rude and angry” attitude stressed her out. She claimed that I was upset every day and always yelled at her and my other suitemates.
“When did I yell at you?” I recall saying to her. “How did you know I was upset if you never asked me how I was feeling?”
She never responded to my questions in our conversation.
In the days following her declaration about my character, I repeatedly asked my suite members and friends if I come off as rude or angry. Everyone I talked to believed her perspective was inaccurate, and I was continuously reassured that I do not fit her description. But if her perception was inaccurate, what caused her to feel this way? After explaining the situation to my best friend and her boyfriend once more, I realized why she believed I am rude and angry. She applied the angry black woman stereotype to my character.
According to Forbes, this stereotype describes black women as angry, hostile, overly aggressive, and upset. While I was angry with my roommate once or twice over the semester, those incidents were isolated and completely separate from my character as a whole. During our disagreements, I passionately expressed my feelings and opinions openly, an action that has been attributed to the angry black woman stereotype, according to the BBC.
“Black women are not supposed to push back, and when they do, they’re deemed to be domineering. Aggressive. Threatening. Loud.” Professor Trina Jones said to the BBC.
She stereotyped me by using my anger in our disagreements to create a perception about my character. While my roommate may not have realized the effects of her actions, the implication of stereotyping is still dangerous. Weeks after her comments, I still doubted myself and asked everyone around me if I seemed rude and angry. This experience is called stereotype threat, according to The Conversation.
The Conversation defines stereotype threat as the fear of committing behavior that may prove the stereotype true. This fear can influence cognitive ability, intellectual skills, and one’s self-image. Stigmatized individuals experience higher levels of anxiety, which can lead to a decrease in work performance.
Being stereotyped is not easy, especially when it is someone close to you, but there are ways to cope after being stereotyped. The Conversation suggests looking at positive role models to prove the stereotypes inaccurate. . Other methods include focusing on positive attributes about oneself in an effort to increase positive self-examination and become aware of stereotype threat to decrease the likelihood of experiencing anxiety and other detrimental consequences.
While these coping strategies can help, the best way to eliminate stereotype threat is to eliminate stereotypes as a whole. By doing this, stereotyping and its implications will stop confining individuals to certain behaviors. Eliminating a century-old practice takes time, but there are small steps everyday people can take to avoid perpetuating racism and prejudice.
The first, according to the American Association of University Women, is to take an implicit bias test. The test can help individuals know which biases they may subconsciously hold. After taking the test, it is imperative to accept the bias in order to recognize it and make changes to correct it. These changes can include volunteering in new environments to better increase education and knowledge of people, places, and communities. By seeking new experiences, individuals can learn how everyone is multifaceted and not confined to certain behaviors based on race, gender, hair, religion, etc. Lastly, raise awareness of bias and stereotyping. While these small steps will not stop this stereotyping immediately, it is a place to start.
No one likes to be stereotyped. It hurts. It puts people into boxes. It makes people doubt themselves, but it doesn’t have to. Everyone is different and multifaceted. Some homosexual men do not like shopping. There is no such thing as a ‘Jewish’ nose. A woman is not gay if she doesn’t want to bear children or get married. It is okay when black women are upset and angry.