Aggressive Encounters & White Fragility: Deconstructing the Trope of the Angry Black Woman

Author:Trina Jones & Kimberly Jade Norwood
Position:Professor of Law, Duke University School of Law/Henry H. Oberschelp Professor of Law and Professor of African & African American Studies, Washington University
Pages:2017-2069
SUMMARY

Black women in the United States are the frequent targets of bias-filled interactions in which aggressors: (1) denigrate Black women; and (2) blame those women who elect to challenge the aggressor's acts and the bias that fuels them. This Article seeks to raise awareness of these "aggressive encounters" and to challenge a prevailing narrative about Black women and anger. It examines the myriad... (see full summary)

 
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2017
Aggressive Encounters & White Fragility:
Deconstructing the Trope of
the Angry Black Woman
Trina Jones* & Kimberly Jade Norwood**
ABSTRACT: Black women in the United States are the frequent targets of
bias-filled interactions in which aggressors: (1) denigrate Black women; and
(2) blame those women who elect to challenge the aggressor’s acts and the bias
that fuels them. This Article seeks to raise awareness of these “aggressive
encounters” and to challenge a prevailing narrative about Black women and
anger. It examines the myriad circumstances (both professional and social)
in which aggressive encounters occur and the ways in which these encounters
expose gender and racial hierarchies. It then explores how the intersectional
nature of Black women’s identities triggers a particularized stereotype or trope
of the “Angry Black Woman” and explains how this trope is often invoked in
aggressive encounters to deflect attention from the aggressor and to project
blame onto the target. After discussing the harmful effects of aggressive
encounters and the absence of effective legal mechanisms to address them, the
Article sets forth tangible steps that individuals can take to minimize their
incidence.
I. INTRODUCTION ........................................................................... 2018
II. WHY FOCUS ON BLACK WOMEN? THE NECESSITY OF
INTERSECTIONAL ANALYSES ........................................................ 2022
A. HISTORICAL ERASURE ........................................................... 2023
B. CONTEMPORARY EXAMPLES ................................................... 2026
* Professor of Law, Duke University School of Law. I would like to thank my research
assistants, Kevin Zhao and Gloria Liu, for their excellent contributions to this Article. I am also
grateful to D. Wendy Greene, C.T. Woods-Powell, and my amazing sisters in Ladies Who Love
Books for their probing insights and generous guidance.
** Henry H. Oberschelp Professor of Law and Professor of African & African American
Studies, Washington University. I want to th ank my husband, Ronald Alan No rwood, Esquir e, for
his insights and editing. I also want to thank all of the Black women whose stories appear h ere,
for their willingness to have their stories told.
2018 IOWA LAW REVIEW [Vol. 102:2017
III. AGGRESSIVE ENCOUNTERS: DEATH BY A THOUSAND CUTS ......... 2030
A. COMMERCIAL ESTABLISHMENTS AND PRIVATE SPACES ............ 2031
B. PROFESSIONAL SETTINGS ....................................................... 2034
C. INTERACTIONS WITH LAW ENFORCEMENT ............................... 2038
D. CROSS-GENERATIONAL EXPERIENCES ...................................... 2041
E. A BRIEF SUMMARY ................................................................ 2044
IV. (DE)CONSTRUCTING THE TROPE OF THE ANGRY BLACK
WOMAN ....................................................................................... 2045
V. WHITE FRAGILITY AND PSYCHOLOGICAL PROJECTION: THE
BLAME GAME ............................................................................... 2051
A. WHITE TRANSPARENCY, WHITE FRAGILITY, AND AGGRESSIVE
ACTS .................................................................................... 2052
B. PSYCHOLOGICAL PROJECTION ................................................ 2055
C. THE DECISIONAL MOMENT AND CONSEQUENCES ..................... 2057
VI. SEARCHING FOR SOLUTIONS: IS THERE RELIEF IN SIGHT? .......... 2059
A. COALITION BUILDING IN THE NEW MILLENNIUM .................... 2059
B. LEGAL INTERVENTIONS .......................................................... 2063
1. Constitutional and Statutory Claims .......................... 2063
2. Tort Claims .................................................................. 2065
C. CHANGING THE NARRATIVE AND A CALL FOR INDIVIDUAL
ACTION ................................................................................ 2066
VII. CONCLUSION .............................................................................. 2068
I. INTRODUCTION
May 24, 2016, approximately 11:00 a.m. CDT (as posted on Facebook by
Professor Norwood):
So, I go to Home Depot today to get some paint. When I get to the
paint station, there is a couple sort of hanging back between the aisle
and the station. Another guy is at the station. I say “Hi,” and ask him
if he has been helped. He says “Yes, thank you, but you should check
with that couple over there.” What???????????
Yeah. He thought I worked at Home Depot despite the fact that
(1) I DID NOT have on one of those bright ass orange vests, and
(2) I LOOKED like the OTHER people in Home Depot: t-shirt and
jeans. Ok. I smile. I whisper to him, “I don’t work here; no need to
check with them. . .”
Then another man comes over. He looks at me and the dude I am
standing behind. He proceeds to stand at a different part of the
station. Paint person arrives. He helps the guy I originally spoke with.
Then he asks, “Who is next?” The couple says nothing. I raise my
hand to say me, and the guy last on the scene says “No, I’m next.”
2017] AGGRESSIVE ENCOUNTERS & WHITE FRAGILITY 2019
So, I say, “Wait, not true. I was . . .” THEN DUDE COMES OVER TO
ME, while I am in MIDsentence, GETS IN MY FACE—he is a white
male, both older and ALOT shorter than me—and YELLS IN MY
PERSONAL SPACE that he was there first and I need to wait my turn.
Wait, did you read that? GETS IN MY FACE?????????? YELLS?????
MY???????????? PERSONAL?????????? SPACE???????????????
At this point in the story, I won’t share the exact words or tone or
volume of my response because I don’t want to lose some of you FB
fam who think so highly of me . . . but suffice it to say, I DO owe some
context (and maybe a piece of apology) to all in West County who
unwittingly became a part of my response. . . .
I will say that I demanded to see a manager. Poor sales person. He
was like, “I’m sorry! I didn’t know.” I assured him that I had no beef
with him. He did the right thing by asking who was next. The
problem was with the customer. Indeed, what should be done in
those situations? Maybe you call for backup immediately. I don’t
know. What I do know is that I was NOT about to be ignored and
made to wait. I know that. So, after demanding to see a manager, I
decided, hell with this, I am leaving.
As I am about to walk away, crazy man comes back near me and says:
“Look! I got here 20 minutes ago! No one was here so I got other
stuff I needed and now I’m back so I was here and I am next!”
Read that sentence again. “L ook! I go t here 20 minutes ago! No o ne
was here so I got other stuff I needed and now I’m back so I was here
and I am next!”
WHAT????? WHO in the world can LEAVE a line, go get other shit,
and then come back and tell the people who were not there before
that they were there first????????????
WOW. Kicker: He adds: “I didn’t even see you. You were NOT here.”
Hmmm. . . I didn’t even see you.
So, (1) he looked at me when he arrived. I KNOW he saw me. (2) I
am just under 6 feet tall. Tall girl! (3) I have beautiful chocolate skin.
Beautiful! (4) I have beautiful locs (thanks Michelle Yikhenah
Jamillah Borland). Locs! (5) I have really powerful eyes! Powerful!
(6) I am a “healthy” child as my mom would say. Big! And DESPITE
ALL THAT, he didn’t SEE me? Really?
So - Yes, an angry black woman was in Home Depot on Manchester
in West County today. BUT she had a RIGHT to be angry. . . And
please, don’t write a comment telling me that I spent more time on
this post than it is worth. I get to decide what parts of my life I want

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