It took one stunning video to finally break the “camel’s back” for yours truly, forcing me to admit to this
unvarnished truth; I’m an “Angry Black Male,” a previously hidden part of me that I can no longer jettison.
There, I said it. It’s out there.
Now that video? It is the one of a Black mother and four young girls in Colorado pulled over and
handcuffed by gun-wielding police officers. The image of those little girls stretched out and crying on
the pavement brought out the anger in me and many others. But strangely it prompted me reconsider
a request from a recent emailer:
“Terry, I’m told that I come across as angry and hope that you will consider writing something on
the negative effects of the angry Black male stereotype. Would you?”
Absolutely. Here goes.
ABM (Angry Black Male) is a debilitating moniker, one that can send the target of the label into a tailspin of
second-guessing, carefully measured words and protective hesitation, all in fear of negative reactions if
perceived that way. And the accompanying worry is that the bigger and blacker you are, the more
threatening. So, we attempt to tone it down, put on smiles and consciously hold back on our
naturalness, behaviors that are exhausting.
Now here is what may not be so obvious: There’s a delicate tightrope to walk between being perceived of
as an ABM (or woman) on one hand or a docile “Uncle Tom” on the other, especially when you know
that if your scale is tilted toward the former, the consequences can be deadly.
Here’s my hunch: Allowing oneself to become justifiably angry has health benefits since “holding stuff in”
can lead to stress, high blood pressure, let alone drug and alcohol abuse. By contrast, letting out the anger
can have an opposite effect. An example is 60-year-old “Ronald,” an African American, known for
expressing his rage at injustices. However, he takes pride in the fact that he says what’s on his mind,
takes no medication and still plays full-court basketball. Go figure.
So where does the ABM stereotype come from? Arguably, we can point to the news media, the maker of
stereotypes. For example, in one city, a high-profile Black politician has long been collared with the ABM
label because of his in-your-face style (and dreadlocks).
Need more evidence? Just consider how the image of heavyweight boxer George Forman was transformed
from one of a big, threatening brute into a lovable, grill-selling teddy bear. Or consider Mike Tyson who
the media transformed from an out-of-control, ear-chomping thug to an affable, beach roamer
readying to do battle with a shark on Made for TV.
Gian Fiero, educator, once wrote: “Many times, I and other Black men represent the lone intimate
contact that our colleagues will have with other Black people, Black men in particular. The extent of
these interactions will be largely determined by their comfort level and acceptance.” Fiero says further
that entry into the corporate environment for Black men is especially rigorous and that there are high
barriers to entry that many are simply not aware of. These barriers, which also serve as filters, are
predicated on the fears of those who create them.”
“The dynamics between Black men and their co-workers are truly something to behold. You can see it in
their eyes when Black men show up for interviews (especially when they have a “Black” sounding name).
Once hired, we must quickly put people at ease by making co-workers feel comfortable.”
Now not to let anyone off my target list, understand that as angry as I am about what happened in
Colorado and other crimes against African Americans across the nation, that anger extends to those
in my own community who engage in bad behaviors, including Black-on Black crime. And that anger will
extend to those who don’t exercise their right to vote.
Okay, now that you know that I’m an ABM, know also that I consider it a liberating badge of honor.
© Terry Howard is an award-winning writer and storyteller. He is also a contributing writer with the
Chattanooga News Chronicle, The American Diversity Report, The Douglas County Sentinel, The Atlanta
Business Journal, The Echo World, co-founder of the “26 Tiny Paint Brushes” writers’ guild, and recipient of the 2019 Dr. Martin Luther King Leadership Award. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org