Aunt Viv and The Persistant Stereotype of The Angry Black Woman
How come a black woman can’t express feelings of frustration, hurt and even disappointment without the fear of being labeled bitter or having an attitude?
Seriously, the stereotypes of Black women and their so-called anger or bitterness are so pervasive that anytime a sista acts out in a way that’s seen as aggressive, she gets attacked by everyone including the white mainstream, Black men and other Black women. Sadly, we have become so accustomed to the bitter Black woman” meme that we even have internalized it as true, although research has proven otherwise. Nevertheless if I see one more person flippantly dismiss the emotional angst of a black woman by saying, “oh she’s just bitter,” I will scream -but not too loud because than folks will assume that I have an attitude problem.
Take for instance Janet Hubert, actress who is best known as the first Aunt Vivian on the hit TV series Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Recently she was asked why she had been missing from the picture of her former cast members at a reunion dinner, which had been posted on Will Smith’s Facebook page and ultimately started rumors of a “Fresh Prince” reunion, she said: “There will never be a reunion … as I will never do anything with an a**hole like Will Smith,” the actress told TMZ this weekend. “He is still an egomaniac and has not grown up. This constant reunion thing will never ever happen in my lifetime unless there is an apology, which he doesn’t know the word.” Ouch, that’s kind of harsh.
Once news spread of Hubert’s reaction to the question of a reunion, folk were quick to judge and without much pause, concluded that Hubert is holding on to a grudge. To me it was an honest answer to an honestly invasive question. I mean, what else was she suppose to say? “I was busy,” or “I was washing my hair,” or some other lie to appear graceful to the fickle masses? The same folks wanting her to move on are probably the same folks, who wonder why she wasn’t at the reunion dinner. She told her truth and what is wrong with that?
If you recall, Hubert didn’t leave the show on good terms. As the original Aunt Vivian, Hubert, who was pregnant during the series’ third season sued Will Smith and NBC for breach of contract for offering her a new contract with less air time and less money. After the unsuccessful lawsuit and refusing to sign the new contract, Hubert was replaced on the show by Daphne Reid.
And just like that, the first Aunt Vivian vanished into obscurity, never to be seen – or even thought about – by the public again until last year, when she wrote the book about her experience as a TV Mom. In an interview about the book with BlackAmericaWeb, Hubert said that she was subjected to verbal and mental abuse on the set, hypocrisy, excessive egoism, blatant resentment, racial jokes at the hands of a young Smith. According to Hubert, “I was a dark-skinned, African-American mother, and Will used to tell the you’re-so-black jokes to the audience before the show, and at one point, I came out and stopped him, and the audience went ‘Woooo,'” she remembered. “He didn’t understand how unbelievably disrespectful that was to women like me… ‘Yo mama’s so black, when she looks at her shoes, she thinks she’s looking in the mirror. Ha, ha!'”
It has to be a hard thing for viewers to separate the relationships that actors have on screen with their real life relationships and turmoil back stage, but it happens. Like when John Amos (James Evans Sr.) was fired from the hit series Good Times, he was accused by the show’s producer Norman Lear of being a “disruptive factor.” Of course, Amos would say differently and said countless times that he had been fired because he objected to the negative stereotypes of African Americans that the show constantly presented including the increasing buffooneries of fellow cast mate Jimmie Walker (James Evans Jr.). When Amos sought to clarify rumors and assert his position on his overall feelings about the direction of the show and his fellow cast mate no one accuses him of being a bitter or an angry Black man. We understood it. So why can’t we give Hubert the same benefit of the doubt?
In a previous editorial, Hubert sought to challenge the angry Black woman image she was receiving by recounting candidly what it’s like growing up in a world that constantly subjugates you. “While growing up, only the lighter skinned black women were considered beautiful. The sad thing is that today those standards of beauty are still in effect. I think a better description would be the politics of beauty. I am making the references of physical beauty to make a better point in pursuit of the angry black woman theory. We don’t say the angry light-skinned woman, do we? That in itself is enough to piss me off, so am I angry yet… not quite.”
I think that as Black women we have been so conditioned to being treated with less dignity and having our personal contributions undervalued, that we honestly feel that it is our place to always “just deal” with our emotional well-being without complaining. We readily accept that Black men are targets by racist institutions since slavery and tossed away by society as degenerates and sub humans. However when it comes to understanding how black women are also the targets of those same racist paradigms, and carry the weight of gender oppression on our shoulders, we would rather see a woman suppress those intense angry feelings. After all, being angry is just not considered lady-like.
Putting myself in Hubert’s shoes, I can imagine the stress that might occur every time someone mentions what she perceives as one of the most single traumatic moments of her career. I mean, if I had gotten fired from a job because of some strife with the boss and/or coworker, and they try to invite me to the company’s reunion party that included all the people you had strife with, I would be like, “F that. And here is why” too. I wouldn’t care if it is the Fresh Prince or the Fresh Grocers (supermarket), if it bugs me, I’m going to speak on it.
Charing Ball is the author of the blog People, Places & Things.