Angry, Sassy, and More Words that Should be Banned from Describing Black Women

by Kinsey Clarke

Last week, TIME Magazine asked which popularly used words in 2014 should be banned in 2015. The list contained many words that originated in African American Vernacular English and are often used by black women. TIME’s list was offensive, as For Harriet explained in another article here.

We have decided to create our own list of words that should be “banned” in 2015. All of them used to describe and reinforce negative stereotypes about Black women, which is much more harmful than someone saying “bae” or “on fleek.”


When black women express any “negative” emotion—sadness, frustration, hurt, annoyance— we are deemed angry or bitter. Instead of being allowed to express when we’re hurting, we must cover up these feelings to avoid being labeled as aggressive or hostile. The media consistently portrays us as being “angry,” thus limiting our right to being complex individuals who can and do express a variety of emotions. A perfect example of this is the recent New York Times fiasco, when they ran a piece on Shonda Rhimes that opened with the following sentence, “When Shonda Rhimes writes her autobiography, it should be called, ‘How to Get Away with Being an Angry Black Woman.’” Many people found this offensive, as Rhimes has been at the forefront of creating TV with nuanced, emotionally complex Black female characters. We also see this stereotype in how music by Black women is interpreted. Keyshia Cole’s music is often labeled as prime “bitter break up” music. But why are we not saying the same about Big Sean’s new song “IDFWU,” in which he is literally screaming throughout the whole track about how he doesn’t give a f*ck about his previous ex? By constantly labeling us as angry, it makes it hard for people to recognize our humanity—or offer us the space to be vulnerable or sensitive, which Black women also are.


Black women have always been stereotyped as “sassy.” No matter how often we reject this label, the mainstream continues to create television show after television show of black women who only serve to be the laughing, eye-rolling, neck-rolling, lip-smacking sidekick of a white woman. We exist solely for her to turn her life around and provide her with a confidence boost. The sassy black woman doesn’t get a backstory or a personality of her own: She’s only there to serve as comic relief to the white woman who has all the “real” problems. This word reduces black women to an exaggerated caricature of what the mainstream believes Black womanhood actually is. It also denies us the humanity offered to other women—turning us into the embodiment of a recurring punchline. Except we’re not laughing.

Bed Wench

Every week, Scandal and How To Get Away With Murder are ridiculed for pairing their black, female leads with white men. This coupling has led to black men calling black women who choose to date interracially “bed wenches.” A bed wench is a reference to slavery, when black women would sleep with their masters. They also use this term to describe Olivia and Annalise as modern-day Sally Hemings, or “race traitors.” They insult perpetuates harm against black women who don’t conform to black men’s desires and expectations. It is 2014. Whom a woman chooses to date is her decision. And can we please end this obsession with policing the relationships of two fictional characters? It’s getting old.


This is another term tacked onto us mostly by black men. Let’s get something straight: black women are not disloyal to the black community. We care about the political, social, and economic issues that face us just as much as black men. We protest, march, and organize when it’s time to rally and make our voices heard. We stand up and stand behind our brothers. But our constant efforts are often ignored. And we’re often attacked when we choose to focus on issues that affect black women specifically. Choosing to give voice to the issues that we face specifically because of the intersection of our race and gender does not erase our willingness to fight injustice and secure rights for all black people. If #BlackLivesMatter, then it needs to be understood that so do black women’s. By trying to discredit everything black women have fought and worked for and the sacrifices we’ve made for prioritizing our own needs, black men take away the respect we clearly deserve.

The words included on this list are way more problematic than any of the ones TIME proposed we ban. Instead of focusing on slang terms from a culture that TIME does not belong to, the magazine should focus on eradicating words that actually deserve to be banned—those that are harmful, offensive, and insulting.

What stereotypical words do you think should be banned from describing black women?

Photo credit: Scandal/ABC

Kinsey Clarke is a senior at Michigan State University. She enjoys aerial silks and solo trapeze in her spare time. You can follow her personal Twitter account here.

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