I’ll admit it may seem odd that being labeled “angry” could serve any black person well. Let’s face it, leaders of the Civil Rights movement likely adopted a non-violent stance for both moral and practical reasons.
But in a recent study I conducted with Robert Livingston and Ella Washington of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, we found that black women leaders who displayed dominant behavior when interacting with subordinates got more favorable reviews than their white female or black male counterparts who behaved the same way. In fact, black women were evaluated comparably to white male leaders who displayed similarly dominant and assertive behavior.
Existing studies have shown that professional white men have been granted greater status and power when they’ve expressed anger rather than sadness. Our findings suggest that black women may benefit from such expressions, too. In other words, because assertiveness and dominance are stereotypical characteristics for black women, they may not provoke the same backlash as they would for white women and black men.