For centuries, the image of the loud, harsh, subservient, and angry Black woman has been grossly imposed onto Black women and perpetuated throughout the media. Historically, Black women stereotypes are rooted in slavery and the Jim Crow era. Minstrel shows harmfully portrayed Black women as loud, masculine, aggressive, naive, subserviently-caring, and obnoxious. The “sapphire” and “mammy” stereotypes have had dire traces on the present lens in which society views Black women today. Reinforced through daily media consumption, the modern Black woman constantly fights the persistent undermining of her opinions and personality as the traits of the angry Black woman. Whether it be in the workplace, school, or a relaxed social setting, this trope follows the Black woman’s every action and serves to invalidate her every emotional reaction. These stereotypes silence the Black woman and are subconsciously internalized by many. This leads to a fear of expressing themselves freely and often brings disadvantages when seeking new opportunities or positions. A collective and conscious effort must be made to first understand the historical context the stereotype arises from. We must then educate ourselves about our implicit beliefs and strive to create change in how we understand, treat, and accept the Black woman in modern society. This will help us truly appreciate and celebrate the Black women that are ambitiously reaching their goals around us.
Minstrel shows began in the United States during the 1800s as a popular form of entertainment that revolved around the mimicking of Black people through dancing, music, and acting in comedic skits. The shows often involved Blackface and created stigmatizing stereotypes of the Black man and woman, most notably, the “mammy” and “sapphire” stereotypes. These stereotypes depicted Black women as either the always happy, large, kitchen savvy caretaker of children or the loud, obnoxious, aggressive, and opinionated Black woman. These images have persisted in the media for decades. Only recently was the logo of the “mammy” stereotype and title removed from the branding of Aunt Jemima (now Pearl Milling) baking company. This decision received a lot of backlash from people who mostly did not know nor understand where the racist logo stemmed from. In addition to this, we have seen the “sapphire” stereotype applied to women worldwide. Notable figures include renowned African American tennis player Serena Williams, who spoke about her experience with the “sapphire” trope following the backlash of her reactions to the referee’s calls during the 2018 US Open. Following the event, Williams was consistently harassed throughout the media as numerous articles and illustrations, such as the one below by Mark Knight, belittled Williams. This trope is seen in many rhetorics used against Michelle Obama, a highly successful author, activist, Harvard-educated attorney, and former First Lady of the United States. These rhetorics often try to fix her into the “sapphire” caricature and depict her as aggressive and nonsensical when she voices her opinions.
Another prominent figure throughout history is Hattie McDaniel, a famous African American actress who is most known for her role as Mammy in the film Gone with the Wind. McDaniel played the “mammy” stereotype in many different films, which depicted her character as disparaging and subservient. Despite this, she had great success. From becoming the first African American to win an Oscar to the first African American to sing on the radio; her career has been nothing short of amazing. Yet, despite all these astonishing achievements, McDaniel struggled through immense hardships being one of the first African American women presented in the media. She experienced racism and racial segregation from her white counterparts. At one point, she was not even able to attend the premiere of Gone with the Wind as it was held in a whites-only theater. In addition, she not only received harsh criticism from white audiences but also the Black community for playing the role of “mammy” throughout her career. Through this adversity, she persevered and became a historical figure and a sign of success to the Black community. McDaniel opened the door to the entertainment industry for other aspiring Black artists while also starting the journey of Black media representation—even if it began with the “mammy” stereotype. She is a true representation of a hard-working Black woman; one we should celebrate and praise for her tenacious will to be represented in the entertainment industry.
The stereotypes discussed have long intertwined with America’s history. Prominent figures such as Hattie McDaniel, Serena Williams, and Michelle Obama, have tirelessly fought against the negative trope of the Angry Black Woman and the “mammy” stereotype, Through them and many others, we observe the many hardships that Black women have had to endure throughout their personal and professional lives. Yet, it is not only these renowned Black women who have had to face these hardships; these stereotypes follow all Black women. Therefore, it is crucial to celebrate the Black Woman and break down the stereotypes by first educating ourselves, acknowledging the problem, and working to uplift Black women and their accomplishments.