A group of Black women pose together

Breaking Down the Stereotypes: Celebrating The Black Woman

Breaking Down the Stereotypes: Celebrating The Black Woman

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.