MCO 425

The Sapphire Trope

The stereotype of the “angry black woman” continues to be depicted in the media today. While I cannot relate to having been attributed to this stereotype because of my quiet personality, I do see that people meeting me for the first time find it a little strange that I am not more sociable and opinionated. In a way, I still am being stereotyped because there is an assumption that because I am a black female, I probably should be more extroverted.

Sapphire Stevens from Amos N' Andy- taken from https://jimcrowmuseum.ferris.edu/antiblack/sapphire.htm

The four main stereotypical examples of black women in the media are the mammy, sapphire, jezebel, and matriarch.  In this context, the sapphire would include the “angry black woman” trope. This woman is typically seen as hot-headed, unfeminine, and forceful. One of the earliest depictions of this was the character “Sapphire” in the 1950s television show Amos N’ Andy. She was shown as aggressive, argumentative, and perpetually critical of her husband. This character became representative of how black women continued to be displayed in the media, especially when dealing with social status.  Author J. Celeste Walley-Jean notes that this trope “was fueled by African American women’s economic and social status, which forced them to work alongside their male counterparts and subsequently prevented them from fitting the standard of femininity applied to upper-class white women.” A more recent example of this in the media was  The New York Times article written about Shonda Rhimes in 2014. The author, Alessandra Stanley, wrote that Rhimes’ autobiography should be called “How to Get Away With Being an Angry Black Woman” for how she writes black female characters. Unfounded generalizations were made that Rhimes is angry, and that her characters were written to perpetuate this stereotype. This example from the last decade shows that even now, black women are being generalized based on traits (strong, motivated, opinionated) that would not be labeled “angry” if displayed by men or even women of other races.

This media construction is inaccurate and harmful because it seeks to attribute negative traits singularly to one group of people. When looking at the early 20th century, it’s evident that black women did not have the same opportunities that others did. Since they were already seen as less than, it becomes clear that those women who challenged the “status quo” would be labeled negatively for the simple fact that they did not stay in their place. Their perspective was missing because they were not being given the chance to advocate for themselves. Though equality has come along way since then, these narratives are continuing to be pushed in the media. There is often still an unconscious bias against strong black women on screen and in the business world, that still becomes overt from time to time. Those throwing this label around are often not taking the time to understand the other person’s story and are just being dismissive. The bottom line is that not every black woman is angry just because she is willing to state her opinion or take charge. Each person should be fairly judged based on his character and actions.

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