Angry black woman

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The angry black woman stereotype is a racist trope in American society that portrays black women as sassy, ill-mannered, and ill-tempered by nature. Related concepts are the "sapphire" or "sassy black woman."

Within stereotypes of groups within the United States, the angry black woman stereotype is less studied than the mammy and jezebel archetypes, potentially because researchers accept it as true.[1][2]

Carolyn West defines the Angry Black Woman as one variety of a Sapphire stereotype -- another category listed is "Sistas with Attitude".[3] West defines the pervasive "Sapphire/ABW image" as "a template for portraying almost all Black women" and as serving several purposes. West sees it as "passion and righteous indignation... often misread as irrational anger... used to silence and shame Black women who dare to challenge social inequalities, complain about their circumstances, or demand fair treatment (Harris-Perry, 2011).[3][4]

The stereotype is a social mechanism for punishing black women who are not as passive and subservient as the dominant culture would prefer.[5][3] This leads to a form of double bind.[6]

Sapphire stereotype as source[edit]

Sapphire is an insulting term associated with the most dominant portrayals of Black women. According to the Sapphire stereotype[7] Sapphires were perceived as malicious, stubborn, overbearing, unnecessarily loud, and violent, with African-American men as their major targets. They mock African-American men for their many offenses, ranging from being broke and unemployed to sexually pursuing women of differing races.

Negative caricatures of Black women historically justified their exploitation. The Sapphire archetype painted enslaved women as impure, strong, masculine, dominant, and aggressive who drove their children and partners away.[7] This archetype characterizes the Black woman as experiencing disappointment, displeasure, bitterness or rage because of her significant other. The term has also been generalized to refer to Black women who show extreme emotion. It was utilized as a means to prove oppression was not as imminent of an issue, if Whites accepted Black women who acted according to this caricature.

Perpetuation and reproduction of the stereotype[edit]

With roots in slavery, the sapphire archetype was further replicated in films, shows, and literature by the early 1930s. Through these media and social platforms the stereotype was cultivated and sustained. Black women were perceived to be loud, harsh, too expressive, more opinionated, have bad attitudes, and generally negative and rude in nature. The 1930s radio show Amos 'n' Andy was particularly one of the first media outlets that reinforced the stereotype. In this production two white men voiced Black characters. Among those characters were Black women. The narrative of anger, assertiveness, and frequent emasculation was echoed with characters such as Aunt Esther from Sanford and Son and Pam from Martin.[citation needed] The negative portrayals of African Americans in television and film influences perceptions of them in real life.[8] The reinforcement of the angry Black woman stereotype through media can lead to negative interpretations of Black women's self-expression.

The pervasiveness of the angry Black woman stereotype has led many Black women to feel unable express themselves in fear of being perceived as angry.[9] Although often labelled as "angry" unnecessarily, Black women's anger is also characterized as unjustified in instances in which anger is warranted. Deeming Black women's anger invalid or inappropriate shifts the focus from the cause of the anger to the reaction itself. This may be a conscious or subconscious action on behalf of the individual(s) labeling a Black woman as angry in order to shift blame or responsibility.[10]

Relationships to other stereotypes[edit]

The sapphire archetype coincides with the mammy and Jezebel. All three of these archetypes uphold the angry black woman stereotype, but in different ways. In the archetype of mammy, black women were characterized as caregivers and submissive, while the Jezebel is characterized as dependent on men, promiscuous, aggressive, and arrogant.[7] The reproduction of these archetypes in popular culture legitimized the dehumanization of black women.

Gender studies professor Deborah Gray White writes, "slave women understood the value of silence and secrecy... like all who are dependent upon the caprices of a master, they hide their real sentiments and turn toward him changeless smile or enigmatic passivity".[7] In other words, slavery shaped how enslaved women expressed or suppressed their anger.

Black feminist response[edit]

The angry black woman stereotype also shapes how others read and interpret the actions of Black women. There are various sources, platforms, and mediums that Black women use to shed light on the impact of the stereotype. A number of Black women provide insight on how the stereotype is reinforced in the media, social spaces, and interpersonal interactions. Furthermore, Black women, whether if it's through activism, academia, art, dance, or writing affirm their rage. Through such activism and discourse, black women have opened many conversations regarding the dismissal and scrutiny of their emotions.[11]

Black feminists have discredited the trope of the angry black woman and recognize the validity in a black woman's anger. The response is that there should be a more accurate representation of black women in the media overall. Black women being angry does exist, as it exists with any category of people, but as a response to this trope, black feminists believe that the nuances and other experiences black women face that are not necessarily negative should be depicted in the media as well.[12]


The aftermath of slavery not only resulted in many social, economic and political effects but also led to the delineation of negative racial stereotypes in the portrayal of black women in media. The industry sometimes showed the stereotypical ideas of black women from mammies to sapphires, portraying black women as people who are unnecessarily aggressive and obnoxious. Many media outlets portray black women as aggressive and use black women in television as a comedic relief. Black women view this differently. As in various films, lead black women actresses are consistently depicted as angry and start an argument as black men are portrayed in a positive manner. Black women are often portrayed as an aggressive convict and a poor single mother with a lack of higher education. This stereotype has changed over time, however, the media still depicts black women in a negative perception. [13][14]

Feminists believe that this is still extremely prevalent today, while non-feminists assert that there is a wide variety of black characters in all forms of media today, including both stereotypes and stereotype-free characters. Both groups do note that the "angry black woman" is one of the types of characters that is sometimes portrayed. It's been difficult to be a black women without not being angry after generations of oppression, discrimination and erasure. Black women aren't allowed to express frustration and passions without being criticized and demonized. They are labeled as loud, vindictive and always in trouble as men are allowed to get upset without constructive criticism because it can establish their masculinity. The strong black women myth often does well in movies and tv shows, but has contributed to making black women look miserable and nonproductive as opposed to other groups/races in reality.[15][16]

Examples of modern movies containing one or more "angry black woman" character include the Madea series of movies, the TV show Empire, and others:

Public health[edit]

In regards to culturally relevant practices during mental health treatment, Ashley W, author of The angry black woman: the impact of pejorative stereotypes on psychotherapy with black women. describes "the myth of the angry Black woman that characterizes these women as aggressive, ill tempered, illogical, overbearing, hostile, and ignorant without provocation" as a negative stereotype that victimizes black women.[19]

Many black women are pressured to act like a superwoman, appearing as strong and self-sacrificing in their daily lives as if black women put their 'armor' on. Black women suffer from different facets of being the 'angry black women', ultimately have to protect themselves from negative impacts of racial discrimination. Having that intense drive to succeed and an obligation to help others in need is detrimental to black women's health. It can lead to further health effects of chronic stress affiliating with racial discrimination.[20]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Kelley, Blair L. M. (September 25, 2014). "Here's Some History Behind That 'Angry Black Woman' Riff the NY Times Tossed Around". The Root. Archived from the original on January 21, 2015. Retrieved January 24, 2015.
  2. ^ Harris-Perry, Melissa V. (2011). Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press. pp. 88–89. ISBN 978-0-300-16554-8.
  3. ^ a b c Carolyn West. (2017). Mammy, Sapphire, Jezebel, and the Bad Girls of Reality Television Media Representations of Black Women
  4. ^ Harris-Perry, M. V. (2011). Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black women in America. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
  5. ^ David Pilgrim (2015). Understanding Jim Crow: using racist memorabilia to teach tolerance and promote social justice. Gates, Henry Louis Jr. Oakland, CA. p. 121. ISBN 978-1-62963-114-1. OCLC 907651738.
  6. ^ Carbado, Devon W.; Gulati, Mitu (March 21, 2013). Acting White?: Rethinking Race in Post-Racial America. OUP USA. p. 54. ISBN 978-0-19-538258-7.
  7. ^ a b c d White, Deborah G. (1985). Ar'n't I a Woman?: Female Slaves in the Plantation South. New York: Norton. ISBN 978-0-393-02217-9. OCLC 11785433.CS1 maint: date and year (link)
  8. ^ Punyanunt-Carter, Narissa (2008). "The Perceived Realism of African American Portrayals on Television". The Howard Journal of Communications. 19 (3): 241–257. doi:10.1080/10646170802218263. S2CID 10629060.
  9. ^ Kilgore, Alexcia M.; Kraus, Rachel; Littleford, Linh Nguyen (September 10, 2020). ""But I'm not allowed to be mad": How Black women cope with gendered racial microaggressions through writing". Translational Issues in Psychological Science. 6 (4): 372–382. doi:10.1037/tps0000259. ISSN 2332-2179. S2CID 225192933.
  10. ^ Jones, Norwood, Trina, Kimberly J. (2017). "Aggressive Encounters & White Fragility: Deconstructing the Trope of the Angry Black Woman". Iowa Law Review. 102 (5): 2017–2069.
  11. ^ Walley-Jean, J. Celeste (Fall 2009). "Debunking the Myth of the "Angry Black Woman": An Exploration of Anger in Young African American Women". Black Women, Gender + Families. 3 (2): 68–86. doi:10.1353/bwg.0.0011. S2CID 143244228.
  12. ^ Freeman, Macy (October 27, 2017). "Reality TV gives the 'angry black woman' a bad name. Sometimes anger is a good thing". Washington Post. Archived from the original on November 7, 2018. Retrieved December 11, 2018.
  13. ^ Purks, Ebony (February 3, 2021). "The 'Angry Black Woman' Stereotype Makes Me Hesitate to Defend Myself". The Tempest. Retrieved April 30, 2021.
  14. ^ Higgins, Ed.D., Jonathan (November 26, 2016). "Why Hollywood's Portrayal of Black Women Is Problematic". The Root. Retrieved April 30, 2021.
  15. ^ Hardnett, Rana (October 25, 2018). "The Angry Black Woman Stereotype Has Ceased to Fade Away". The Black Explosion.
  16. ^ Mulata, Mala (August 9, 2020). "Black Women and the Thin Line between Strong and Angry". Medium, Age of Awareness. Retrieved April 30, 2021.
  17. ^ a b Naeemah Clark (November 10, 2013). "Find real African American women in a beauty salon, not on reality TV". Greensboro News & Record.
  18. ^ Kretsedemas, Philip (2010). "'But She's Not Black!': Viewer Interpretations of 'Angry Black Women' on Prime Time TV". Journal of African American Studies. 14 (2): 149–170. doi:10.1007/s12111-009-9116-3. JSTOR 41819243. S2CID 142722769.
  19. ^ Ashley, Wendy (November 4, 2013). "The Angry Black Woman: The Impact of Pejorative Stereotypes on Psychotherapy with Black Women". Social Work in Public Health. 29 (1): 27–34. doi:10.1080/19371918.2011.619449. PMID 24188294. S2CID 25338484.
  20. ^ Manke, Kara (December 5, 2019). "How the 'Strong Black Woman' Identity Both Helps and Hurts". Greater Good.

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