Angry black woman

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The angry black woman stereotype is a 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".

The stereotype has not been studied to the same degree as the mammy and Jezebel archetypes.[citation needed] Some scholars, e.g. Dionne Bennett and Marcyliena Morgan, suggest that the stereotype is less studied because researchers accept it as true.[1][unreliable source?][2]

Sapphire stereotype as source[edit]

From the 1800s through the mid-1900s, Black women in media were portrayed as “Sassy Mammies” who aggressively ran their own homes and defied societal norms. During the era of the Jim Crow laws, when it was a crime for Blacks to argue with White people, Black women were given a leeway to sassiness, which was not only supposed to represent their acceptance into White families as “mammies,” but also a way to overlook that the cultural generalization of Black women is a corollary and overly oppressive factor of slavery and segregation. The mammy stereotype portrays Black women as not only offering help to the White families but it also showcases Black women with anger and masculinity. The trope of the angry Black woman purposely punishes Black women who fail to conform to societal norms of being the opposite of how they portrayed in the media.

The Sapphire is an insulting term that is also known as the most dominant portrayals of Black women. The angry black woman trope arises from the sapphire stereotype,[citation needed] which claimed that enslaved Black women were aggressive, dominant, and masculine: "In antebellum America, the female slaves' chattel status, sex, and race combined to create a complicated set of myths about Black women."[3] Black women are perceived as malicious, stubborn, overbearing, unnecessarily loud and violent with African American men as their major targets as they mock these men for their many offenses that range from being broke and unemployed to sexually pursuing White or other women.

Negative caricatures of black women historically justified their exploitation. The sapphire archetype painted enslaved women as impure, strong, masculine, dominant, and aggressive women, who drove their children and partners away.[3] It is a term used to describe Black women who experience disappointment, displeasure, bitterness or rage because of her significant other, or black women in general who show emotion in any situation. The Sapphire stereotype was introduced by the airing of the Amos ‘n’ Andy radio show which was produced by two White male actors. The content of the show focused heavily on belittling Black men and how Black women treat their husbands for being lazy and unemployed.

Perpetuation and reproduction of the myth[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 too expressive, more opinionated, harsh, have bad attitudes, loud, 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.

Relationships to other myths[edit]

The sapphire archetype coincides with the mammy and Jezebel. All three of these archetypes uphold the angry black woman myth, but in different ways. In these archetypes, black women were characterized as caregivers, submissive, dependent on men, promiscuous, aggressive and arrogant.[3] 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".[3] In other words, slavery shaped how enslaved women expressed or suppressed their anger.

Black feminist response[edit]

The angry black woman myth 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 myth. A number of Black women provide insight on how the myth is reinforced in the media, social spaces, and interpersonal interactions. Furthermore, Black women, whether if it's through activism, academia, art, dance, or writing validate, affirm their rage. Through such activism and discourse, black women have opened many conversations regarding the dismissal and scrutiny of their emotions.[citation needed]

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.[4]

Portrayals in the media[edit]

The aftermath of slavery not only resulted in many social, economic and political effects but it also led to the delineation of negative racial stereotypes in the portrayal of Black women in media. The industry targeted the stereotypical ideas of black women from mammies to sapphires, portraying Black women as people who are necessarily aggressive and loud.

The stereotypes of Black women are intensified in films as they are given roles of servants, maids or people who are most often times, if not always angry, loud, illogical, aggressive, immoral, and dishonest. This affects the way in which Black women are perceived in society and it makes the White gaze, more formative to the false depictions of Black women. It fosters the generalization and stereotypes that all black women have the same negative characteristics and are subject to act accordingly to their stereotypes.

Some movie producers who portray these stereotypes of Black women in their films include: Tyler Perry with his many Madea movies, Lee Daniels and Danny Strong’s television show Empire. Tyler Perry is known for his stereotypical portrayal of African American families but more specifically, Black women. He showcases himself as a Black woman, Madea. Madea is portrayed as a big, black, strong, hostile and sometimes illogical woman who has the tendency to overreact with force and violence when she has been wronged or wants to defend herself. She is also portrayed as extremely nurturing and cares a lot about the well-being of children and teenagers but never hesitant to “lash out” on them anytime they showed signs of disrespect. She involves herself in the situations of others, giving them advice and offering self-defense tips or methods of vengeance when needed. Moreover, her hospitality is overridden by her comical aggressiveness demonstrated more to the audience which adds to the false depiction of Black women.

On the other hand, Lee Daniels and Danny Strong’s television show, Empire, is another example of the stereotype of the trope of angry Black woman. In fact, one of the main characters, Cookie Lyon is an embodiment of the stereotype Black women face in the film. This show represents a tough motherly figure who was born and raised in the “hood” around drug dealers and gangs. She served 17 years in prison, away from her children and did not get to watch them grow up. She along with her husband, Lucious Lyons, were fortunate enough to form a company known as Empire, which took them from rags to riches. The elegance can be seen through what she wears with knee-high boots, fashionable fur coats, long color-coded nails, but her short temper and violent tendencies tend to overshadow her good. Black women continue to be affected by this stereotype, in the sense that people who have been conditioned to view African American women as angry Black women, respond to Black women’s emotions with fear. With this trope as one of the biggest topics and issues in Black film, and the lack of diversity of Black women in film which can leave an impression on the audience that Black women are all always angry.

Reality television is another media platform where the angry Black woman trope is commonly used. Reality shows such as The Real Housewives of Atlanta and the Love & Hip Hop franchise have casts that are primarily made up of Black women. These shows depict heated arguments and physical fighting among the cast members that reflect the negative, stereotypical behavior of black women.                                                                                                     

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.
  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 0-300-16554-4.
  3. ^ a b c d Gray White, Deborah. Ar'n't I a Woman: Female Slaves in the Plantation South (1985). New York and London: W.W. Norton and Co., 1999.
  4. ^ Freeman, Macy (2017-10-27). "Reality TV gives the 'angry black woman' a bad name. Sometimes anger is a good thing". Washington Post. Retrieved 2018-12-11.
  5. ^ a b Naeemah Clark (November 10, 2013). "Find real African American women in a beauty salon, not on reality TV". Greensboro News & Record.
  6. ^ 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. JSTOR 41819243.

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