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Black Women in the Media: Mammy, Jezebel, or Angry

During the days of slavery white used stereotypes such as mammy, Jezebel, and even the angry black woman to justify the cruel and inhumane ways they used to treat black women. Despite the cruel origins of these stereotypes, they have somehow weaseled their way into today’s mainstream media where they are being perpetuated not only by whites, but by blacks as well.

No matter where you look on TV today, if you spot a black woman it’s almost guaranteed that she will be portrayed as some sort of nagging overweight woman who stays in the kitchen all day taking care of everyone around her (especially a white family). This would be the “mammy” character.

Classics such as “Gone with the Wind” have included mammy characters and the stereotype has even been incorporated into modern day advertising such as the Aunt Jemima ads.

If an African American woman isn’t being portrayed as a neck rolling, finger snapping, wise cracking southern cook who doubles as a maid, she’s usually a Jezebel.

During times of slavery the bodies of African American women were sexualized in order to make a mockery of them. The features that make a black woman beautiful were exaggerated to comical lengths in order to make them feel worthless.

Today’s modern day Jezebel doesn’t exaggerate natural hair or full lips. Instead she exaggerates her curves and is objectified as a sexual play thing for men.

Most hip hop and rap music videos are filled with Jezebels who are competing for the rap star’s attention or already busy stripping down to their birthday suits to make him happy.

Rappers such as Lil Wayne, Big Sean, and even Drake have featured the Jezebel type in their videos and even perpetuated the stereotype even further in their lyrics.

Last, but certainly not least, is the ever so popular angry black woman stereotype. This one is pretty much self explanatory and perhaps the most prevalent of all the stereotypes.

Basically this stereotype suggests that if you ever encounter an African American woman you better be extremely kind and careful or she’ll be ready to slap you silly or pull your hair out.

Reality programs such as The Real Housewives of Atlanta and Basketball Wives are famous for pushing the angry black woman stereotype and even encouraging others to mimic the same behavior.

How many times have we seen Nene Leakes attempt to put someone in their place or witnessed Evelyn Lozada climbing over tables just to try to get a swing in because somebody looked at her the wrong way?

The problem is that there is a vicious cycle between the media and the demographic being stereotyped. The more young women see African American ladies getting famous for fitting into one of these three boxes, the more they feel inclined to fit inside the same box as a mammy, Jezebel, or an angry black woman.

While there aren’t any signs of these stereotypes disappearing any time soon, there are some new media platforms that hope to change all that.

The blog “Black and Married with Kids” is making major strides in fighting back against the popular stereotypes by sending out positive messages about black families and communities.

One of the biggest ground breaking voices for African American women is Issa Rae who created the web series “Awkward Black Girl.” For the first time, an African American woman is taking the lead role in a series as a socially awkward and hilarious woman who fits none of the three main stereotypes.

Perhaps if African Americans continue to make these strides the media will finally have an accurate representation of black women that doesn’t date back to the days of slavery.

At the end of the day, if we can’t get Caucasian screen writers to understand the true roots of our culture and portray that in content it’s up to use to take control and provide the content we have all been waiting for.


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