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Stereotypes about Black women have coursed through pop culture for centuries.
Three main stereotypes have surfaced:
Mammy: the smiling, asexual, and often obese older woman.
Jezebel: the seductive and attractive younger woman who lures men with her sexual charms.
Sapphire: the aggressive and mouthy woman
Mammy images are often used in advertising (i.e. Aunt Jemima.)
Jezebel and Sapphire characters were extremely popular in the “Blacksploitation” films of the 1970s.
In recent years, the most pervasive stereotype has been that of the Sapphire, or Angry Black Woman.
Aunt Jemima: Mammy figure used in advertising. Coffy: Jezebel figure in film media. Aunt Jemima Photo: http://www.flopeye.net/AuntJemima.jpg Coffy Photo: http://images.art.com/images/PRODUCTS/large/10134000/10134370.jpg
The Mammy image originated during slavery in the South and defined an African American woman as an asexual, obese, older woman with large breasts working in servitude.
Her primary role was to be a subordinate who happily performed her domestic duties with a broad grin
The Mammy image contributes to African American women's struggle and shame surrounding their physical features such as skin color, hair texture, and weight, which are all contradictions to the White beauty standards.
Actress Hattie McDaniel played “Mammy” in the motion picture Gone With the Wind. Photo: http://www.libs.uga.edu/media/events/bhm/bhm2004/images/mcdaniel.jpg
Jezebel figures are described as seductive, alluring, worldly, beguiling, tempting, and lewd. This is in contrast to the portrayal of white women as models of self-respect, self-control, and modesty
Contrasting with the asexual Mammy, Jezebel is an innately promiscuous, hypersexual figure.
The Jezebel stereotype was introduced during slavery to justify White men having (often forced) sexual relations with Black slave women. The stereotype continued through the Jim Crow era and is still prevalent in today’s media.
Sapphires are often characterized as “Black Bitches:”
Tough, domineering, aggressive, emasculating, rude, shrill and loud
A Black woman who is achievement-oriented, no-nonsense, overworked, exhausted, not particularly kind or compassionate
Constant agitator or complainer
“ Sapphire” from Amos n’ Andy” The boisterous Monique from “The Parkers” is always the one to “tell it like it is.” Sapphire Photo: http://www.users.fast.net/~blc/sapphir3.gif Monique Photo: http://cuip.net/~woodlawntech/images/monique.jpg
Contemporary renditions of the Sapphire image are not much different from earlier television shows.
The UPN Network has been particularly targeted by critics for their minstrel-like shows with Black actors
The label of Angry Black Woman is so ingrained in society that it gets slapped on any woman who asserts her power when she is in a position of authority.
The Angry Black woman is also often used to provide comic relief with her over-the-top, angry response.
Actress Golden Brooks’s character on UPN’s “Girlfriends” is described as “sharp-tongued” Wanda Sykes’ character on “Curb your Enthusiasm” supplies tongue-lashings to Larry David’s character when he is being politically incorrect Brooks Photo: http://wwwimage.upn.com/shows/girlfriends/images/bio_brooks.jpg Sykes Photo: http://images.usatoday.com/life/_photos/2003/2003-09/21-sykes-inside.jpg
It can be argued that with type-casting and clever editing, “reality” television is nothing more than a modern day minstrel show.
On many shows, such as the Real World, Black women are type cast to fill the “Angry Black Woman” role.
One author writes, “Those 15 minutes of fame are a good platform to sell yourself, however, allowing a television producer to turn you into a caricature will inevitably do much more than 15 minutes of damage.”
Coral from Real World NYC Omarosa from The Apprentice Coral Photo: www.angelfire.com/ tv2/rw10_newyork/ Omarosa Photo: http://www.answers.com/main/content/img/ webpics/Omarosa%20Manigault-Stallworth.jpg
“ They seem a happy race of beings and if you did not know it you would never imagine they were slaves. The loud laugh, the clear dancing eye, the cheerful face show that in this sad world of sin & sorrow they know but very few.” -- Henry Benjamin Whipple, Bishop Whipple’s Southern Diary, 1834 – 1844
This description of African Americans from mid-19 th century presents blacks as subhuman ‘beings’ that lack the mental capacity to understand the conditions of their enslavement.
The origin of the Sambo stereotype has its roots in the first contacts between Europeans and Africans
Many slave traders offered accounts of the sexual dances of their slaves, and their amazement at the ability of their cargo to exhibit joy under such oppressive conditions
Sambo is a laughing, dancing, musical, happy-go-lucky, subservient caricature of African-American males which arose as a means of justifying slavery as a humane institution.
Slaves, the argument of White slave owners went, were unable to care for themselves and needed the care of their masters to survive.
To reinforce the stereotypes of blacks as childlike and unable to survive on their own, slave owners kept their slaves illiterate and ignorant
Whites came to believe that African-Americans truly embodied the characteristics of the Sambo personality, but accounts of slaves themselves show that the docile, happy visage they wore was often a means of survival or a way to conceal subversive plans.
Black Men in the Media: The History of the Minstrel Show
Minstrel shows began in the 1830s when working class White men would dress up like plantation slaves and imitate Black music and dance.
By the Civil War, the minstrel show was known and respected world wide.
Three main male characters appeared in most minstrel shows:
Jim Crow, a carefree slave
Mr. Tambo, a happy musician
Zip Coon, a free slave trying to climb the social ladder
Jim Crow is a Sambo figure created by minstrel performers.
Stereotyping causes people to view others as members of a group, rather than unique individuals.
People apply the assumptions they have about the group to each person from the group they encounter.
Pervasive stereotyping can also damage the self-image of members of the disparaged group.
The negative stereotypes of Blacks as lazy, unintelligent, and prone to crime influence the life chances of Blacks in access to employment, home loans, and in length of sentencing in criminal proceedings.
In opposition to the docile, happy Sambo, alternative images of Black males as violent and dangerous arose after the end of slavery, when Whites feared economic and political competition from their former property.
Both types of Black male stereotypes – the Sambo image and the dangerous criminal image – remain prominent in television and other media.
The Sambo image of Black men as lazy, ignorant, happy-go-lucky, musical, and subservient has lasted for several centuries, but is just one of many historical stereotypes of Blacks.
Due to its longevity, the stereotype has real impacts on how Blacks as a group are viewed and treated by others.
Since the introduction of television, the blatant representations of Sambo seen in Amos and Andy have diminished, but traces of the Sambo character remain prevalent today.
Discussion of the historical implications of the Sambo stereotype and improved discourse between racial groups may finally end depictions of Black men as Sambo characters and the confinement of Black television entertainers to the role of the Jester.
Stereotypes about Latina women have existed in popular culture for over a century.
Stereotypes have ranged from service roles, “the dark lady” during the time of silent movies, and the sizzling and spicy woman.
The most visible and frequent stereotype occurs when a White hero rejects an "oversexed" and promiscuous Latina. The message communicated is not only that the superior rejects the inferior and worthless, but that the latter is inferior and worthless.
Thalia as the poor servant in “Maria Del Barrio” (1992). Dolores del Rio as “the dark lady” in “In Caliente.” (1935) Thalia Photo: http://territorio.terra.com.br/canais/canalpop/biografias/albuns/3_224_2673.jpg Delores Photo: www.geocities.com/ Hollywood/1096/past.htm
Latinas in the Media: Social-Historical Factors
Social-historical factors have aided in the development of Latina stereotypes:
A decade before the Mexican-American War, Americans generally envisioned Mexicans as an inhuman enemy.
Mexicans were also portrayed as cruel, lazy and indolent, and were ridiculed and condemned as filthy tortilla-eating animals .
After some time, several American writers found Latinas as “quite charming and wrote at length about their feminine virtues.”
The Señorita is an extension of the virgin and has long been a staple of Hollywood Westerns and costume dramas.
The sexy, alluring, and available spitfire are easily recognizable in the United States because the media has internalized all of those Carmen Mirandas, Chiquita Bananas, and Charo 'cuchi cuchis' as the stereotypical images Latina femininity and gender relations.
Both the Latin spitfire and the beautiful Señorita are exotic cultural constructs that serve as objects of entertainment and sexual pleasure.
Carmen Miranda in That Night in Rio (1941). Photo: http://www.skidmore.edu/~g_bluemi/Images/Carmen%20Miranda.jpg
Latina actresses displayed themselves and their bodies, as well their ethnicity, in order to fulfill the scope of expectations of Latina stereotypes imposed by Anglo-America's perception of their cultural image.
For example, Lupe Velez was forced into the "hot tamale" or Mexican-wildcat type in the popular Mexican Spitfire series at RKO.
Brazilian Carmen Miranda sold herself with her dancing, cute accent, and tropical fruit and banana costumes.
Lupe Velez Lupe Photo: http://www.moderntimes.com/palace/non_image/lupe37.jpg Carmen Photo: http://www.317x.com/albums/m/carmenmiranda/enlargement.jpg Carmen Miranda, also known as “The Latin Bombshell.”
Actress Rita Cansino was cosmetically stripped of her ethnicity and became the “all-American” Rita Hayworth.
Another Hispanic actress who dominated the industry in the 1940s was Maria Montez, born in the Dominican Republic, and starred in a series of adventure films at Universal that exploited her sexuality and beauty.
Rita Cansino Maria Montez in Cobra Woman (1944). Rita Photo: http://www.aldeaeducativa.com/IMAGES/Rita.jpg Maria Photo: http://photos1.blogger.com/img/157/1426/640/montez1.jpg
Latinas in the Media: Contemporary Images on T.V.
Eva Longoria portrays the Latina “sexpot” Gabrielle Solis on the ABC series Desperate Housewives . She plays a glamorous, former runway model married to the handsome, sexy Carlos. Gabrielle is “desperate” because all of her teenage dreams did come true and yet she still hates her life..
Cuban Judge, Marilyn Milian, is portrayed as one of the most provocative, professional judges in television history.
Alyssa Milano plays Phoebe Halliwell in “Charmed.” Her role is the beautiful and sexy boss.
Eva Longoria Alyssa Milano Judge Marilyn Milian Longoria Photo: http://www.wisteria.tv/imgs/longoria/35.jpg Milano Photo: http://www.makeup411.com/images/beauty_breakdown/CHARMED_ALYSSA.jpg Milian Photo: http://www.peoplescourt.net/
Latinas in the Media: Resistance to Stereotypes
One example of Latina resistance to dominant stereotypes of their femininity and sexuality is the Cuban-American playwright Dolores del Prida's play Beautiful Señoritas (1977).
Dolores del Prida portrays women as victims of machismo and the patriarchal world with a twist of irony, comedy, and satire.
Her work shows the “ideal” images of womanhood and engage in a process of questioning, dismantling, and demystifying images of Latinas in Anglo culture.
Latinas in the Media: Resistance to Stereotypes
During the past few years, there has been a great deal of progress in the area of hiring Latina actresses for better roles. More frequently the characters Latinas play are seen as more positive role -models.
Jennifer Lopez plays the lead in The Wedding Planner. Her characters appears very coiffed, wears expensive pastel suits, and has upscale hairstyles, unlike the “oversexed” Latina images.
Michelle Rodriguez has a “tough-Latina persona” that breaks through the usual teen-genre-flick stereotypes. Although she has a “tough” edge, she plays strong characters that are not beaten down as many of former Latina actresses' roles were in the past. Her characters refuse to accept the traditional expectations and limitations of typical Latina characters.
Jennifer Lopez in The Wedding Planner Michelle Rodriguez in Girl Fight Lopez Photo: http://www.twinkle.com.hk/intposter/poster/e1327.jpg Rodriguez Photo: http://www.affichescinema.com/insc_g/girl_fight.jpg
Latinas in the Media: Resistance to Stereotypes
Eva Mendes plays roles of strong young women; none of the roles hold any importance to her ethnicity. They focus on her character as a college student, a wife, and a police officer. As a result, none of the roles she plays are stereotypical or diminishing to Latinas.
American Ferrera plays the leading role in “Real Women Have Curves.” She is a wonderful role model for young women who obsess over their looks and forget that it is more important to search for one's inner self than for the exterior.
Eva Mendes America Ferrera in Real Women Have Curves Mendes Photo: http://www.celebstation.org/actresses/eva_mendez/EvaMendes2.jpg America Photo: http://www.nwhp.org/new-catalog/media/images/0437b.jpg
Recent films show that the stereotypical and Hollywood-created roles of Latinas are being changed.
Jennifer Lopez, and some of the more contemporary Latina actresses, are taking more feasible and “normal” roles.
It is essential that, if we are to grow together as an educated and enlightened society, filmmakers take a closer look into using the talents of Latina actresses as well as creating more positive images for the Latino Community and the world.
The only way that stereotypes can be deconstructed is by means of education. Films and TV shows, in particular, do not only have the capability to entertain, but most importantly, to educate and provoke thought.
In contemporary T.V. and film, people of color have been continually portrayed as helpless. Often a white missionary-like figure will step in to aid the minority, thus taking up the “White Man’s Burden.”
The White Man’s Burden is the Eurocentric view of the world used to justify U.S. imperial actions.
The term was first coined in Rudyard Kipling’s poem, The White Man’s Burden , published in 1899.
However, the roots of the White Man’s Burden can be found in the Colonial period. The White
missionaries thought it was their duty to “civilize” other races, a theme that has been carried over to television and film media.
British colonists and their descendants saw it as their duty to civilize the Native American “savages.” Their aim was to lift the Native out of barbarity and depravity. To this end, Native American schools were established.
The stated goal of such institutions was to assimilate the Native-Americans into mainstream (i.e. White) society; they could then be transformed into patriotic and productive members of society. Consequently, children were forcibly removed from their homes, torn from their families, and sent to these schools. In reality, Native American children were being trained as domestic servants and in other menial trades.
Furthermore, many of these children were being trained with the specific goal of sending them back to their communities as emissaries of the United States government. One of the most famous Indian schools was Carlisle Indian Industrial School founded by Captain Richard H. Pratt in 1879. This is the same Captain Pratt who proclaimed: “Kill the Indian and save the man.”
One of the main objectives of the United States government colonists was to “Christianize the Indian”. Traditional worship was deemed illegal and punishable by law. It is here that the missionary stereotype becomes tangible.
In a letter, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs Hiram Price stated: “There is no good reason why an Indian should be permitted to indulge in practices which are alike repugnant to common decency and morality. The preservation of good order on reservations demands of me active measures be taken to discourage -- and if possible, put a stop -- to the demoralizing influence of heathenish rites.”
In some areas of the United States, Native American spiritual ceremonies were deemed criminal until 1978, when Congress passed The American Indian Religious Freedom Act.
Indian Baptism by Charles Savage (1875). Photo: http://hoodmuseum.dartmouth.edu/exhibitions/previous/carriemaeweems/weemsindianbapti.html
In William Jennings Bryan’s address at the Independence Day Banquet of the American Society of London (July 4, 1906):
He maintains that no other language is as useful as English; “Through colonization, both England and the United States have rendered an invaluable service to India and the Philippines respectively.”
He believes that great things may be created as a by-product of selfishness. He continues on to say that as the sale of Joseph into Egypt “resulted in blessings to his family and to the land of the Pharaoh’s, so captives in war have sometimes spread civilization, and Blacks carried away into slavery have been improved by contact with the Whites”.
In Thomas Jefferson’s letter “ To the Chiefs of the Cherokee Nation” (1806), he repeatedly refers to the Cherokee Nation as his “children.” He urges the Natives to eagerly take to farming for the more they are entrenched into the lifestyle, “the happier and more respectable [they] will be.”
In 1899, British author Rudyard Kipling published a poem entitled “The White Man’s Burden.” This piece served as a plea to the United States to take up the task of developing the Philippines after their victory in the Spanish-American War.
Philip Drummond, an affluent white male promises his dying black housekeeper that he will raise her sons, Willis and Arnold, as his own after she has passed away. They subsequently leave the slums of Harlem to move in with the widower and his teenage daughter Kimberly in their Park Avenue apartment.
In one episode entitled “The Relative”, one of the boys’ cousins arrives to see Willis and Arnold. When she realizes that the boys are living in the lap of luxury, she decides to stick around. Mr. Drummond, of course, realizes that cousin Myrtle does not care about the boys and protects them from her.
Photo: http://www.art.com/asp/sp-asp/_/pd--10101742/Different_Strokes.htm The theme song claimed: “ Now, the world don't move to the beat of just one drum, What might be right for you, may not be right for some. A man is born, he's a man of means. Then along come two, they got nothing but their jeans. But they got, Diff'rent Strokes.”
After his parents are killed in a car crash, Webster arrives at his White godfather George, and his wife, Katherine’s house.
Dangerous Minds (1996-1997):
Based on the movie of the same name, ex-Marine Louanne Johnson is given a teaching assignment in an inner-city school. With her special brand of unorthodox methods and tough-love, she inspires her students to get their lives together, both in and out of the classroom.
The issue of race as played out on television is often viewed through the stenotic lens of minority portrayal. Viewers cannot gain a better understanding of the full implications of race on television by solely examining the portrayals of racial minorities; they must examine it in conjunction with the portrayal of Whites within the same programs.
The “missionary character” is, more often than not, portrayed as well-meaning, altruistic, and White. This person is deeply concerned about those around whom are less fortunate; these individuals tend to be persons of color. These representations are problematic and do not reflect the reality of social class stratification within the United States.
While these images may reflect society’s class structure, it is not a complete picture. Minorities in these types of programs are portrayed as victims of learned helplessness. They often reside in vermin-infested housing projects, where crack-heads, liquor stores, teen mothers, and drive-by shootings are part of the everyday landscape.
In shows such as “Dangerous Minds,” viewers are shown how a White woman is the only one who is able to reach out to inner-city teenagers. Presumably, before she entered their lives, they were not self-motivated, nor did they have parents and other social networks in place to motivate them. This is where the problem lies in such portrayals: society is taught that Blacks and other minorities lack the drive to succeed and are merely waiting for hand-outs, when this isnot the reality of the situation.
Print Resources on Black Men in the Media: Black in Television and Other Media
Bogle, D. (1988). Blacks in American films and television: An encyclopedia . New York: Garland.
Coleman, R. (1998). African American Viewers and the Black Situation Comedy: Situating Racial Humor . New York: Garland Publishing.
Cummings, M. (1988). “The changing image of the black family on television.” Journal of Popular Culture , 22, 75- 85.
Dates, J., and W. Barlow, eds. (1993). Split Image: African Americans in the Mass Media , 2 nd edition. Washington: Howard University Press.
Ely, M. (1991). The Adventures of Amos and Andy: A Social History of an American Phenomenon . New York: Free Press.
Entman, R. (1990). Modern Racism and the Images of Blacks in local TV News. Critical Studies in Mass Communication , 7(1990), 332-345.
Entman, R., and A. Rojecki (2001). The Black Image in the White Mind: Media and Race in America . Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Fife, M. (1974). “Black Images in American TV: The First Two Decades.” Black Scholar, 5 (November 1974): 5-15.
Print Resources on Blacks in the Media: Blacks in Television and Other Media
Fiske, J. (1996). Media Matters: Everyday Culture and Political Change . Revised Edition. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Gray, H. (1986). “Television and the new black man: Black male images in prime-time situation comedy.” Mediia, Culture, and Society , 8, 223-242
------. (1989). “Television, Black Americans, and the American Dream.” Critical Studies in Mass Communication , 6(1989): 376-386
------.(1995). Watching Race: Television and the Struggle for “Blackness.” Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Guerrero, E. (1993). Framing Blackness: The African American Image in Film . Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Hammer, J. (1992). “Must Blacks be Buffoons?” Newsweek , October 26, 1992: 70-71.
Inniss, L., and J. Feagin (1995). “The Cosby Show: The View from the Black Middle Class.” Journal of Black Studies , Vol. 25, No. 6 (July 1995), 692-711.
Print Resources on Blacks in the Media: Blacks in Television and Other Media
Leab, D. (1975). From Sambo to SUPERSPADE: The Black Experience in Motion Pictures . Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
MacDonald, J. (1992) Blacks and White TV: Afro-Americans in Television since 1948 . Chicago: Nelson-Hall Publishers.
Mapp, E. (1972). Blacks in American Films: Today and Yesterday . Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press.
White, M. (1991). “What’s the Difference?” Frank’s Place in television. Wide Angle , 13, nos. 3-4(1991), 82-96.
Zook, K. (1999). Color by Fox: The Fox Network and the Revolution in Black Television . New York: Oxford University Press.
Print Resources on Blacks in the Media: History of Minstrelsy and Sambo
Bogle, D. (1973). Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies, and Bucks: An Interpretive History of Blacks in American Films . New York, Viking Press.
Boskin, J. (1986). The Rise and Demise of an American Jester . New York: Oxford University Press.
Lott, E. (1993). Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class . New York: Oxford University Press.
Roediger, D. (1999). The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class . Revised Edition. London: Verso.
Takaki, R. (1993). A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America . Boston: Back Bay Books, 106-138.
Winter, S. (1979). “Sambos and Minstrels.” Social Text , No. 1 (Winter, 1979), 149-156.
Print Resources on Blacks in the Media: Effects of Stereotyping
Bates, B. (1999). “No More Servants in the House.” Journal of Black Political Economy , 26(3), 33-49.
Ford, T. (1997). “Effects of Stereotypical Television Portrayals of African Americans on Person Perception.” Social Psychology Quarterly 60.
Graves, S. (1999). “Television and Prejudice Reduction: When does television as a vicarious experience make a difference?” Journal of Social Issues , 55(4), 707-727.
Hurwitz, J., and Peffley, M. (1997). “Public Perceptions of Race and Crime: The Role of Racial Stereotypes.” American Journal of Political Science , 44(2), 375-401.
Major, B., and T. Schmader (1998). “Coping with stigma through psychological disengagement.” Prejudice: The Target's Perspective . New York: Academic, 219-241.
Print Resources on Blacks in the Media: Effects of Stereotyping
Saunders, D. (1981). Image and Reality: The Impact of Media Stereotypes on the Group Identity of Black Adolescents . (Publishing information unavailable)
Stangor, C., ed. (2000). Stereotypes and Prejudice: Essential Readings . London: Taylor and Francis Group.
(1996). “Stripping Away Myths: Improving the Lot of African Americans by Changing the American Racial Stereotype.” The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education , 11 , 110.
Terkildsen, N. (1993). “When White Voters Evaluate Black Candidates: The Processing Implications of Candidate Skin Color, Prejudice, and Self-Monitoring. “ American Journal of Political Science , 37(4), 1032-1053.
Williams, D. and R. Williams-Morris (2000). “Racism and Mental Health: The African American Experience.” Ethnicity and Health , 5(3-4), 243-268.
Resources on Black Men in the Media: Television Programs of Interest
Amos and Andy, CBS, 1951-1953
Beulah, ABC, 1950-1953
Diff’rent Strokes, NBC, 1978-1985; ABC, 1985-1986
Good Times, CBS, 1974-1979
Martin, FOX, 1992-1997
Sanford and Son, NBC, 1972-1977
The Cosby Show, NBC, 1984-1992
The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, NBC, 1990-1996
The Jeffersons, CBS, 1975-1985
Under One Roof, CBS, 1995
Webster, ABC, 1983-1987
What’s Happening!!, ABC, 1976-1979
Electronic Resources on Black Men in the Media
Amos n’ Andy
Information on the Amos and Andy radio and television programs
Black Information Link
Article on stereotypes of Black men in television.
This website is home to the history of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School that was in operation from 1979-1918. The school’s mission was to shape the identity of American-Indians by making them assimilate into “White” culture.
Photographs from Indian Boarding Schools
A collection of photographs from Carlisle Indian Industrial School.
UCLA Asia Institute
Text of Rudyard Kipling’s poem, The White Man’s Burden, published in 1899.