Sheroes: The American Black Woman
Let’s have a funeral for the negative images of Black women
You may not have been aware of it, but for generations now, we’ve all been fed a steady and unabated diet of negative imagery and information about Black women in America.
The most prevalent stereotype of Black women, deeply rooted in American culture, past and present, is the angry and sometimes unhinged Black woman.
This image dates back to slavery, but continued in numerous books, films, and even television shows. Whether it was Sapphire in “Amos ’n’ Andy” in the 1950s, or Florence on “The Jeffersons” in the 1970s, or the comedic Sheneneh in “The Martin Lawrence Show,” Americans have been unknowingly trained to view Black women as angry, loud and sassy.
It’s not just in entertainment or literature. Cal Thomas of Fox News remarked in 2008:
“Look at the image of angry black women on television. Politically you have Maxine Waters of California, liberal Democrat. She’s always angry every time she gets on television. Cynthia McKinney, another angry black woman. And who are the black women you see on the local news at night in cities all over the country? They’re usually angry about something…”
Multiple studies confirm how this has seeped into our unconscious. When respondents were asked to evaluate videos of angry Black women and other angry people, they overwhelmingly attributed the anger portrayed by Black women to individual personality traits and the anger of others as relating to a particular scenario rather than a person.
Black women also have been painted in media, literature, film, advertising and shows as sexually promiscuous. This image, too, dates back to slavery, when white men were allowed to rape Black women with impunity because, according to white Southerners, the victims wanted it.
And then there was the decades-long portrayal of Black women as caretakers of others’ homes, particularly in the South. I don’t need to give you a history lesson. If you’re over 40, you know the images of Black women taking care of white homes.
Essence magazine reported that negative imagery of Black women appears twice as often as positive depictions.