Mammies, Jezebels and Sapphires are just a few of the negative stereotypes that have plagued black women throughout history of racism and slavery. The trope is rooted back to 19th Century America, when minstrel shows, which involved singing and comic skits, mocked African Americans.
One of the most famous shows from this era was Amos ‘n’ Andy, an American radio and television sitcom that started in Chicago at the radio station WMAQ. The show was written and created by Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll, which ran from 1928-1960. Gosden and Correll both embraced the stereotypical dialect, tone, and character traits that had been established in the blackface minstrel tradition in the 1800s.
This was to be portrayed in their own minstrel show. Once the TV series began to air, not too long after, the TV series began to air. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) organized a protest of the Amos ‘n’ Andy show, criticizing its negative stereotypes of African Americans.
The television network, CBS, canceled the show in 1953, although the show remained in syndication until about the mid 1960s. When speaking with expert/professor Kai Walker, she gave more insight on the origin of the stigma.
“It was done in order to destabilize the African-American family. Portray the father as a dead beat and the mother as always angry,” said Walker, who can relate to this stigma. “From co-workers, family and students, the moment I point something wrong out, they will be mad instead of trying to come together to create a solution to the problem.”
Walker being a confident, outspoken woman sometimes gets looked at as “angry” for being passionate about something.
“Why hasn’t anyone asked the African-American woman why she was angry, she was angry because they persecuted her for 400 years, raped her and not only lynched her family members, but then turns around and calls her angry,” Walker said.
Other races are aware of this occurring in the U.S. but won't credit it. The contributions of black women have been overshadowed and are continuing to be overshadowed. Not only were they the caregivers in their own homes, but they had to be the caregivers in white households as well. As time went on many black women had challenges with being themselves.
“Each individual chooses a form that is most conducive to their situation. I am who I am. There are other young women behind me who look just like me, so speaking up will give them the ability to know that they can be heard too.” said Walker.
As stated earlier, many other races are aware of this trope that follows black women. Restaurant manager, Elizabeth Smith, is a white woman who doesn’t deny being aware of the stigma.
“I am a white woman and I’m very aware of my white privilege, but I am the mother of three biracial children, one of which is a female. When I am alone, I can fully utilize my white privilege, but when I am with my family, I am treated much differently." said Smith.
She believes her children only fit in where they are accepted, which is within the black community. Smith states that other races feel the stigma is nonexistent, thinking that black women bring hardship to themselves.
Equal opportunity is an example of something other races feel is given, but it’s not. Smith adds that this stigma plays a huge role in her life even though she isn't African-American.
“Because of my children, my marriage choice and who I associate with, I am not considered “white”. I have been judged since I was a young girl. I’m not good enough to have people of the Caucasian race and others to accept me because to them, I’m a white female that’s black. This is merely because I accept everyone for who they are, not their skin tone,” said Smith.
The stigma has reached a point where women who have relations with black men and women don’t have to be black to have this trope attached to them.
Fashion and Lifestyle blogger, Dayna Hamer knows this stigma all too well. Being a black woman in the fashion industry she has dealt with this stigma time and time again.
“When it comes to my professional life, I am a very cognizant of the way I speak to my non-black co-workers and supervisors. At my previous job, I always needed to be on my p’s and q’s because I worked with a boss I did not get along with. There were so many days I wanted to give her a piece of my mind, but that would only fulfill that stereotype that black women are argumentative beings,” said Hamer.
Hamer feels that it’s terrible that black women can’t have an opinion or get upset without being labeled argumentative or ghetto. She says that other races are aware of the stigma. It’s omnipresent throughout media which includes reality tv, movies and social media. She exclaims that media is part to blame in making it a bigger trope.
“Surveys have been conducted that indicated among white and black women combined, 60% of both white and black women felt as if black women are negatively portrayed and are more argumentative than any other race,” said Hamer.
Hamer concludes that when this image of black women is portrayed, it creates a terrible impression on them caused by other races and just society.
The question of “acting a certain way”, always comes up in black women culture. Black women always must be aware of themselves or they may be looked upon as angry. Speaking with administrative assistant Kier Hairston, she feels that people are not all the same. Hairston is a black female professional that works in a doctor's office.
“African American women aren’t often “allowed” to be themselves for many reasons from their style of hair to their body type to their “attitude”. Our personalities differ in all aspects. It’s never fair to say that one woman’s reaction to a stressful situation on the west coast, will be the same reaction one would have in the Deep South. But the stigma remains nonetheless,” said Hairston.
Being not only a woman, but a black woman in American history has always been hard. Today in society, being black leaves room for more labels. Hairston said she is not certain if the trope will ever go away since it’s a widely used term within the black community. Black men happen to use the words “angry black woman”, mostly to put black women down.
Within the black community ‘the angry black woman’ trope is a problem. Not only is there a problem of colorism, but the word “angry” becomes attached to that. Within the own black community becomes hate towards one another.
Kristin Leverette, a tech associate, is a dark-skinned millennial that works in retail. Leverette feels other races and the black community are very aware of the stigma and are part of the problem.
“Being a darker skinned black woman, I constantly must prove that I do not have anger issues. My strength and consciousness are mistaken for having an attitude, my depression and anxiety were mistaken for having an attitude and because I don’t easily submit and refuse to take NO for an answer, that’s viewed as having anger issues.” said Leverette.
She explains that when you see something and you turn your head and not speak up, then you are part of the problem. With working in retail, Leverette is conscious of her tone and speech. “I’ve been told that I talk “white” and that I act “white”. Although it's extremely painful to hear, I understand the intention behind that comment.”
This is another example of black women not being able to be themselves due to the stigma attached to them. Leverette hopes that as time moves on and if others start taking time to fully understand, that there’s room for growth.
Black women have systematically over the years fought a difficult battle trying to remove that stigma and other ethnicities must be willing to stop and listen.
The ‘angry black woman’ trope was prominent back then and even more now. People are aware. The next step of awareness is speaking up. Through speaking with different people of color and getting different opinions, they all concluded that it takes everyone being informed about the black woman’s history on this earth. If someone does not know the history or understand it then no one could possibly understand a black woman’s pain.
“As for the media, a great approach would be for there to be more writers, directors, and CEO’s that are telling “our story” through the eyes of black people. When you have white directors, producers, and Head of Marketing at these tables, they are only going to show us the way they “think we act or behave.” said Hamer.
Putting an end to this trope starts with us, the American people. Walker wants African-American women to know, “you are divinely created. Know in your heart you have a purpose and walk forward with conviction."