African American Women are usually portrayed differently in media compared to their white counterparts and usually get a detestable counterattack. In most incidents, African American women are commonly condemned while white women are usually commended for doing similar things. News editorials are not the only media channel where African American women are negatively portrayed in comparison to white women, but also adverts from established firms like MAC and Dove have been bashed for their negative portrayal of black women models in latest past. Owing to the growing enhancement of technology, African-American women have been wrongfully stereotyped and discriminated against through the mammy, Jezebel and sapphire caricatures.
One of the ways that black women have been characterized in the media is through the mammy stereotype. A mammy is a stereotype for an African-American woman who attended to a white family, typically nursing in caring for the children. The mammy has involved into a figured much more detailed with the growing media. This includes Big mama and Madea. Mammy is a famous and lasting racial caricature of black women. Mammies can be examined in three aspects namely; commercial mammies, fictional mammies, and real mammies. Real mammies caricature was used at the times of slavery and was depicted as evidence that black women were happy and contented as slaves. The caricature portrays her hearty laughter, wide grin, and loyal servitude. Fictional mammies were greatly used in novels, plays, films, on television, and vaudeville stages (Ariel). They are portrayed as sassy, overweight, white-identified and happy to serve and nurture a white family. Lastly, commercial mammies were greatly used to advertise household items with a mammy representation depicting wholesomeness.
The aunt Jemima relate strongly to the mammy stereotype. The original purpose of the pancakes mix was to make it easier for white women who no longer had housemaids. She was portrayed as a “slave in a box” revealing a racist imagery. It reveals how the representation was used to deny black women opportunities since they depict they are contented with their servitude works. Aunt Jemima image was used to sell objects like nostalgia and happiness. Her images were common in most of the kitchen items and breakfast food labels (Lewis). There was a representation of black women as docile, passive mammies. Aunt Jemima image is a nostalgic replica, an image that brings out the indication of segregation and slavery. There are a lot of similarities between mammy and aunt Jemima like grandma-like appearance, dark skin, always appearing to be happy and contented.
The Sapphire caricature is another stereotype that portrays black women as something inaccurate to how they actually are. The Sapphire caricature portrays black women as loud, angry, and close-minded. As someone who doesn’t know how to control her attitude or hold her tongue, the Sapphire is a promiscuous figure that mocks African-American women. They are depicted as the “angry black women” like- the “I don’t need a man” type or being angry with black men for preferring white women, being unable to keep a job, and not defending “black queens.” Sapphire’s attitude is depicted to be abusive, hypersensitive and sassy. The stereotype has been utilized to discourage women who are vocal and independent. Sapphire was developed to enfeeble men at any given opening.
The features of the Sapphire stereotype are uninvited. To run away from this stereotype, a number of black women hide their anger, even when the irritation was justifiable. However, even owing to the inappropriateness of Sapphire stereotype, it has persisted throughout history till the modern world. One of the chief examples of the current day Sapphire is Michelle Obama. She is an independent and strong woman and therefore depicted by media as a “sapphire.” Michelle is linked to this stereotype due to her capacity as an independent intellectual and woman of principles (Sam). The media and the public at times depict her as too pushy with her campaign and representing her as an angry black woman with the tough push for a health campaign. Also, owing to her academic achievement and solid presence, the media, and the public perceive her to be controlling her husband. They perceive her like this because of her presence intelligence and for being a black woman.
The Jezebel stereotype has been displayed through media as a negative portrayal of African-American women. The stereotypes depict African-American women as seductive and promiscuous. The Jezebel stereotype was utilized during slavery as an explanation for sexual engagements between black women and white men. Jezebel was represented as a woman with an unquenchable craving for sex (Thompson). Black men could not satisfy her, thus they could not be raped since they seemed to admire their masters. The plan was to depict black women as naturally and unavoidably sexually promiscuous. Unfortunately, though the depiction of black women as Jezebel prostitutes started during slavery, it continues to the modern world.
Jezebel stereotype is commonly used in hip-hop culture like the case of Nicki Minaj, Foxy Brown and Lil Kim. They depict black women as enthusiastic and at times predatory, sexual deviants ready to quench can satisfy their sexual cravings. Their sexual concerts capture the centuries-old representations of black women as unrestrained prostitutes. The modern music video aired on televisions especially those by hip-hop performers; depict scantily dressed, almost naked black women who push their hips to lyrics usually depicting them as prostitutes. There is a common stereotype that it is progressively more effortless to find black women, specifically youngsters, represented as Jezebels whose mere worth is as sexual things (Ulmer). There is also the issue of plastic surgery where African-American women are targeted and sexualized because of their bodies. They are victims of sexual assault and harassment.
The incident of black women being portrayed differently from white women is evident in the news editorial. For example, the image of a black woman breastfeeding at a graduation ceremony brought up heated debate compared to an identical image of a white woman that was widespread. The black woman was bashed among other negative comments regarding how it was inappropriate to breastfeed during graduation and even how she was not supposed to have the baby.
On the other hand, the white woman was congratulated after posting the image of her breastfeeding her baby at a graduation ceremony held in the University of Sunshine Coast in Australia (Sydney and Johanna). People praised and commented how that picture was beautiful and commended her for a great job. The other incident is Dove advert regarding Dove body wash. The advert demonstrated how a black woman changed into being white after using the body wash. According to Dove, the ad intended to show diversity, but people interpreted it to imply black as being unclean or dirty (Sydney and Johanna). Historically, black people depicted as animalistic and unclean. Unluckily, a number of adverts still accidentally promote this stereotype in the modern day.
Betye Saar tackled topics of gender and also captured attention on concerns of prejudice in her piece ‘The Liberation of Aunt Jemima.’ Through the utilization of Aunt Jemima and mammy images, Saar rearranges the connotation of these stereotypical images to those that call for agency and power within the community.
The setting of ‘The Liberation of Aunt Jemima’ encompasses Aunt Jemima ads while the forefront is taken over by a larger Aunt Jemima pad holder with an image of a white baby inside and mammy image (Gotthardt). The image shows Aunt Jemima holding a rifle on one hand and a broom on the other depicting her as a contented servant. The artist makes use of stereotypical and potentially-agitating artwork to bring out social commentary. These forms of stereotypes exist in modern society and art can be used to reveal how black women are depicted differently by the media.
Betye Saar is a collection which is a three-dimensional image made from mixed media. Saar’s objective is to utilize these contentious and racist representations to repossess and transform them into constructive signs of empowerment. The masterpiece has revolved across the globe, being accommodated with the command of Saar’s missive: that black women should not be subjected to systematic oppression or demeaning stereotypes; hinting that women will free themselves (Gotthardt).
The rationale of creating the artwork was to curb racism and bigotry and currently, Saar still acts like a hero against those vices prevailing in the community. Saar’s call to action continues to be appropriate in the modern world. The specific perceptions include negative personality features, professional functions, low achieving status, and other negative stereotypes.
According to research by Sherell A. McArthur at Boston University and Gholnecsar E. Muhammad at Georgia State University revealed that stereotypical media figures impact black girl’s inner self as well as how the community perceives them (Lewis). The research revealed the media represent black women as angry, tough, unkind, bossy, sexualized, violent and confrontational. They are also criticized depending on their hair, whether it is “bad” or “good” behavior. Black women are compared against white women depending on their hair texture.
Kerry Washington the winner of honors in the TV show “Scandal” as Olivia Pope is represented as an over-sexualized black woman. Stereotypes from media specifically on African American women are apparent in America. The representation of being confrontational and violent can be traced back from Sapphire image that depicts black women as violent, hateful and with an insatiable desire for sex (Lewis). The research notes that important media literacy persuades youth to decipher the messages and meanings behind media images. The study suggests there are various stereotypes regarding black women across various media like the internet, music, newspapers, film, radio, TV and magazines. People should discuss, examine and interpret the various stereotypes on media.
There is an allegory brought up in “Sister Citizen” a book by Melissa Harris-Perry that makes it simple for people to comprehend how harmful these stereotypes are. The author explains a corrupt room that various African women are engraved in. the crippled room represents the distorted opinions many individuals perceive black women (Sam). The vague opinions prejudice black women from their actual nature and setting themselves from the crooked room. The crooked room distorts African American women in general, and it called upon for them to set themselves free from the detrimental views that people maintain, especially from how they are portrayed by the media.
Michelle Obama is an excellent example of how black women are thrown into a stereotype wrongly. She also serves as a perfect example of how to become independent of this unjust and ignorant stereotype for African American women across the globe. Nevertheless, she is not the only black woman battling to come out of the crooked room. However, she does not permit the stereotypical views to paralyze her to fake her personality (Sam). She cuts across the obstacle and optimistically she will confront the stereotype adequately to help other African American women in setting themselves free from this vice.
It is surprising the current media still portray black women to the dishonest room. People should examine the roles of black women on media and establish if they are portrayed as one of the prevailing stereotypes since the era of mummies and Aunt Jemima.
In conclusion, the stereotyping of African American women has increased over many decades and has been seen as detrimental. With this growth in the media, the mental state of these women, in particular, will be at large and eventually tampered with if they allow what is being said and shown to cloud their opinions regarding themselves.
Also, people should evaluate the role of black women as portrayed in the media to establish whether they are cast as one of the existing stereotypes. It is unfortunate, that the modern day media accidentally still cast these stereotypes regarding black women. This is harmful since it places women in a cocoon and fear to come out to fight their untrue stereotypes.
Ariel, Cheung. “Black Women’s Progress Collides with Media Stereotypes.” USA TODAY, 11 Feb. 2015
Gotthardt, Alexxa. “How Betye Saar Transformed Aunt Jemima into a Symbol of Black Power.”
Lewis, Diuguid. “Study Shows How Media Portrayals Affect Black Girls.”
Sam, Etzi. “Sapphire | Civic Issue of Race: African American Women Today.” Sites at Penn State
Sydney, Randolph, and Haynes Johanna. “African American Women in Media.” The Herald
Thompson, Krissah. “Essence: Black women still poorly depicted in media.” She The People
Ulmer, Sam M. “A Recent Museum of Art Acquisition: Assemblage by Betye Saar.” U-M Library Digital Collections
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