The Racism and Sexism Towards African American Women & How They are Portrayed in Media. By: Shassha Glasco
The Beginning • African American women throughout history have had a difficult time fitting in and feeling accepted by society. Not only have they been, (and still are), judged for the color of their skin, they are also belittled because of their gender as well. In the media when referring to black women, racist derogatory terms such as “Mammy”, “Aunt Jemima”, “Ratchet”, “Hood-rat”, “Angry Black Women”, “Jezebel”, “Sapphire” , and “Welfare Queen” are some of the terms that are used to describe them.
Words Origin& Meaning • Mammy is described as an overweight, dark skin, African American woman with kinky hair, large breast and butt who “performs domestic duties for the family of a slave owner. Historically the media has portrayed mammies as having characteristics that suggest submissiveness towards her owner or her employer”(Mammy, Jezebel, Sistahs).
Words Origin & Meaning (Cont’d) • Aunt Jemima is a form of American slang that means “a black woman who accepts and ignores racism. A female version of Uncle Tom” (Encyclo.co.uk). Aunt Jemima originated back in 1889 as a pancake mix, syrup, along with other breakfast foods however it was not trademarked until 1893. • The slang term ratchet originally comes from a song that was created by two Louisiana rappers Lil Boosie and Mandigo called Ratchet. The purpose of this song was to teach the Louisiana residents “how to do the ratchet” which became a popular dance down south. Today the word can be used to describe anything that is considered to be outrageous or out of the norm however, the word ratchet is commonly used to describe black women who are loud, ignorant, volatile, and obscene which fits into the Angry Black woman stereotype; the Sapphire(which originated from an old radio show called Amos ‘n Andy she was black women who berated her husband) Sapphire is known today as an evil, stubborn, sassy, brown skin, black women who is responsible for African American men’s emasculation, increase on criminal rates, and the reason for African American children’s low academic scores.)
Words Origin & Meaning (Cont’d) • Back in slavery the word “Jezebel” was used by white women and men to describe African American women as promiscuous, sexually deviant, & oversexed. In today’s society the word “Hood-rat” has taken the persona of “Jezebel” to describe women of color who sleep around with everyone in their neighborhood. • “Welfare Queen” - The term originated during in the 1970’s. It is described as a woman usually of African American descent who has a low income and is accused of consistently having children in order to increase her welfare payments.
Black Women & Reality TV • The portrayal of African American women on reality TV reinforces these negative stereotypes by showing black women in a volatile, aggressive, (sapphire) and obnoxious (ratchet) light. Shows like Love and Hip Hop, Basketball Wives, and Real housewives of Atlanta show African American women using profanity, fighting, jumping over/off tables, throwing wine bottles and glasses. By doing this it increases not only the shows ratings but also the negative stigma that has been placed on African American women since slavery.
Black Women & Reality TV (Cont’d) • The Maury show also depicts a negative image of African American women. Many of them who come onto the show are loud, irresponsible, have multiple fathers for their children or do not know who their children’s father is at all.
Black Women in Movies • African American women in movies are portrayed through a negative stereotypical lens. They are either given roles as slaves, mammies, maids, and welfare queens or they are casted in roles where they are displaying promiscuous, Jezebel behavior. • For example, Halle Berry won an Oscar in 2002 for her role in Monster’s Ball where she was portrayed as poverty stricken, alcoholic, promiscuous Jezebel. Mo’nique in 2009 won best supporting actress in the movie Precious where she is portrayed as a disgusting, vile, child-abusing, unfit mother on welfare. Octavia Spencer won an Academy Award for best actress in 2011 for her supporting role of Minny Jackson in The Help in which her character role was a maid. Though Halle Berry, Mo’nique, and Octavia Spencer’s acting may have been excellent in these movies the fact still remains that black women are mostly casted and winning awards for roles that are negative and demeaning.
Black women in Hip hop Videos • In the hip hop industry black women (along with other women of different backgrounds)are referred to in songs as “bitches and hoes”; as a result they are dressed as such; with little to no clothing on dancing sexually in front of a camera. • Not only does this send a sexist message that black women are nothing more than trashy sex objects but it also gives the impression that it is okay to disrespect and degrade them as well.
Sexism towards Black women within the Black community • Black women struggle with getting the recognition that they deserve both within and outside of the black community. • Black women are seen as inadequate of being a submissive wife. The strong black woman is viewed as overpowering by black men. • For an example, Chris Rock (African American comedian) made a joke about President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle Obama stating “Barack has a handicap that other candidates don’t have: Barack Obama has a black wife. And I don’t think a black woman can be a first lady of the United States. Yeah, I said it ! A black woman can be president, no problem. First lady? Can’t do it. You know why ? Because a black woman cannot play the background relationship. Just imagine telling your black wife that you’re president? “Honey I did it! I won! I’m president” “No we the president! And I want my girlfriends in the Cabinet. I want Kiki to be the secretary of state! She can fight!” (Harris-Perry, Crooked Room p.287) • Chris Rock’s ignorant joke comes from the stereotype that all black women are too strong, opinionated, and uncompromising while black men are being emasculated and endangered by them.
Sexism towards Black women within the Black community (Cont’d) • Black women are rejected by black men. • Statistics show that black men are twice as likely to marry outside of their race oppose to marrying a black woman. • Many black men claim they do not date/ marry black women because they are unattractive, too loud, abrasive, emasculating, ghetto, ratchet, and because they wear a weave.
My Analysis: What I’ve Learned • African American women are one of the most disrespected people in today’s society. As an African American woman it is upsetting to know that black women will probably always struggle to stand upright in a society that is determined to see us fail. However, what is even worse is that some black women play into these negative stereotypes that they are labeled under. Acting uncouth on reality television does nothing more then reassure that these negative connotations about all African American women are true when they really aren’t. African American women are much more than what they are portrayed to be in the media. We are vibrant, beautiful, intelligent, and goal oriented. I know this because of my ancestors and the legacies that they left; Sojurner Truth (known for giving speeches which included the famous one entitled Ain’t I a Woman which pointed out equality between men and women). Harriet Tubman (known for the underground railroad which helped to get slaves to freedom, later she worked as a nurse in the civil war), Rosa Parks (the woman who refused to give up her bus seat in 1955 and sparked a movement that lead to the end of segregation), Mary Ann Shadd Cary (teacher/journalist, abolitionist and women’s rights activist lawyer, the second African American woman to graduate from law school).
My Analysis: What I’ve Learned (Cont’d) • Some of today’s heroines are Maya Angelou, Nikki Giovanni, Oprah Winfrey, and Michelle Obama. • These women past and present are the embodiment of what it means to be an African American women.