Day 4 of White History Month: Anti-Black Racial Stereotypes
I guarantee you that you are aware of at least several anti-Black stereotypes whether or not know what anti-Blackness is or explicitly believe in them. The normalization of these stereotypes can be seen in Caroline Wozniacki caricaturing Serena Williams’ body, in Don Imus referring to the Rutgers women’s basketball team as “nappy headed hos”, and Aunt Jemima pictures on food products.
Racial stereotypes did not just happen, but were deliberately created. Anti-Black stereotypes are the most developed racist stereotypes in white USian racial framing and have been used as rationales for the capture, enslavement, and later, the subjugation of Black people. Framing stereotypes as “just a joke” is an understatement of the consequences that racial images and stereotypes have on the population. Even stereotypes that are viewed as positive often conceal the negative implications and reasons they exist.
People may think they only hold stereotypes in the back of their head, but Douglas Massey notes in Categorically Unequal that “people are more likely to fall back on them in making judgments when they feel challenged, face uncertainty, or experience sensory overload.” Today, people may say that jokes about Black people loving watermelon and chicken are completely harmless, but they were actually created to communicate an image of Black people as lazy, simple-minded, and childish (the Sambo or coon stereotypes).
Many anti-Black stereotypes today are rooted in centuries old conceptions of Black people as inferior that were meant to celebrate whiteness and highlight the supposed inferiority of Black people. Blackface performances helped to popularize and cement racist conceptions of Black people, and to spread them to even those who were poor, illiterate, immigrants, or youth. Today, the media continues to perpetuate dehumanizing anti-Black stereotypes and take over the role that minstrel shows once served.
Stereotypes explained below
The Golliwog stereotype was popularized as a children’s character and toy, despite being derived from Blackface minstrel stereotypes - in a minstrel show outfit with red lips and wooly hair on Black skin.
The pickaninny stereotype depicted Black children as “child coons” and as neglected, dark-skinned Black children with an unkempt appearance, often sexualizing and animalizing them in the process - a frame that is often applied to Black children today.
Black women and men have long been held as hypersexual, promiscuous, and thus animalistic. The mandingo stereotype depicted Black men as hypersexual beasts unable to restrain themselves (and targeting white women) with correspondingly “beastly” genitalia. It was used as justification for the inferiority of Black people and the need to protect white women. This stereotype is still propagated today in interracial pornography.
The jezebel stereotype - that of Black women as hypersexual sex objects - was used as a justification for interracial rape of Black women. Black women are still stereotypes as jezebels, and more recently as “hos”, “hoochies”, in pornography, music videos, Blaxploitation films, and mainstream media.
The Sapphire stereotype, today often depicted as the “angry Black woman” or “independent Black woman” stereotype portrays Black women as aggressive, rude, overbearing. Black women “emasculate” and castrate their men. Black women are sassy, independent, and don’t need a man (thus usurping gender roles and become unladylike). This stereotype can be seen on TV shows and talk show shows. Outside of fictional depictions, the 1965 Moynihan Report even uses this stereotype to explain the economic struggles of Black Americans.
The antithesis to the Jezebel and Sapphire stereotypes, the mammy stereotype can be seen on Aunt Jemima packages, romanticized antiques, movies such as The Help, and The Birth of a Nation. The mammy stereotype was meant to limit Black women to domestic work by depicting them as simple, unintelligent, and happy to serve white people.
Similarly, Black men were depicted as lazy, idle, and childlike through the Sambo stereotype. They were viewed as loyal due to childlike attachments. A distinctly different but related stereotype is the coon stereotype, which was applied to “sambos” who were no longer attached to white men and thus not recognizing “their place” - the depiction shows Black men as deviant and lazy. A modern update to the sambo stereotype is applied to Black women as “welfare queens” who are viewed as too lazy to work and cunningly exploiting the system.
These stereotypes were used to say that slaves were far too attached and also too inferior to be freed. The “magical negro” stereotype in films is essentially an update of the Sambo stereotype, showing Black people as subservient and committed to saving white people.
Stereotypes serve a harmful purpose and are not as simple as many think.