The Sapphire Caricature portrays black women as rude, loud, malicious, stubborn, and overbearing. She is tart-tongued and emasculating, one hand on a hip and the other pointing and jabbing or arms akimboviolently and rhythmically rocking her head, mocking African American men for offenses ranging from being unemployed to sexually pursuing white women. She is a shrill nagger with irrational states of anger and indignation and is often mean-spirited and abusive. Although African American men are her primary targets, she has venom for anyone who insults or disrespects her.
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The Sapphire's desire to dominate and her hyper-sensitivity to injustices make her a perpetual complainer, but she does not woman to improve things; rather, she criticizes because she is unendingly bitter and wishes Mckinney unhappiness on others. The Sapphire Caricature is a harsh portrayal of African American women, but it is more than that; it is a social control mechanism that is employed to punish black women who violate the societal norms that encourage them to be passive, servile, non-threatening, and unseen. From the s through the mids, black women were often portrayed in popular culture as "Sassy Mammies" who ran their own homes with iron fists, including berating black husbands and children.
These women were allowed, at least symbolically, to defy some racial norms. During the Jim Crow period, when real blacks were often beaten, jailed, or killed for arguing with whites, fictional Mammies were allowed to pretend-chastise whites, including men. Their sassiness was supposed to indicate that they were white as members of the white family, and acceptance of that sassiness implied that slavery and segregation were not overly oppressive. In these roles she was sassy borderline impertinent but always loyal.
She was not a threat to the existing social order. It was not until the Amos 'n' Andy radio show that the characterization of African American women as domineering, aggressive, and emasculating shrews became popularly associated with the name Sapphire. The show was conceived by Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll, two white actors who portrayed the characters Amos Jones and Andy Brown by mimicking and mocking black behavior and dialect. At its best, Amos 'n' Andy was a situational comedy; dating its worse, it was an auditory minstrel show.
The television version of the show, with network television's first all-black cast, aired on CBS fromwith syndicated reruns from to It was removed, in large part, through the efforts of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the civil rights movement. Both as a radio show3 and television show, Amos 'n' Andy was extremely popular, and this was unfortunate for African Americans because it popularized racial man of blacks. Americans learned that blacks were comical, not as actors but as a race.
Amos 'n Andy told stories about the everyday foibles of the members of the Mystic Knights of the Sea, a black fraternal lodge. Starring in a nontitle lead role was the character George "Kingfish" Stevens, the leader of the lodge.
Many of the stories revolved around Kingfish, a get-rich-quick schemer and a con artist who avoided work, and, when possible, took financial advantage of the ignorance and naivete of Andy and others see, for example, the episode Kingfish Sells a Lot. Kingfish was the prototypical Coon, a lazy, easily confused, chronically unemployed, financially inept buffoon given to malapropisms. Kingfish was married to Sapphire Stevens who regularly berated him as a failure.
Kingfish represented the worst in racial stereotyping; there was little redemptive about the character. His ignorance was highlighted by his nonsensical misuse of words, for example, ""I deny the allegation, Your Honor, and I resents the alligator," or "I'se regusted.
Even worse, he was a crook without scruples. He was too lazy to work and not above exploiting his wife and friends. In other words, he was a television embodiment of some of the unforgiving ideas that many Americans had about black men. Other characters, including Lightnin,' a Stepin Fetchit-like character on the show, had jobs and were honest, but Kingfish's worthlessness justified Sapphire's harsh critique of his life.
It must be noted, that Sapphire Stevens directed her disgust at her husband; hers was not the generalized anger that is today associated with angry black women. Sue Jewella sociologist, opined that the Sapphire image necessitates the presence of an African American man; "It is the African American male that represents the point of contention, in an ongoing verbal dual between Sapphire and the African American male His lack of integrity and use of cunning and trickery provides her with an opportunity to emasculate him through her use of verbal put downs" p.
In the all-black or mostly-black situational comedies that have appeared on television from the s to the present, the Sapphire is a stock character. Like Sapphire Stevens, she demeans and belittles lazy, ignorant, or otherwise flawed black male characters.
Blacks on television have been overrepresented in situational comedies and underrepresented in dramatic series; one problem with this imbalance is that blacks in situational comedies are portrayed in racially stereotypical ways in order to get laughs. Canned laughter prompts the television audience to laugh as the angry black woman, the Sapphire, insults and mocks black males.
Aunt Esther also called Aunt Anderson was a Sapphire character on the television situational comedy Sanford and Sonwhich premiered on NBC inwith a final episode inand is still running in syndication. She was the Bible-swinging, angry nemesis and sister-in-law of the main character, Fred. Theirs was a love-mostly hate relationship. Fred would call Aunt Esther ugly and she would call him a "fish-eyed fool," an "old sucka," or a "beady-eyed heathen. Aunt Esther dominated her husband Woodrow, a mild-mannered alcoholic.
In this latter relationship, you have the idea of the aggressive black woman dominating a weak, morally defective black man. The show followed the life of the Evans family in a Chicago housing project modeled on the infamous Cabrini-Green projects.
This was one of the first times that a poor family had been highlighted in a weekly television series. Episodes of Good Times dealt with the Evans' attempts to survive despite living in suffocating poverty. There were several racial caricatures on the show, most notably the son, James Evans Jr. After the first season the episodes increasingly focused on J. Esther Rolle, the actress who played the role of Florida Evans, the mother, expressed her dislike for J. He can't read or write. He doesn't think. The show didn't start out to be that Little by little-with the help of the artist, I suppose, because they couldn't do that to me -- they have made J.
Negative images have been slipped in on us through the character of the oldest child.
In Good Times a character that bantered with and mocked J. A clearer example of a Sapphire, however, was the neighbor, Willona Woods, though she rarely targeted J. Instead, Willona belittled Nathan Bookman, the overweight superintendent, and she put down a series of worthless boyfriends, an ex-husband, politicians, and other men with questionable morals and work ethics.
In situational comedies with a primarily black dating, the black male does not have to be lazy, thick-witted, or financially unsuccessful for him to be taunted by a Sapphire character. The Jeffersonswhich aired from tofocused on an upper-middle class family that had climbed up from the working class -- in the show's theme song there is the line, "We finally got a piece of the pie.
Her relationship with George was often antagonistic and the back-talking, wisecracking, housekeeper approximated a Sapphire. She often teased George about his short stature, balding head, and decisions. Another example of a Sapphire was the character Pamela Pam James, who appeared on Martina white comedy that aired from to on Fox. Tichina Arnold, the actress who played Pam, plays Rochelle, a dominating, aggressive matriarch in the situational comedy, Everybody Hates Chriswhich ran from toand is still aired on cable television.
Arnold has mastered the role of the angry, black woman. The film genre called blaxploitation emerged in the early s. These movies, which targeted urban black audiences, exchanged one set of racial caricatures -- Mammy, Tom, Uncle, Picanninny -- for a man set of equally offensive racial caricatures -- Bucks sex-crazed deviants Brutes, pimps, hit-men, and dope peddlersand Nats Whites-haters. One old caricature, the Jezebel, was revamped. The portrayal of African American women as hyper-sexual temptresses was as old as American slavery, but during the blaxploitation period the Jezebel caricature and the Sapphire caricature merged into a hybrid: angry "whores" fighting injustice.
Black actresses such as Pam Grier built careers starring in blaxploitation movies. Their characters resembled those woman the black male superheroes: they were physically attractive and aggressive rebels, willing and able to use their bodies, brains, and guns to gain revenge against corrupt officials, drug dealers, and violent criminals.
Their anger was not focused solely, or primarily, at black men; rather, Mckinney was focused at injustice and the perpetuators of injustice.
The sapphire caricature
In the movie, she pretends to be a "strung out whore" to get revenge on the drug dealers who got her little sister hooked on heroin. Coffy lures the culprits back to their room where she graphically shoots one in the head and gives the other a fatal dose of heroin. The remainder of the movie finds Coffy using guns and her body to punish King George, a flamboyant pimp, the sadistic mobster Arturo Vitroni, and every Mafioso and crooked cop who crosses her path.
Today, the Sapphire is one of the dominant portrayals of black woman. 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. They've had a son who has been shot in a drive-by shooting. They are angry at Bush.
So you don't really have a profile of non-angry black women, of whom there are quite a few. Thomas, shortly after making his statements about black women, agreed with a co-panelist that Oprah Winfrey is not angry. The portrayal of black women as angry Sapphires permeates this culture. She lives in most movies with an all-black or predominantly black cast. There is clip art of an angry black woman at www. The clip art description re, "Royalty-free people clipart picture image of an angry african american woman in a purple dress and heels, standing with her arms crossed and tapping her foot with a stern expression on her face.
She could be mad at her child, a colleague or husband.
There is even a pseudo-malady called, "Angry Black Woman Syndrome. By the early s, the "Trash Talk" shows had receded in popularity, in part because of the emergence of so-called "Reality Shows. Vanessa E. Jones, from the Boston Globewrote of the Sapphire: "You see elements of her in Alicia Calaway of "Survivor: All-Stars," who indulged in a temperamental bout of finger wagging during an argument in 's "Survivor: The Australian Outback.
Then there's Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth of "The Apprentice," who rode the angry-black-woman stereotype to the covers of People and TV Guide magazines even as she made fellow African-American businesswomen wince.