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John Singleton Copley – Watson and the Shark

Generalizations and stereotypes of African Americans and their culture have evolved within American society dating back to the colonial years of settlement, particularly after slavery became a racial institution that was heritable.

A comprehensive examination of the restrictions imposed upon African Americans in the United States of America through culture is examined by art historian Guy C. McElroy in the catalog to the exhibit "Facing History: The Black Image in American Art 1710-1940." According to McElroy, the artistic convention of representing African Americans as less than fully realized humans began with Justus Engelhardt Kühn's colonial-era painting Henry Darnall III as a child.[1] Although Kühn's work existed "simultaneously with a radically different tradition in colonial America" as indicated by the work of portraitists such as Charles (or Carolus) Zechel, (see Portrait of a Negro Girl and Portrait of a Negro boy) the market demand for such work reflected the attitudes and economic status of their audience.

Samuel Jennings (active 1789–1834). Liberty Displaying the Arts and Sciences, or The Genius of America Encouraging the Emancipation of the Blacks, 1792. Oil on canvas. 60 1/4" x 74". Library Company of Philadelphia. Gift of the artist, 1792.
Samuel Jennings (active 1789–1834). Liberty Displaying the Arts and Sciences, or The Genius of America Encouraging the Emancipation of the Blacks, 1792. Oil on canvas. 60 1/4" x 74". Library Company of Philadelphia. Gift of the artist, 1792.

From the colonial era through the American Revolution, ideas about African Americans were variously used in propaganda either for or against the issue of slavery. Paintings like John Singleton Copley's Watson and the Shark (1778) and Samuel Jennings' Liberty Displaying the Arts and Sciences (1792) are early examples of the debate underway at that time as to the role of Black people in America. Watson represents an historical event, while Liberty is indicative of abolitionist sentiments expressed in Philadelphia's post revolutionary intellectual community. Nevertheless, Jennings' painting represents African Americans as passive, submissive beneficiaries of not only slavery's abolition, but also knowledge, which liberty has graciously bestowed upon them.

As a stereotypical caricature "performed by white men disguised in facial paint, minstrelsy relegated black people to sharply defined dehumanizing roles." With the success of T. D. Rice and Daniel Emmet, the label of "blacks as buffoons" was created.[1] One of the earliest versions of the "black as buffoon" can be seen in John Lewis Krimmel's Quilting Frolic. The violinist in the 1813 painting, with his tattered and patched clothing, along with a bottle protruding from his coat pocket, appears to be an early model for Rice's Jim Crow character. Krimmel's representation of a "[s]habbily dressed" fiddler and serving girl with "toothy smile" and "oversized red lips" marks him as " of the first American artists to use physiognomical distortions as a basic element in the depiction of African Americans."[1]

This reproduction of a 1900 William H. West minstrel show poster, originally published by the Strobridge Litho Co., shows the transformation from "white" to "black".


Historical stereotypesEdit

Cover to an early edition of Jump Jim Crow sheet music (circa 1832)

Minstrel shows portrayed and lampooned Black people in stereotypical and often disparaging ways, as ignorant, lazy, buffoonish, superstitious, joyous, and musical. Blackface is a style of theatrical makeup in the United States, used to effect the countenance of an iconic, racist American archetype—that of the darky or coon. White blackface performers in the past used burnt cork and later greasepaint or shoe polish to blacken their skin and exaggerate their lips, often wearing woolly wigs, gloves, tailcoats, or ragged clothes to complete the transformation.

The best-known stock character of this sort is Jim Crow, featured in innumerable stories, minstrel shows, and early films. Many other stock characters are popularly known, as well, such as Mammy and Jezebel. These stock characters are still continuously used and referenced for a number of different reasons. Many articles reference Mammy and Jezebel in television shows with Black female main characters, as in the television series Scandal.

Jim CrowEdit

The character Jim Crow was dressed in rags, battered hat, and torn shoes. The actor blackened his face and hands and impersonated a very nimble and irreverently witty African-American field hand who sang, "Turn about and wheel about, and do just so. And every time I turn about I Jump Jim Crow."

Sambo, Golliwog, and pickaninnyEdit

The Sambo stereotype gained notoriety through the 1898 children's book The Story of Little Black Sambo by Helen Bannerman. It told the story of a boy named Sambo who outwitted a group of hungry tigers. "Sambo" refers to black men who were considered very happy, usually laughing, lazy, irresponsible, or carefree. This depiction of black people was displayed in films of the early 20th century. The original text suggested that Sambo lived in India, but this fact may have escaped many readers. The book has often been considered to be a slur against Africans,[2] and "Sambo" as a slur has certainly been used this way, though the now-defunct US restaurant chain Sambo's used iconography more in tune with a Jungle Book view of 19th-century India.

Golliwog is a similarly enduring caricature, most often represented as a blackface doll, and dates to American children's books of the late 19th century. The character found great favor among the whites of Great Britain and Australia, as well, into the late 20th century. Notably, as with Sambo, the term as an insult crosses ethnic lines; the derived Commonwealth English epithet "wog" is applied more often to people from the Arabian Peninsula and Indian Subcontinent than to Africans, though "Golly dolls" still in production mostly retain the look of the stereotypical blackface minstrel.

The term pickaninny, reserved for children, has a similarly broadened pattern of use; while it originated in a Portuguese word for small child in general, it was applied especially to African-American children in the United States, then later to Australian Aboriginal children. Although not usually used alone as a character name, the pickaninny became a mainstream stock character in white-dominated fiction, music, theater, and early film in the United States and beyond.


What is known about the Mammy archetype comes from the memoirs and diaries that emerged after the Civil War with recordings and descriptions of African-American household women slaves who were considered by family members as their African-American mothers. Through these personal accounts, white slaveholders gave biased accounts of what a dominant female house slave role was. She was a woman completely dedicated to the white family, especially to the children of that family. She was the house servant who was given complete charge of domestic management; she was a friend and advisor.[3]


This stereotypical concept was invented by white slave owners who promoted the notion that male African slaves were animal in nature. They asserted, for example, that in "Negroes all the passions, emotions, and ambitions, are almost wholly subservient to the sexual instinct" and "this construction of the oversexed black male parlayed perfectly into notions of black bestiality and primitivism".[4] The term mandingo is of 20th century origin.[5] Bavardage around the black male physique would also adopt the notion of black men having oversized macrophallic penises.[6]

However, no account of mandingo fighting between slaves has been documented, only rumored tales. Economic interests prevented slave owners from involving their investments in activities that would ultimately leave one virtually ineffective.[7]


As a stereotype, Sapphire is a domineering female who consumes men and usurps their role.[8] They were characterized as strong, masculine workhorses who labored with black men in the fields or as aggressive women who drove their children and partners away with their overbearing natures.[9] Her assertive demeanor identifies her with the Mammy, but unlike the Mammy, she is devoid of maternal compassion and understanding.[9] One social scientist has claimed that black women's dominance and matriarchal status within their families, rather than discriminatory social policies and economic inequalities, were responsible for the unemployment and the emasculation of black men, which ultimately resulted in poverty, single parenthood, and the production of criminally inclined, academically low-achieving black children.[10]


Jezebel was in every way the counter-image of the mid-19th-century ideal of the Victorian lady.[11] The idea that black women were sexually promiscuous stemmed from Europeans' first encounter with African women. Unaccustomed to the requirements of a tropical climate, Europeans mistook seminudity for lewdness.[11] The practice of polygamy among Africans was attributed to uncontrolled lust, and tribal dances were construed as orgies. African religions were labeled pagan and therefore inferior to Christian Europe.[11] If black slave women could be portrayed as having sexual appetites, then increased fertility should be the expected outcome.[12] Because of this mindset and stereotype, black women have been labeled sexually promiscuous and immoral.

This image also gave the impression that black women could not be rape victims because they always desired sex, thereby legitimizing sexual assault of black female slaves by white males.[13] Ironically, Jezebel's excessive sexual appetite masculinizes her because she desires sex just as a man stereotypically does.[14] White slave owners not only used the Jezebel image as a justification for their forced procreation among slaves, but they used this image as a legal defense when raping African-American women. Abolitionist James Redpath wrote that biracial slave women were "gratified by the criminal advances of Saxons." Even after acquiring freedom, African-American women still suffered from sexual assault and rape throughout Reconstruction up into present times. During and after Reconstruction "Black women […] had little legal recourse when raped by White men, and many Black women were reluctant to report their sexual victimization by Black men for fear that the Black men would be lynched."[15][16]

The Jezebel stereotype existed in direct contrast with the Mammy stereotype. Despite the fact that the stereotypes were extremes, most African-American women could be portrayed as either a Jezebel or a Mammy, depending on which was more convenient for the White people in their lives.[17]

Tragic MulattaEdit

A stereotype that was popular in early Hollywood, the Tragic Mulatta, served as a cautionary tale for Black people. The Tragic Mulatta was usually depicted as a sexually attractive, light-skinned woman of African-American descent who could pass for Caucasian. This stereotype portrayed light-skinned women as obsessed with getting ahead, their ultimate goal being marriage to a White, middle-class man. The only route to redemption would be for her to accept her "blackness". An example of the Tragic Mulatta can be found in the 1933 novel Imitation of Life and its 1934 and 1959 film adaptations: the Tragic Mulatta is depicted as mean and unsympathetic, while her counterpart, the character most similar to the "Mammy", represents how the Tragic Mulatta should portray herself.[18] The 2014 satirical film Dear White People has the protagonist fall into and then subvert this stereotype, while the secondary characters explore other Black stereotypes.


Another stereotype was that of the savage. African Black people were usually depicted as primitive, simple, child-like, or cannibalistic persons[19] who live in tribes, carry spears, believe in witchcraft, and worship their wizard. White colonists are depicted tricking them by selling junk in exchange for valuable things and/or scaring them with modern technology. A well-known example of this image is Tintin in the Congo. When White people are caught by African tribes, they are usually put in a large, black cauldron to be cooked and eaten. Sometimes, Black Africans are depicted as child-like and ridiculed as such.[19]

Other stereotypical images are the male Black African dressed in lip plates or with a bone sticking through his nasal septum. Stereotypical female black African depictions include the bare breasted woman with large breasts and notably fat buttocks (examples of this stereotype are the 19th century sideshow attraction Saartjie Baartman) or the woman who wears multiple rings around her giraffe-like neck. Note that this type of neck ornament is also common in Burma with women from the Kayan tribe, but is generally associated with Africa, a typical example being the Bugs Bunny cartoon "Which Is Witch."

In 1844, Secretary of State John C. Calhoun, arguing for the extension of slavery, said, "Here [scientific confirmation] is proof of the necessity of slavery. The African is incapable of self care and sinks into lunacy under the burden of freedom. It is a mercy to give him the guardianship and protection from mental death."[20]

Uncle TomEdit

The Uncle Tom stereotype presents Black men who are not so much unintelligent, simple-minded, and subdued, but more so primarily interested in the welfare and advancement of White people, or persons over the interests of other Black people. The term is sometimes interchanged with "sellout" or the more derisive "house Negro". The term derives from the novel Uncle Tom's Cabin. In modern slang, the female version of an Uncle Tom is called an Aunt Jemima.

Modern stereotypesEdit

Crack addicts, drug dealersEdit

Many of these negative stereotypes spill over in news-media portrayals of minorities. Scholars agree that news stereotypes of people of color are pervasive.[21][22][23][24][25][26] African Americans were more likely to appear as perpetrators in drug and violent crime stories on network news.[27]

In the 1980s and 1990s, stereotypes of Black men shifted and the primary images were of drug dealers, crack victims, the underclass, the homeless, and subway muggers.[28] Similarly, Douglas (1995), who looked at O. J. Simpson, Louis Farrakhan, and the Million Man March, found that media placed African-American men on a spectrum of good versus evil.

Watermelon stereotypeEdit

This stereotype is that African Americans have an unusual appetite for watermelons.

Fried chickenEdit

A commonly held stereotype is that African Americans love fried chicken, which race and folklore professor Claire Schmidt attributes both to its popularity in Southern cuisine and to a scene from the film Birth of a Nation, in which a rowdy African-American man is seen eating fried chicken in a legislative hall.[29] The stereotype is occasionally portrayed as "chicken and waffles".

Welfare queenEdit

This stereotype has longevity. Studies show that the welfare queen idea has roots in both race and gender. Franklin Gilliam, the author of a public perception experiment on welfare, concludes:

While poor women of all races get blamed for their impoverished condition, African-American women are seen to commit the most egregious violations of American values. This story line taps into stereotypes about both women (uncontrolled sexuality) and African Americans (laziness).

Studies show that the public dramatically overestimates the number of African Americans who live below the poverty line (in fact less than a quarter; compared with the national average around 15%), with the cause of this attributed to media trends and its portrayal of poverty.[30]

Magical NegroEdit

The magical Negro (sometimes called the mystical Negro, magic Negro, or our magical African-American friend) is a stock character who appears in fiction of a variety of media, which by use of special insight or powers, helps the white protagonist. The word "Negro", now considered archaic and offensive, is used intentionally to emphasize the belief that the archetype is a racist throwback, an update of the Sambo stereotype.[31]

The term was popularized by Spike Lee, who dismissed the archetype of the "super-duper magical Negro"[32] in 2001 while discussing films with students at Washington State University[33] and at Yale University.[34] The Magical Negro is a subtype of the more generic numinous Negro, a term coined by Richard Brookhiser in National Review.[35] The latter term refers to saintly, respected or heroic Black protagonists or mentors, unsubtly portrayed in U.S. entertainment productions.[35]

Angry black womanEdit

Black women in the 21st century have been stereotyped as angry, independent, and materialistic. The "angry Black woman" is perhaps the most common of these depictions. This stereotype is a reference to loud, aggressive, demanding, and uncivilized behavior that is often paired to a lower middle-class Black woman.[36]

On the other hand, the "independent Black woman" is the depiction of a narcissistic, overachieving, financially successful woman who emasculates Black males in her life.[37]

As a controlling imageEdit

Controlling images are stereotypes that are used against a marginalized group to portray social injustice as natural and inevitable parts of a normal life.[38] This controlling image is used in many settings, such as academia and the workplace, which affects the lives of Black women. It silences Black women, making them practically invisible in society.[36]

Angry Black women in educationEdit

Studies show that scholarship has been dominated by White men and women.[39] The need for representation in academia is dire.[39] Being a recognized academic is much more than having the degree; it is more of a social activism. This is a difficult position to hold, being that White counterparts dominate the activist and social work realms of scholasticism.[39] It is notably difficult for a black woman to receive the resources needed to complete her research and write the texts she desires.[39] This, in part, is due to the silencing effect of the angry Black woman stereotype. Black women are skeptical of raising issues, also seen as complaining, within professional settings because of the fear of being judged.[36]

Mental and emotional consequencesEdit

Because of the angry Black woman stereotype, Black women tend to become desensitized about their own feelings to avoid judgment.[40] They often feel that they must show no emotion outside of their comfortable spaces. This results in the accumulation of these feelings of hurt, and can be projected on loved ones as anger.[40] Once seen as angry, Black women are always seen in that light, and consequently have their opinions, aspirations, and values dismissed.[40] The repression of these feelings can also result in serious mental-health issues, which creates a complex with the strong Black woman. As a common problem within the Black community, Black women and men seldom seek help for their mental-health challenges.

Angry Black women and interracial relationshipsEdit

Oftentimes, Black women's opinions are not heard within studies that examine interracial relationships.[41] Black women are often assumed to be just naturally angry. However, the implications of Black women's opinion are not explored within the context of race and history. According to Erica Child's study, Black women are most opposed to interracial relationships.[41] Since the 1600s, interracial sexuality has represented unfortunate sentiments for Black women.[41] Black men who were engaged with White women were severely punished.[41] However, white men who exploited black women were never reprimanded. In fact, it was more economically favorable for a black woman to birth a white man's child, because slave labor would be increased due to the one-drop rule. It was taboo for a White woman to have a black man's child; it was seen as race tainting.[41] In more contemporary times, interracial relationships can sometimes represent rejection for Black women. The probability of finding a "good" Black man was low due to the prevalence of homicide, drugs, incarceration, and interracial relationships, making the task for Black women more difficult.[41]

As concluded from this study, interracial dating compromises black love.[41] It was often that participants expressed their opinions that black love is important and represents more than the aesthetic: it is about black solidarity.[41] "Angry" black women believe that if whites will never understand blacks and they still regard blacks as inferior, interracial relationships will never be worthwhile.[41] The study shows that a majority of the participants think that black women who have interracial relationships will not betray or disassociate with the black community, whereas black men who date interracially are seen as taking away from the black community to advance the white patriarchy.[41] These beliefs regarding interracial relationships also stem from other stereotypes, such as white women wanting black men only for their money.

"Black bitch"Edit

Just as the Angry Black Woman is a modern manifestation of the Sapphire stereotype, the "black bitch" is a modern manifestation of the Jezebel stereotype. Characters best characterized "bad black girls", "black whores" and "black bitches" are archetypes of many Blaxploitation films produced by the white Hollywood establishment. One example of this archetype is the character of Leticia Musgrove in the movie Monster's Ball, portrayed by Halle Berry.

Perhaps the most popular stereotype is that of the "angry black woman", whom media depict as upset and irate; consequently she is often deemed a "bitch".[42] Her character is a spinoff of Sapphire, a historical character who is an undesirable depiction in which black women berate black males in their lives with cruel words and exaggerated body language.

Journalists used the angry black woman archetype in their narratives of Michelle Obama during the 2007–08 presidential primaries. Coverage of Mrs. Obama ran the gamut from fawning to favorable to strong to angry to intimidating and unpatriotic. First Lady Michelle Obama told Gayle King on CBS This Morning that she has been caricatured as an "angry black woman"—and that she hopes America will one day learn more about her. "That's been an image that people have tried to paint of me since, you know, the day Barack announced, that I'm some angry black woman", Mrs. Obama said.[43]

The First Lady dismissed a book by New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor entitled The Obamas. Kantor portrayed Mrs Obama as a hard-nosed operator who sometimes clashed with staffers. Michelle insisted that portrayal is not accurate.[37]

Independent black womanEdit

The "independent black woman" is often depicted as a narcissistic, overachieving, financially successful woman who emasculates black males in her life. Mia Moody, a professor of journalism at Baylor University, described the "independent black woman" in two articles entitled "A rhetorical analysis of the meaning of the 'independent woman'"[44] and "The meaning of 'Independent Woman' in music".[45]

In her studies, Moody concluded that the lyrics and videos of male and female artists portrayed "independent women" differently. Rapper Roxanne Shanté's 1989 rendition of "Independent Woman" explored relationships and asked women not to dote on partners who do not reciprocate. Similarly, the definition of an "independent woman" in Urban Dictionary is: "A woman who pays her own bills, buys her own things, and does not allow a man to affect her stability or self-confidence. She supports herself entirely on her own and is proud to be able to do so". Destiny's Child's song "Independent Women" encourages women to be strong and independent for the sake of their dignity and not for the sake of impressing men. The group frowns upon the idea of depending on anyone: "If you're gonna brag, make sure it's your money you flaunt/depend on no one else to give you what you want". The singers claim their independence through their financial stability.[44][45]

Moody concluded female rappers often depicted sex as a tool for obtaining independence through controlling men and buying material goods. While male rappers viewed the independent woman as one who is educated, pays her own bills, and creates a good home life, never did they mention settling down and often noted that a woman should not weigh them down. Moody analyzed songs, corresponding music videos, and viewer comments of six rap songs by Yo Gotti, Webbie, Drake, Candi Redd, Trina, and Nicki Minaj. She found four main messages: wealth equals independence, beauty and independence are connected, average men deserve perfect women, and sexual prowess equals independence.[44][45]

Black athleteEdit

Black people are stereotyped as being more athletic and better at sports compared to white people. Even though African-Americans make up only 12.4 percent of the U.S. population, seventy-five percent of NBA players and sixty-five percent of NFL players are black.[when?][citation needed] Until 2010, all sprinters who had broken the 10-second barrier in the 100 meter dash are black.[46] African-American college athletes may be seen as getting into college solely on their athletic ability and not their intelligence.[47]

The black athletic superiority is a theory that says black people possess certain traits that are acquired through genetic and/or environmental factors that allow them to excel over other races in athletic competition. Whites are more likely to hold these views; however, some blacks and other racial affiliations do as well.[48][49][50] A 1991 poll in the United States indicated that half of the respondents agreed with the belief that "blacks have more natural physical ability".[51]

In a 1997 study on racial stereotypes in sports, participants were shown a photograph of a white or a black basketball player. They then listened to a recorded radio broadcast of a basketball game. White photographs were rated as exhibiting significantly more intelligence in the way they played the game, even though the radio broadcast and target player represented by the photograph were the same throughout the trial.[52] Several other authors have said that sports coverage that highlights 'natural black athleticism' has the effect of suggesting white superiority in other areas, such as intelligence.[53] The stereotype suggests that African Americans are incapable of competing in "white sports" such as ice hockey and swimming.[54][55][56][57][58][59][60][61][62][excessive citations]


Even after slavery ended, the intellectual capacity of black people was still frequently questioned. Lewis Terman wrote in The Measurement of Intelligence in 1916:

[Black and other ethnic minority children] are ineducable beyond the nearest rudiments of training. No amount of school instruction will ever make them intelligent voters or capable citizens in the sense of the world…their dullness seems to be racial, or at least inherent in the family stock from which they come…Children of this group should be segregated in special classes and be given instruction which is concrete and practical. They cannot master abstractions, but they can be made efficient workers…There is no possibility at present of convincing society that they should not be allowed to reproduce, although from a eugenic point of view they constitute a grave problem because of their unusual prolific breeding.

One media survey in 1989 showed that blacks were more likely than whites to be described in demeaning intellectual terms.[63] Political activist and one-time presidential candidate Jesse Jackson said in 1985 that the news media portray blacks as less intelligent than they are.[64] Film director Spike Lee explains that these images have negative impacts. "In my neighborhood, we looked up to athletes, guys who got the ladies, and intelligent people", and the images widely portrayed black Americans as living in inner-city areas, very low-income and under-educated than whites.

Even so-called positive images of black people can lead to stereotypes about intelligence. In Darwin's Athletes: how sport has damaged Black America and preserved the myth of race, John Hoberman writes that the prominence of African-American athletes encourages a de-emphasis on academic achievement in black communities.[65]


Early stereotypesEdit

Early minstrel shows lampooned the assumed stupidity of black people. Detail from cover of The Celebrated Negro Melodies, as Sung by the Virginia Minstrels, 1843

Early minstrel shows of the mid-19th century lampooned the supposed stupidity of black people. In 1844, Secretary of State John C. Calhoun, arguing for the extension of slavery, wrote:

Here (scientific confirmation) is proof of the necessity of slavery. The African is incapable of self-care and sinks into lunacy under the burden of freedom. It is a mercy to give him the guardianship and protection from mental death.[66]

Even after slavery ended, the intellectual capacity of black people was still frequently questioned. Movies such as Birth of a Nation (1915) questioned whether or not black people were fit to run for governmental offices or vote.

In 1916, Lewis Terman wrote in The Measurement of Intelligence:

[Black and other ethnic minority children] are uneducable beyond the nearest rudiments of training. …There is no possibility at present of convincing society that they should not be allowed to reproduce, although from a eugenic point of view they constitute a grave problem because of their unusual prolific breeding.[67]

Stephen Jay Gould's book The Mismeasure of Man (1981) demonstrated how early 20th-century biases among scientists and researchers affected their purportedly objective scientific studies, data gathering, and conclusions which they drew about the absolute and relative intelligence of different groups, and of men vs. women.

Some critics have considered Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as racist because of its depiction of the slave Jim, among other black characters. Some schools have excluded the book from their curricula or libraries.[68]

Stereotypes pervaded other aspects of culture, such as various board games that used Sambo or similar imagery in their design. An example is the Jolly Darkie Target Game, in which players were expected to toss a ball through the "gaping mouth" of the target in cardboard decorated using imagery of Sambo.[69]

Film and televisionEdit

Political activist and one-time presidential candidate Rev. Jesse Jackson said in 1985 that the news media portrayed black people as "less intelligent than we are".[70] Former Army Secretary Clifford Alexander, testifying before the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee in 1991, said "You see us as less than you are. You think that we are not as smart, not as energetic, not as well suited to supervise you as you are to supervise us [...] These are the ways you perceive us, and your perceptions are negative. They are fed by motion pictures, ad agencies, news people and television."[71] Film director Spike Lee explains that these images have negative impacts: "In my neighborhood, we looked up to athletes, guys who got the ladies, and intelligent people", said Lee. "[Now] If you're intelligent, you're called a white guy or girl".[72]

In film, black people are also shown in a stereotypical manner that promotes notions of moral inferiority. In terms of female movie characters shown by race:[73]

  • Using vulgar profanity: black people 89 percent, white people 17 percent
  • Being physically violent: black people 56 percent, white people 11 percent
  • Lacking self-control: black people 55 percent, white people 6 percent

African-American women have been represented in film and television in a variety of different ways, starting from the stereotype/archetype of "mammy" (the role played by Hattie McDaniel in Gone with the Wind exemplifies this) drawn from minstrel shows,[74] through to the heroines of blaxploitation movies of the 1970s—although the latter was then weakened by commercial studios.[75] The mammy stereotype was portrayed as asexual while later representations of black women demonstrated a predatory sexuality.[76]


Black people are often portrayed as overtly aggressive in print media. In a study of fashion magazine photographs, Millard and Grant found that black models are often depicted as more aggressive and sociable, but less intelligent and achievement-oriented.[77]


In Darwin's Athletes, John Hoberman writes that the prominence of African-American athletes encourages a de-emphasis on academic achievement in black communities.[65] Several other authors have said that sports coverage that highlights "natural black athleticism" has the effect of suggesting white superiority in other areas, such as intelligence.[78] Some contemporary sports commentators have questioned whether black people are intelligent enough to hold "strategic" positions or coach games such as football.[79]

In another example, a study of the portrayal of race, ethnicity, and nationality in televised sporting events by journalist Derrick Jackson in 1989 showed that black people were more likely than white people to be described in demeaning intellectual terms.[80]

Criminal stereotypingEdit

According to Lawrence Grossman, former president of CBS News and PBS, TV newscasts "disproportionately show African-Americans under arrest, living in slums, on welfare, and in need of help from the community".[81][82] Similarly, Hurwitz and Peffley wrote that violent acts committed by a person of color often take up more than half of local news broadcasts, often portraying the person of color in a much more sinister light than their white counterparts. They argue that African Americans are not only more likely to be seen as suspects of horrendous crimes in the press, but also interpreted as being violent or harmful individuals to the general public.[83][page needed] Mary Beth Oliver, a professor at Penn State University, stated "the frequency with which black men specifically have been the target of police aggression speaks to the undeniable role that race plays in false assumptions of danger and criminality."[84] Oliver additionally states, "the variables that play contributory roles in priming thoughts of dangerous or aggressive black men, are age, dress, and gender, among others which lead to the false assumptions of danger and criminality."[84]

New media stereotypesEdit

In 2012, Moody documented Facebook fans' use of social media to target President Barack Obama and his family using stereotypes. Her study found several themes and missions of groups targeting the Obamas. Some groups focus on attacking the president's politics, and consist of Facebook members who have an interest in politics and use social media to share their ideas. Other, more malicious types focus on the president's race, religion, sexual orientation, personality, and diet.[85]

Moody, assistant professor of journalism, public relations and new media in Baylor's College of Arts and Sciences, analyzed more than 20 Facebook groups/pages using the keywords "hate", "Barack Obama", and "Michelle Obama". Hate groups—which once recruited members through word of mouth and distribution of pamphlets—spread the message that one race is inferior, target a historically oppressed group, and use degrading, hateful terms.[85]

She concluded although historical stereotypes focusing on diet and blackface have all but disappeared from mainstream television shows and movies, they have resurfaced in new media representations. Most portrayals fall into three categories: blackface, animalistic and evil/angry. Similarly, while media have made progress in their handling of gender-related topics, Facebook offers a new platform for sexist messages to thrive. Facebook users play up shallow, patriarchal representations of Michelle, focusing on her emotions, appearance, and personality. Conversely, they play up historical stereotypes of Obama that depict him as a flashy and animalistic. Media's reliance on stereotypes of women and African Americans not only hinders civil rights, but also helps determine how people treat marginalized groups.[85]

Representations of African Americans in video games tend to reinforce stereotypes of males as athletes or gangsters.[86][87]

See alsoEdit

Notes and referencesEdit

  1. ^ a b c McElroy, Guy C.; Gates, Henry Louis; Art, Corcoran Gallery of; Museum, Brooklyn (January 1990). Facing history: the Black image in American art, 1710–1940. Bedford Arts. pp. xi, xiii, 14. ISBN 978-0-938491-38-5. Retrieved 28 February 2017.
  2. ^ The Picaninny Caricature Archived 2011-05-01 at the Wayback Machine, Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia, Ferris State University.
  3. ^ White 1999, p. 49
  4. ^ "J. A. Rogers, III Sex and Race 150 (1944)" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 22 October 2017. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help)
  5. ^ Van Deburg, William L. (1984). Slavery and Race in American Popular Culture. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press. p. 149. ISBN 978-0-299-09630-4.
  6. ^ Davis, Gary L.; Cross, Herbert J. (1979). "Sexual stereotyping of Black males in interracial sex". Archives of Sexual Behavior. 8 (3): 269–279. doi:10.1007/bf01541243.
  7. ^ Harris, Aisha. "Was There Really 'Mandingo Fighting,"' Like in Django Unchained?".
  8. ^ White 1999, p. 176
  9. ^ a b West 2008, p. 289
  10. ^ West 2008, p. 296
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Further readingEdit

  • Patricia A. Turner, Ceramic Uncles & Celluloid Mammies: Black Images and Their Influence on Culture (Anchor Books, 1994).
  • Donald Bogle, Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies and Bucks: An Interpretive History of Blacks in American Films (Continuum International, 2001)