The Mammy, The Sapphire, and The Jezebel

Images highlighted and reflected in the media have the power to teach and show us many different things. In a subtle way of corse, certain media portrayals of people or groups of people seen in films, television, and print  have permeating effect within society and over time can mold the way we think about people.

In the past 60 years African-Americans have become more visible in contemporary media, however black women especially, seem to have fallen into certain type casts that are consistently revisited and grossly over represented as portrayals of black women.

The Jezebel

Named after an evil queen in the bible, is a loose woman with constant sexual desires. Uses sex to get what she wants, often for money. Many refer to Halle Berry’s role in “Monster’s Ball” as a prime example of this. Reality tv relies heavily on this type of portrayal.

The Sapphire


The Sapphire type always seem to have her hands on her hips, while she’s  running her mouth. She can be over-bearing, hard, and undesirable. A memorable version of this character, Tichina Arnold who played Pam from Martin who played the same type role in Everybody Hates Chris. Statefarm Commercial.

The Mammy

The mammy stereotype is the longest running type cast for black women.  Dating back to the 1800s, the Mammy type is a black woman depicted as rotund, homely and matronly. Middle-aged and undesirable, Often portraying a domestic servant. A old film example would be “Mammy” from Gone with the Wind.

1. Why are these symbolic and material representations of black women so common? Do you think any other group of people is type casted in this manner?

2. Despite the obvious racial connotations of these images, how or why do they work? (Madea/Tyler Perry is very popular. Aunt Jemima still thriving. Reality TV. Popeyes ads. etc.)

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2 comments

  1. christinaroselane

    I feel that these representations of black women in our society are created from a deep rooted stereotype that exists in our society. Since this country, as well as other first world nations, are run predominantly by males. In the U.S. specifically, these males tend to be white as well. This patriarchy stems from Biblical motivation, just as the “Jezebel” has. They both are used as tools to drive a wedge in the social hierarchy, degrading those who are not at the top tier, ie. the white male.
    I think many groups of people are type-casted into roles that they do not fit into. Yes, there are people who can be seen as the Mammy, Sapphire, or Jezebel, but that does not mean they make up the majority of those being stereotyped into one of these roles.
    Within the realm of entertainment, these roles are used to drive consumers to feel a certain way about these characters. Obviously they are not seen in a very positive light, often degrading the women who are supposedly one of the three stereotypes. They work because they are reinforced by a society that has built its values up on a flawed system of inequality.

  2. jiep90

    i found this super interesting as i was previously unaware that these paradigms existed in a scholarly forum. after reading the blog and seeing the representations, i could think of other examples off the top of my head. i have been watching a lot of fresh prince of bel air lately and Aunt vivian is a perfect example of the sapphire type. and my girlfriend loves all of those housewife reality shows which i personally cannot stand, and the Jezebel type is CLEARY visible and over represented. To me all the women on the housewife shows degrade their families and selves for a pathetic type of “celebrity status”. the mammy type also made me think of big mommas house which i thought was pretty funny the first time around, another clear representation of the last of these types.

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