The angry black woman stereotype is a trope in American society that portrays African-American women as sassy, ill-mannered, and ill-tempered by nature. Related concepts are the "sapphire" or "sassy black woman". Scholars Dionne Bennett and Marcyliena Morgan suggest that the stereotype is less studied than the mammy and Jezebel archetypes because researchers accept it as true. Carolyn West defines the Angry Black Woman as one variety of a Sapphire stereotype (another category listed is "Sistas with Attitude"). West defines the pervasive "Sapphire/ABW image" as "a template for portraying almost all Black women" and as serving several purposes. West sees it as "passion and righteous indignation... often misread as irrational anger... used to silence and shame Black women who dare to challenge social inequalities, complain about their circumstances, or demand fair treatment (Harris-Perry, 2011). Defined by Pilgrim (2015), "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, nonthreatening, and unseen" (p. 121). It has been characterized as leading to a form of double bind.
Sapphire is an insulting term associated with the most dominant portrayals of Black women. According to the Sapphire stereotype, enslaved black women were aggressive, dominant, and masculine: "In antebellum America, the female slaves' chattel status, sex, and race combined to create a complicated set of myths about Black women." Black women are perceived as malicious, stubborn, overbearing, unnecessarily loud, and violent with African American men as their major targets as they mock these men for their many offenses that range from being broke and unemployed to sexually pursuing White or other women.
Negative caricatures of black women historically justified their exploitation. The Sapphire archetype painted enslaved women as impure, strong, masculine, dominant, and aggressive women who drove their children and partners away. This archetype stereotypes black women as experiencing disappointment, displeasure, bitterness or rage because of her significant other, and the term was also used to refer to or black women in general who show emotion in any situation. The Sapphire stereotype was introduced by the airing of the Amos 'n' Andy radio show which was produced by two White male actors. The content of the show focused heavily on belittling black men and how black women treat their husbands for being lazy and unemployed.
With roots in slavery, the sapphire archetype was further replicated in films, shows, and literature by the early 1930s. Through these media and social platforms the stereotype was cultivated and sustained. Black women were perceived to be too expressive, more opinionated, harsh, have bad attitudes, loud, and generally negative and rude in nature. The 1930s radio show Amos 'n' Andy was particularly one of the first media outlets that reinforced the stereotype. In this production two white men voiced Black characters. Among those characters were Black women. The narrative of anger, assertiveness, and frequent emasculation was echoed with characters such as Aunt Esther from Sanford and Son and Pam from Martin.
The sapphire archetype coincides with the mammy and Jezebel. All three of these archetypes uphold the angry black woman myth, but in different ways. In these archetypes, black women were characterized as caregivers, submissive, dependent on men, promiscuous, aggressive and arrogant. The reproduction of these archetypes in popular culture legitimized the dehumanization of black women.
Gender studies professor [Deborah Gray White] writes, "slave women understood the value of silence and secrecy... like all who are dependent upon the caprices of a master, they hide their real sentiments and turn toward him changeless smile or enigmatic passivity". In other words, slavery shaped how enslaved women expressed or suppressed their anger.
The angry black woman myth also shapes how others read and interpret the actions of Black women. There are various sources, platforms, and mediums that Black women use to shed light on the impact of the myth. A number of Black women provide insight on how the myth is reinforced in the media, social spaces, and interpersonal interactions. Furthermore, Black women, whether if it's through activism, academia, art, dance, or writing validate, affirm their rage. Through such activism and discourse, black women have opened many conversations regarding the dismissal and scrutiny of their emotions.
Black feminists have discredited the trope of the angry black woman and recognize the validity in a black woman's anger. The response is that there should be a more accurate representation of black women in the media overall. Black women being angry does exist, as it exists with any category of people, but as a response to this trope, black feminists believe that the nuances and other experiences black women face that are not necessarily negative should be depicted in the media as well.
The aftermath of slavery not only resulted in many social, economic and political effects but also led to the delineation of negative racial stereotypes in the portrayal of black women in media. The industry sometimes showed the stereotypical ideas of black women from mammies to sapphires, portraying black women as people who are unnecessarily aggressive and obnoxious.
Feminists believe that this is still extremely prevalant today, while non-feminists assert that there is a wide variety of black characters in all forms of media today, including both stereotypes and stereotype-free characters. Both groups do note that the "angry black woman" is one of the types of characters that is sometimes portrayed.
Examples of modern movies containing one or more "angry black woman" character include the Medea series of movies, the TV show Empire, and others:
In regards to culturally relevant practice during mental health treatment, Ashley W, author of The angry black woman: the impact of pejorative stereotypes on psychotherapy with black women. describes "the myth of the angry Black woman that characterizes these women as aggressive, ill tempered, illogical, overbearing, hostile, and ignorant without provocation" as a negative stereotype that victimizes black women.