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The cover to an 1832 edition of the sheet music of Jump Jim Crow, which depicts a stereotyped African-American known as Jim Crow.
The cover to an 1832 edition of the sheet music of Jump Jim Crow, which depicts a stereotyped African-American known as Jim Crow.

Stereotypes of African Americans and associated with their culture have evolved within American society dating back to the slavery of black people during the colonial era. These stereotypes are largely connected to the racism and discrimination faced by African Americans residing in the United States.

Nineteenth-century minstrel shows used White actors in blackface and attire supposedly worn by African-Americans to lampoon and disparage blacks. Some nineteenth century stereotypes, such as the sambo, are now considered to be derogatory and racist. The "Mandingo" and "Jezebel" stereotypes sexualizes African-Americans as hypersexual. The Mammy archetype depicts a motherly black woman who is dedicated to her role working for a white family, a stereotype which dates back to Southern plantations. African-Americans are often stereotyped to have an unusual appetite for fried chicken, watermelon, and grape drink.

In the 1980s and following decades, emerging stereotypes of black men depicted them as drug dealers, crack addicts, hobos, and subway muggers.[1] Jesse Jackson said the media portrays black people as less intelligent.[2] The magical Negro is a stock character who is depicted as having special insight or powers, and has been depicted (and criticized) in American cinema.[3] In recent history, Black men are stereotyped to be deadbeat fathers.[4]

Stereotypes of black women include being depicted as welfare queens or as angry black women who are loud, aggressive, demanding, and rude.[5]

Historical stereotypes

Detail from cover of The Celebrated Negro Melodies, as Sung by the Virginia Minstrels, 1843
Detail from cover of The Celebrated Negro Melodies, as Sung by the Virginia Minstrels, 1843

Minstrel shows portrayed and lampooned black people in stereotypical and often disparaging ways, as ignorant, lazy, buffoonish, superstitious, joyous, and musical. Blackface was a style of theatrical makeup popular in the United States, which was used to effect the countenance of an iconic, racist American archetype: that of the "darky" or "coon" (both are racial slurs). White blackface performers used to use 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.

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."
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."

The best-known such stock character 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. The 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 Crow

Main article: Jim Crow (character)

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 black 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 pickaninny

Main articles: Sambo (racial term), Golliwog, and Pickaninny

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. That depiction of black people was displayed in films of the early 20th century. The original text suggested that Sambo lived in India, but that fact may have escaped many readers. The book has often been considered to be a slur against Africans.[7]

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 popularity among other Western nations, with the Golliwog remaining popular well into the twentieth 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 Sub-Saharan Africa and the Indian subcontinent than to African-Americans, but "Golly dolls" still in production mostly retain the look of the stereotypical blackface minstrel.[citation needed]

The term pickaninny, reserved for children, has a similarly broadened pattern of use. It originated from the Spanish term “pequeno nino” and the Portuguese term “pequenonino” to describe small child in general, but it was applied especially to African-American children in the United States and later to Australian Aboriginal children.[8] 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.[citation needed]

Black children as alligator bait

Main article: Black children as alligator bait

Racist 1900s postcard, captioned: "Alligator bait, Florida"
Racist 1900s postcard, captioned: "Alligator bait, Florida"

A variant of the pickaninny stereotype depicted black children being used as bait to hunt alligators. This motif was featured in postcards, souvenirs, advertisements, and other artifacts of popular culture.[9] Although scattered references to the supposed practice appeared in early 20th-century newspapers, there is no credible evidence that the stereotype reflected an actual historical practice.[10]

In 2020, the University of Florida banned the phrase "Gator Bait" as a cheer at Florida Gators sporting events due to the phrase's racist associations.[11]


Main article: Mammy stereotype

Advertisement for Aunt Jemima
Advertisement showing the commercial Aunt Jemima character with apron and kerchief, along with rag dolls, 1909
Newspaper page with illustrated domestic scene of a Black servant seated in front of a fireplace surrounded by a White mother and children
Clipping from May 29, 1910, issue of the Chicago Tribune reporting a move to build a "monument" to "Ol' Black Mammy" in Washington, D.C. The subhead mentions "the sentiment that clings to this picturesque character of antebellum days."

Early accounts of the Mammy archetype come from memoirs and diaries that emerged after the American Civil War describing African-American women household slaves who served as nannies giving maternal care to the white children of the family and receiving an unusual degree of trust and affection from their enslavers. The personal accounts idealized the role of the dominant female house slave: a woman completely dedicated to the white family, especially the children, and given complete charge of domestic management. She was a friend and advisor.[12]


The Mandingo is a stereotype of a sexually voracious black man with a huge penis,[13] invented by white slave owners to promote the notion that black people were not civilized but "animalistic" by 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."[14]

The term mandingo is of 20th century origin; a corrupted word for the Mandinka peoples of West Africa, spanning from Mali, Guinea, Senegal, the Gambia, Côte d'Ivoire (or Ivory Coast), Ghana and Guinea-Bissau with minorities located in Sierra Leone and Liberia.[15]


See also: Angry black woman

The Sapphire stereotype is a domineering female who consumes men and usurps their role.[16] She was characterized as a strong, masculine workhorse who labored with black men in the fields or an aggressive woman, whose overbearing drove away her children and partners.[17] Her assertive demeanor is similar to the Mammy but without maternal compassion and understanding.[17]

One social scientist has claimed that black women's matriarchal status, rather than discriminatory social and economic policies, was responsible for social pathologies in black families.[18]


The Jezebel, a stereotype of a sexually voracious, promiscuous black woman, was the counterimage of the demure Victorian lady in every way.[19] The idea stemmed from Europeans' first encounter with seminude women in tropical Africa.[19] The African practice of polygamy was attributed to uncontrolled lust, and tribal dances were construed as pagan orgies, in contrast to European Christian chastity.[19]

The supposed indiscriminate sexual appetite of black women slaves justified their enslavers' efforts to breed them with other slaves.[20] It also justified rape by white men, even as a legal defense. Black women could not be rape victims because they "always desired sex."[21][22] The abolitionist James Redpath wrote that slave women were "gratified by the criminal advances of Saxons."[23][clarification needed] 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."[24][25]

The Jezebel stereotype contrasts with the Mammy stereotype, providing two broad categories for pigeonholing by whites.[26]

Tragic mulatta

A stereotype that was popular in early Hollywood, the "tragic mulatta," served as a cautionary tale for black people. She was usually depicted as a sexually attractive, light-skinned woman who was of African descent but could pass for Caucasian. The 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, but her "mammy" counterpart is presented as a positive role model.[27] The 2014 satirical film Dear White People has the protagonist fall into and then subvert the stereotype, and the secondary characters explore other black stereotypes.[citation needed]

Uncle Tom

The Uncle Tom stereotype, from the title character of the novel Uncle Tom's Cabin, represents a black man who is perhaps simple-minded and compliant but most essentially interested in the welfare of whites over that of other blacks. Synonyms include "sellout" and the derisive "house Negro." In contemporary slang, the male version of Aunt Jemima.[citation needed]

Black brute, Black Buck

Further information: Black Buck

Black men are stereotyped to be savage, animalistic, destructive, and criminal. Black brutes or black bucks are depicted as hideous, terrifying black male predators who target helpless victims, especially white women.[28]

In the post-Reconstruction United States, Black Buck was a racial slur used to describe a certain type of African American man. In particular, the caricature was used to describe black men who refused to bend to the law of white authority and were seen as irredeemably violent, rude, and lecherous.

In art

Samuel Jennings (active 1789–1834). Liberty Displaying the Arts and Sciences, or The Genius of America Encouraging the Emancipation of the Blacks.

A comprehensive examination of the restrictions imposed upon African Americans in the United States by culture is examined by the 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.[29] 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, the market demand for such work reflected the attitudes and the economic status of their audience.

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

As another 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.[29] 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."[29]

Contemporary stereotypes

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Crack addicts and drug dealers

Scholars agree that news-media stereotypes of people of color are pervasive.[30][31][32][33][34][35] African Americans were more likely to appear as perpetrators in drug and violent crime stories in the network news.[36]

In the 1980s and the 1990s, stereotypes of black men shifted and the primary and common images were of drug dealers, crack victims, the underclass and impoverished, the homeless, and subway muggers.[1] Similarly, Douglas (1995), who looked at O. J. Simpson, Louis Farrakhan, and the Million Man March, found that the media placed African-American men on a spectrum of good versus evil.

Watermelon and fried chicken

Main articles: Watermelon stereotype and Fried chicken § Racial stereotype

A postcard showing an African-American girl eating a large watermelon.
A postcard showing an African-American girl eating a large watermelon.

There are commonly held stereotypes that African Americans have an unorthodox appetite for watermelons and love fried chicken. Race and folklore professor Claire Schmidt attributes the latter 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.[37]

Welfare queen

Main article: Welfare queen

The long-lived stereotype depicts an African-American woman who defrauds the public welfare system for a life of idle luxury. Studies show its 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 (less than a quarter, compared with the national average around 15%), a misperception attributed to media portrayals.[38]

Magical Negro

Main article: Magical Negro

See also: John Henryism

The magical Negro (or mystical Negro) is a stock character who appears in a variety of fiction and uses special insight or powers to help the white protagonist. The word "Negro", now considered archaic and offensive by some.[3]

The term was mentioned by Spike Lee, who dismissed the archetype of the "super-duper magical Negro"[39] in 2001 while discussing films with students at Washington State University[40] and at Yale University.[41] The Magical Negro is a subtype of the more generic numinous Negro, a term coined by Richard Brookhiser in National Review.[42] The latter term refers to clumsy depictions of saintly, respected or heroic black protagonists or mentors in US entertainment.[42]

Angry black woman

In the 21st century, the "angry black woman" is depicted as loud, aggressive, demanding, uncivilized, and physically threatening, as well as lower-middle-class and materialistic.[5] She will not stay in what is perceived as her "proper" place.[43]

Controlling image

Controlling images are stereotypes that are used against a marginalized group to portray social injustice as natural, normal, and inevitable.[44] By erasing their individuality, controlling images silence black women and make them invisible in society.[5] Jones et al. stated that, in 1851, Sojourner Truth, a black female civil rights advocate, disrupted and ultimately saved a Women's Rights Convention when she asked, "Ain't I a Woman?".[43] Jones et al. argued that the statement challenged white women to think about how they experienced womanhood differently from how black women and added, "Sojourner revealed that arguments used to subordinate white women were different from and at times contradicted by arguments that were used to subordinate black women."[43]

Jones et al. stated that while the experience of womanhood differs from ethnicity to ethnicity: "Sojourner exercised her powerful voice to expose and to resist: (1) the prioritization of white women's needs; and (2) the assumption that white women's experiences represent the experiences of all women, when in fact they do not."[43] The controlling image present is that white women are the standard for everything, even oppression, which is simply false.[43]


Studies show that scholarship has been dominated by white men and women.[45] Being a recognized academic includes social activism as well as scholarship. That is a difficult position to hold since white counterparts dominate the activist and social work realms of scholarship.[45] It is notably difficult for a black woman to receive the resources needed to complete her research and to write the texts that she desires.[45] That, 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 their fear of being judged.[5]

Mental and emotional consequences

Because of the angry black woman stereotype, black women tend to become desensitized about their own feelings to avoid judgment.[46] They often feel that they must show no emotion outside of their comfortable spaces. That results in the accumulation of these feelings of hurt and can be projected on loved ones as anger.[46] Once seen as angry, black women are always seen in that light and so have their opinions, aspirations, and values dismissed.[46] The repression of those 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.[citation needed]

Interracial relationships

Oftentimes, black women's opinions are not heard in studies that examine interracial relationships.[47] Black women are often assumed to be just naturally angry. However, the implications of black women's opinions are not explored within the context of race and history. According to Erica Child's study, black women are most opposed to interracial relationships.[47]

Since the 1600s, interracial sexuality has represented unfortunate sentiments for black women.[47] Black men who were engaged with white women were severely punished.[47] 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 by the one-drop rule. It was taboo for a white woman to have a black man's child, as it was seen as race tainting.[47] In contemporary times, interracial relationships can sometimes represent rejection for black women. The probability of finding a "good" black man was low because of the prevalence of homicide, drugs, incarceration, and interracial relationships, making the task for black women more difficult.[47]

As concluded from the study, interracial dating compromises black love.[47] It was often that participants expressed their opinions that black love is important and represents more than the aesthetic since it is about black solidarity.[47] "Angry" black women believe that if whites will never understand black people and they still regard black people as inferior, interracial relationships will never be worthwhile.[47] The study shows that most of the participants think that black women who have interracial relationships will not betray or disassociate with the black community, but black men who date interracially are seen as taking away from the black community to advance the white patriarchy.[47]

"Black bitch"

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Just as the "angry black woman" is a contemporary manifestation of the Sapphire stereotype, the "black bitch" is a contemporary manifestation of the Jezebel stereotype. Characters termed "bad black girls," "black whores," and "black bitches" are archetypes of many blaxploitation films produced by the Hollywood establishment. One example of the archetype is the character of Leticia Musgrove in the film Monster's Ball, portrayed by Halle Berry.

Journalists utilized the angry black woman archetype in their narratives of Michelle Obama during the 2007–2008 presidential primaries. Coverage of her ran the gamut from fawning to favorable to strong to angry to intimidating and unpatriotic. She 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," she said.[48]

She dismissed a book by New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor entitled The Obamas. Kantor portrayed her as a hard-nosed operator who sometimes clashed with staffers, but she insisted that the portrayal is inaccurate.[49]

Strong black woman

The "strong black woman" stereotype is a discourse through that primarily black middle-class women in the black Baptist Church instruct working-class black women on morality, self-help, and economic empowerment and assimilative values in the bigger interest of racial uplift and pride (Higginbotham, 1993). In that narrative, the woman documents middle-class women attempting to push back against dominant racist narratives of black women being immoral, promiscuous, unclean, lazy and mannerless by engaging in public outreach campaigns that include literature that warns against brightly colored clothing, gum chewing, loud talking, and unclean homes, among other directives.[50] That discourse is harmful, dehumanizing, and silencing.

Corbin et al. argued, "We see STRONGBLACKWOMAN as a dominant response that preserves individual agency and staves off being maligned and dismissed as an Angry Black Woman in places where being heard is critically important. It becomes part of a counteroffensive script to cope with misogynoir attacks. Additionally, STRONGBLACKWOMAN functions as an internalized mechanism that privileges resilience, perseverance, and silence."[50]

The "strong black woman" narrative is another controlling image that perpetuates the idea that it is acceptable to mistreat black women because they are strong and so can handle it. That narrative can also act as a silencing method. When black women are struggling to be heard because they go through things in life like everyone else, they are silenced and reminded that they are strong, instead of actions being taken toward alleviating their problems.[50]

Independent black woman

See also: B.A.P.S.

The "independent black woman" is the depiction of a narcissistic, overachieving, financially successful woman who emasculates black males in her life.[49] Mia Moody, a professor of journalism at Baylor University, described the "independent black woman" in two articles: "A rhetorical analysis of the meaning of the 'independent woman'"[51] and "The meaning of 'Independent Woman' in music."[52]

In her studies, Moody concluded that the lyrics and videos of male and female artists portrayed "independent women" differently. The 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 this: "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.[51][52]

Moody concluded female rappers often depicted sex as a tool for obtaining independence by 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, they fail to mention settling down and often note 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.[51][52]

Black American princess

See also: Black American princess


See also: Race and sports § "Black athletic superiority"

Blacks are stereotyped as being more athletic and superior at sports than other races. Even though they make up only 12.4 percent of the US population, 75% of NBA players[53] and 65% of NFL players are black.[54] Until 2010, all sprinters who had broken the 10-second barrier in the 100 meter dash were black.[citation needed] African-American college athletes may be seen as getting into college solely on their athletic ability, not their intellectual and academic merit.[55]

Black athletic superiority is a theory that says blacks possess traits that are acquired through genetic and/or environmental factors that permits them to excel over other races in athletic competition. Whites are more likely to hold such views, but some blacks and other racial affiliations do as well.[56][57][58] A 1991 poll in the United States indicated that half of the respondents agreed with the belief that "blacks have more natural physical ability."[59]

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, but the radio broadcast and the target player represented by the photograph were the same throughout the trial.[60] 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.[61] The stereotype suggests that African Americans are incapable of competing in "white sports" such as ice hockey and swimming.[62][63][64][65][66][67][68][69][70]


See also: Race and intelligence

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."[71]

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....

Terman advocated racial segregation:

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....

As well, he made statements supporting eugenics:

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.[72] The political activist and presidential candidate Jesse Jackson said in 1985 that the news media portray blacks as less intelligent than they are.[2] The film director Spike Lee explains that the images have negative impacts: "In my neighborhood, we looked up to athletes, guys who got the ladies, and intelligent people." Images widely portrayed black Americans as living in inner-city areas, very low-income and less educated than whites.

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 gender and intelligence.

Even so-called positive images of blacks 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 lack of emphasis on academic achievement and merit in black communities.[73]


Further information: Representation of African Americans in media

Early stereotypes

Early minstrel shows of the mid-19th century lampooned the supposed stupidity of black people.[citation needed] Even after slavery ended, the intellectual capacity of black people was still frequently questioned. Movies such as Birth of a Nation (1915) questioned whether black people were fit to run for governmental offices or to vote.

Some critics have considered Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as racist because of its depiction of the slave Jim and other black characters. Some schools have excluded the book from their curricula or libraries.[74]

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.[75]

Film and television

See also: African-American representation in Hollywood

The political activist and one-time presidential candidate Jesse Jackson said in 1985 that the news media portrayed black people as "less intelligent than we are."[76] 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."[77] The film director Spike Lee explains that the 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."[78]

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:[79]

African-American women have been represented in film and television in a variety of different ways, starting from the stereotype/archetype of "mammy" (as is exemplified the role played by Hattie McDaniel in Gone with the Wind) drawn from minstrel shows,[80] through to the heroines of blaxploitation movies of the 1970s, but the latter was then weakened by commercial studios.[81] The mammy stereotype was portrayed as asexual while later representations of black women demonstrated a predatory sexuality.[82]


In print, black people are portrayed as overtly aggressive. 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.[83]


Further information: Race and sports

In Darwin's Athletes, John Hoberman writes that the prominence of African-American athletes encourages a lack of emphasis on academic achievement in black communities.[73] 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.[84] Some contemporary sports commentators have questioned whether blacks are intelligent enough to hold "strategic" positions or coach games such as football.[85]

In another example, a study of the portrayal of race, ethnicity, and nationality in televised sporting events by the journalist Derrick Z. Jackson in 1989 showed that blacks were more likely than whites to be described in demeaning intellectual terms.[86]

Criminal stereotyping

Main article: Criminal stereotype of African Americans

According to Lawrence Grossman, former president of CBS News and PBS, television newscasts "disproportionately show African Americans under arrest, living in slums, on welfare, and in need of help from the community."[87][88] Similarly, Hurwitz and Peffley wrote that violent acts committed by a person of color often take up more than half of local news broadcasts, which often portray the person of color in a much more sinister light than their white counterparts. The authors argue that African Americans are not only more likely to be seen as suspects of horrendous crimes in the press but also are interpreted as being violent or harmful individuals to the general public.[89][page needed]

Mary Beth Oliver, a professor at Penn State University, stated that "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."[90] Oliver additionally stated that "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."[90]

New media stereotypes

Social media

In 2012, Mia Moody, assistant professor of journalism, public relations and new media in Baylor's College of Arts and Sciences, documented Facebook fans' use of social media to target US President Barack Obama and his family through stereotypes. Her study found several themes and missions of groups targeting the Obamas. Some groups focused on attacking his politics and consisted of Facebook members who had an interest in politics and used social media to share their ideas. Other more-malicious types focused on the president's race, religion, sexual orientation, personality, and diet.[91]

Moody 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, targeted a historically oppressed group, and used degrading, hateful terms.[91]

She concluded that historical stereotypes focusing on diet and blackface had all but disappeared from mainstream television shows and movies, but had resurfaced in newmedia representations. Most portrayals fell into three categories: blackface, animalistic and evil/angry. Similarly, media had made progress in their handling of gender-related topics, but Facebook offered a new platform for sexist messages to thrive. Facebook users played up shallow, patriarchal representations of Michelle Obama, focusing on her emotions, appearance, and personality. Conversely, they emphasized historical stereotypes of Barack Obama that depicted him as flashy and animalistic. Media's reliance on stereotypes of women and African Americans not only hindered civil rights but also helped determine how people treated marginalized groups, her study found.[91]

Video games

Representations of African Americans in video games tend to reinforce stereotypes of males as athletes or gangsters.[92][93]

Hip hop music

Further information: Misogyny in rap music

Hip hop music has reinforced stereotypes about black men. Violent, misogynistic lyrics in rap music performed by African American male rappers has increased negative stereotypes against black men.[94] African-American women are degraded and referred to as “bitches” and “hoes” in rap music.[95] African-American women are over-sexualized in hip hop music videos and are portrayed as sexual objects for rappers.[96] Hip hop portrays a stereotypical black masculine aesthetic.[97]

Hip hop has stereotyped Black men as hypersexual thugs and gangsters who hail from an inner city ghetto.[98]

See also



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Further reading