Off Our Curved Black Backs: Black Women Are Not Your Jezebel, Mammy, or Sapphire Stereotypes



American society has long been built on the emotional, physical, sexual, psychological, and systemic subjugation of Black womanhood. During the early years of chattel slavery, stolen Africans living in the Americas experienced horrific, wide-spread, and state sanctioned physical violence. The early 19th century witnessed the rise of paternalistic warfare in which deploying emotional manipulation and degrading imagery were used to reinforce false narratives and social structures no longer legally sanctioned, all while physical violence of course, continued. The images propagated during this time continue to cause harm into the present and show no signs of desisting despite advances towards equality. These stereotypes are degrading not only due to their gross inaccuracy and demeaning depictions of Black womanhood, but also restrict how Black women are allowed to move within and perceive themselves in the world. Black women’s sexuality, nurturing of self and others, and their emotional locus of control is affected by societal expectations and parameters that demand certain performances. Refusal to adhere to the expected performances results in consequences, and the proliferation of stereotypes and enables cycles of self-hate, further trapping Black women into what civil rights activist Pauli Murray coined a “Jane Crow.” My research focuses on the origins of the Jezebel, Mammy, and Sapphire stereotypes, their weaponization in media to objectify and commodify Black female bodies, and how this continues to harm Black women’s bodies and minds.


How to Cite: Lyons, A. (2023) “Off Our Curved Black Backs: Black Women Are Not Your Jezebel, Mammy, or Sapphire Stereotypes”, Iowa State Conference on Race and Ethnicity. 24(1).