I’m never surprised when I see stereotypes pop up in television and movies. Though they are disturbing representations that affect how our race is perceived, I’m usually not shocked when they show up. For someone like myself, who’s obsessed with screen media and the impact it has on our beliefs and attitudes, understanding the historical presence of stereotypes often explains the modern stereotypes that continue to appear in movies and television.
Here are the historical and modern stereotypes and images I’m often disappointed, but never shocked, to see:
The ‘acceptable’ black man. Always faithful, submissive and obedient to the white master. Examples include James B. Lowe’s character Uncle Tom of Uncle Tom’s Cabin or the token black friend in every show and movie ever.
The generally ridiculous black man. Considered to be foolish or a buffoon with no sexual appeal. Examples include Buckwheat of The Little Rascals.
Also known as the tragic Mulatto, this woman or girl is biracial — black and white. She’s often portrayed as hyper-sexual and meets a very dramatic downfall because her life is ruined by her black blood. Examples include Fredi Washington’s character Peola in Imitation of Life or Lena Horne’s character in Cabin in the Sky.
Typically big, black and fat, the mammy is considered to be the female version of the coon. She is completely non-sexual. She often appears wearing dowdy clothing and looking generally unattractive. Examples include Hattie McDaniel’s character in Gone With the Wind or Tyler Perry as Madea.
The big, scary black man who is so sexual he cannot contain himself. Examples include the black character in The Birth of a Nation who rapes the white woman.
This type is awkward and silly but has a big heart. They are always chasing after girls who won’t give them the time of day. Examples include Carlton in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Urkel in Family Matters or more recently, Junior in Black-ish.
The sassy black friend
They keep it real for their white friends and they are often presented as being strong and independent, so much so that they don’t need love. Examples include Amber Riley’s character Mercedes in Glee or Titus in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
The angry black woman
This stereotype plagues all black women no matter where they go. This character is mad all the time and no one seems to know why — despite all the racism, misogyny and oppression that exist as perfectly good reasons for being mad. Examples include Bailey in Grey’s Anatomy and the entirety of Diary of a Mad Black Woman.
The black guy who’s doing drugs, selling drugs or is in a gang. He’s extremely violent and has no problem killing anyone who gets in his way. Examples include Priest in Superfly or Doughboy from Boyz n the Hood.
The ghetto black woman
Loud and brash, this character has sass for days. Don’t mistake her for the sassy black friend! Though they are similar, the ghetto black woman is not considered to be acceptable where the sassy black friend is. People are often afraid of the ghetto black woman. Examples include Tasha from The Game.
The black horror movie token
They’re in the movie for about five minutes before they’re killed off. Think of any horror movie ever for an example.
The drug addict
All you see is that character doing drugs or trying to get drugs. Think of Samuel L. Jackson’s characters in Jungle Fever or School Daze.
The white wife
She’s shown up so often that she’s become her own type. She’s supportive and faithful to her husband, so much so that it becomes her character flaw. She’s also extremely sexual. Examples include Kelly in The Game or Rhonda Lyon in Empire.
The bummy black dude
This guy is always mooching off of someone. He’s living in his mama or his baby mama’s house. He won’t get a job, but thinks he deserves to be treated like a king. Think of Jody and Jody’s friend in the movie Baby Boy.
The church woman
She’s always talking about Jesus, even when Jesus might not be all that relevant. Think of Jenifer Lewis’ character Ruby in Black-ish.
Also known as the hoe or the side chick. No one respects her, but everyone runs through her. She might want to be the main b*tch, but it will never happen. She actually has feelings, but you wouldn’t know it because nobody ever cares about her feelings. She doesn’t get a backstory — she often doesn’t even get a name! Examples include Mary Jane at the beginning of Being Mary Jane and all the female characters in YG’s movie Blame It on the Streets.
The unfriendly black hottie
Also known simply as “the b*tch,” the term was coined by the movie Mean Girls but has been a type for a while. She’s mean, selfish and maybe a little angry. Examples include Toni from Girlfriends or Robin Givens in basically every role she’s done.
Stereotypes in media are a special form of ignorance and bigotry. But the images are often so subtle, people don’t even realize they’re stereotypes. As we see more black folks become big players in the entertainment industry, we’re sure to have more complex, engaging and non-stereotypical characters…and I think we’re all pretty darn excited to see that happen.