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Stereotypes of African Americans in the United States are generalizations about African Americans or African-American culture. These stereotypes have evolved within American culture dating back to the colonial years of settlement, particularly after slavery became a racial institution that was heritable. The early blackface minstrel shows of the 19th century portrayed blacks as joyous, naive, superstitious, ignorant, and musically inclined—characteristics related to the way slaveholders in earlier years believed them to be.
Such scholars as Patricia A. Turner note "stereotyping objects in popular culture that depict blacks as servile, primitive, or simpleminded and explains how the subtle influences of such seemingly harmless images reinforce anti-black attitudes". As with every other identifiable group, stereotypes continue today. Blacks are often portrayed as lazy and very religious. They also are portrayed as having a love of fried chicken, watermelon, corn bread, Kool-Aid, waffles, and grape drink.
The idea of race in the United States is based on physical characteristics and skin color. It played an essential part in shaping American society even before the nation existed independently. The perception of black people has been closely tied to their social strata in the United States.
Minstrel shows portrayed and lampooned black people in stereotypical and often disparaging ways, as ignorant, lazy, buffoonish, superstitious, joyous, and musical. Blackface is a style of theatrical makeup that originated in the United States, used to effect the countenance of an iconic, racist American archetype — that of the darky or coon. White blackface performers in the past used 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 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 that were considered very happy, usually laughing, lazy, irresponsible, or carefree. This depiction of black people was displayed in films of the early 20th century. The original text suggested that Sambo lived in India, but this fact may have escaped many readers. The book has often been considered to be a slur against Africans.
What is known about the Mammy archetype comes from the memoirs and diaries that emerged after the Civil War with recordings and descriptions of African American household women slaves who were considered by family members as their African American mothers. Through these personal accounts, white slaveholders gave biased accounts of what a dominant female house slave role was. She was a woman completely dedicated to the white family, especially to the children of that family. She was the house servant who was given complete charge of domestic management; she was a friend and advisor. The image of Mammy was created to justify the economic exploitation of house slaves and sustained to explain Black women’s long-standing restriction to domestic service. Employing Black women in such occupations supported the perceived racial superiority of White employers, encouraging middle-class White women in particular to identify more closely with the racial and class privilege afforded their fathers, husbands, and sons. Through the 20th century a stereotypical image emerged in popular culture of how the typical Mammy appeared. One feminist, Barbara Christian described her as "...black in color as well as race and fat with enormous breasts that are full enough to nourish all the children in the world; her head is perpetually covered with her trademark kerchief to hide the kinky hair that marks her as ugly. Tied to her physical characteristic are her personality traits: she is strong, for she certainly has enough girth, but this strength is used in the service to her white master and as a way of keeping her male counterparts in check; she is kind and loyal, for she is a mother; she is sexless, for she is ugly; and she is religious and superstitious, for she is black." This stereotypical image of Mammy became even more profound after the success of Margaret Mitchell's novel, Gone with the Wind, which was later produced as a movie in the 1930s. Two other images that reinforced the stereotype in popular culture was the image of Aunt Jemima on breakfast items and the Pine-Sol Lady, a dark-skinned, slightly overweight, motherly figure. In the 1990s, the Quaker Oats Company removed her trademark red bandana and eliminated her slave dialect.
This stereotypical concept was invented by white slave owners who promoted the notion that male African slaves were animalistic and bestial in nature asserting, 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". The term mandingo is 20th century in origin.
During slavery, the “cult of true womanhood” was an ideology that characterized the standard of femininity; however, these standards only applied to white, middle class women, not Black women. As a stereotype, Sapphire is a domineering female who consumes men and usurps their role. They were characterized as strong, masculine workhorses who labored with Black men in the fields or as aggressive women who drove their children and partners away with their overbearing natures. Her assertive demeanor identifies her with Mammy, but unlike Mammy she is devoid of maternal compassion and understanding. Yet, social scientists claimed that Black women’s dominance and matriarchal status within their families, rather than criminatory social policies and economic inequalities, were responsible for the unemployment and the emasculation of Black men, which ultimately resulted in poverty, single parenthood, and the production of criminally inclined, academically low-achieving Black children.
In every way Jezebel was the counter image of the mid- nineteenth century ideal of the Victorian lady. The idea that Black women were more sexually promiscuous and available evolved when Europeans first encountered women in Africa. Unaccustomed to the requirements of a tropical climate, Europeans mistook semi-nudity for lewdness. Similarly, they misinterpreted African cultural traditions, so that polygamy was attributed to the African’s uncontrolled lust, tribal dances was construed as orgy. African religions were labeled as pagan, and therefore inferior to Christianity, which had replaced paganism in Europe. If Black slave women could be portrayed as having sexual appetites, then increased fertility should be the expected outcome. With this mindset and stereotype, Black women have been labeled as sexually promiscuous and immoral.
This image also gave the impression that Black women could not be rape victims because they always desired sex, thereby justifying countless acts of sexual assault of black female slaves by white males. Ironically, Jezebel’s excessive sexual appetite masculinizes her because she desires sex just as a man does. White slave owners not only used the Jezebel image as a justification for their forced procreation among slaves, they used this image as a legal defense when raping African American women. In fact, James Redpath, an abolitionist no less, wrote that slave women were “gratified by the advances of Saxons.” (This was not true at all, as many African American women were threatened into sexual relationships with whites for fear of being “sold, beaten, raped, and having [their] ‘husband’ or children sold.”) Even after acquiring freedom, African American women still suffered from sexual assault and rape throughout Reconstruction up into present times. 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.” 
Another stereotype was that of the savage. African black people were usually depicted as primitive, childlike, cannibalistic persons who live in tribes, carry spears, believe in witchcraft and worship their wizard. White colonists are depicted tricking them by selling junk in exchange for valuable things and/or scaring them with modern technology. A well-known example of this image is Tintin in the Congo. When white people are caught by African tribes they are usually put in a large, black cauldron so they can be cooked and eaten. Sometimes black Africans are depicted as pygmies with childlike behavior so that they can be ridiculed as being similar to children.
Other stereotypical images are the male black African dressed in lip plates or with a bone sticking through his nasal septum. Stereotypical female black African depictions include the bare breasted woman with large breasts and notably fat buttocks (examples of this stereotype are the 19th century sideshow attraction Saartjie Baartman) or the woman who wears multiple rings around her giraffe-like neck (note: this type of neck ornament is also common in Burma with women from the Kayan tribe, but is generally associated with Africa (like in the Bugs Bunny cartoon "Which Is Witch").
Secretary of State John C. Calhoun arguing for the extension of slavery in 1844 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."
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Many of these negative stereotypes spill over into news media portrayals of minorities. Scholars agree that news stereotypes of people of color are pervasive (e.g., Dates & Barlow, 1993; Martindale, 1990; Collins, 2004; Poindexter, Smith, & Heider, 2003; Rowley, 2003; West, 2001). For instance, Entman (2000) found that African Americans were more likely to appear as perpetrators in drug and violent crime stories on network news.
In the 1980s and 1990s, stereotypes of black men shifted and the primary images were of drug lords, crack victims, the underclass, the homeless, and subway muggers (Drummond, 1990). Similarly, Douglas (1995), who looked at O. J. Simpson, Louis Farrakhan, and the Million Man March, found that media placed African-American men on a spectrum of good versus evil.
The stereotype has it that African Americans have an unusual appetite for watermelons.
It is a commonly held stereotype that African Americans love fried chicken, which race and folklore professor, Claire Schmidt, attributes 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. The stereotype is occasionally portrayed as "chicken and waffles"
This stereotype has longevity. Studies show that the welfare queen idea has roots in both race and gender. Franklin Gilliam, the author of a public perception experiment on welfare, concludes that:
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).
The magical negro (sometimes called the mystical negro, magic negro, or our magical African-American friend) is a stock character who appears in fiction of a variety of media who, by use of special insight or powers, helps the white protagonist. The word "negro", now considered archaic and offensive, is used intentionally to emphasize the belief that the archetype is a racist throwback, an update of the Sambo stereotype.
The term was popularized by Spike Lee, who dismissed the archetype of the "super-duper magical negro" in 2001 while discussing films with students at Washington State University and at Yale University. The Magical Negro is a subtype of the more generic numinous Negro, a term coined by Richard Brookhiser in National Review. The latter term refers to saintly, respected or heroic black protagonists or mentors, unsubtly portrayed in U.S. entertainment productions.
Common stereotypes of black women in the 21st century are gold digger, independent black woman, and Angry Black Woman. The “angry black woman” is often depicted as always upset and irate. On the other hand, the “independent black woman” is a narcissistic, overachieving, financially successful woman who emasculates black males in her life.
Perhaps the most popular stereotype is that of the “angry black woman,“ whom media depict as upset and irate; consequently she is often deemed a “bitch”. Her character is a spinoff of Sapphire, a historical character who is an undesirable depiction in which black women berate black males in their lives with cruel words and exaggerated body language.
Journalists used the angry black woman archetype in their narratives of Michelle Obama during the 2007–08 presidential primaries. Coverage of Mrs. Obama ran the gamut from fawning to favorable to strong to angry to intimidating and unpatriotic. First Lady Michelle Obama 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”, Mrs. Obama said.
The First Lady dismissed a book by New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor entitled The Obamas. Kantor portrayed Mrs. Obama as a hard-nosed operator who sometimes clashed with staffers. Michelle insisted that portrayal is not accurate.
The "independent black woman” is often depicted as a narcissistic, overachieving, financially successful woman who emasculates black males in her life. Mia Moody, an assistant professor of journalism at Baylor University, described the "independent black woman" in two articles entitled "A rhetorical analysis of the meaning of the 'independent woman'" and "The meaning of 'Independent Woman' in music".
In her studies, Moody concluded that the lyrics and videos of male and female artists portrayed "independent women" differently. 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: “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.
However, Moody concluded female rappers often depicted sex as a tool for obtaining independence through 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, never did they mention settling down and often noted 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.
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Just as the Angry Black Woman is a modern manifestation of the Sapphire stereotype, the "black bitch" is a modern manifestation of the Jezebel stereotype. Characters best characterized “bad-black-girls,” “black whores” and “black bitches” are archetypes of many Blaxploitation films produced by the white Hollywood establishment. One example of this archetype is the character of Leticia Musgrove in the movie Monster's Ball, portrayed by Halle Berry.
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Black people are stereotyped as being more athletic and better at sports compared to white people. Even though African Americans make up 13% of the population, 75% of NBA players and 65% of NFL players are black. In the 100m dash, all but one of the sprinters who have broken the 10 second barrier are black. African-American college athletes may be seen as getting into college solely on their athletic ability and not their intelligence.
The Black athletic superiority is a theory that says black people possess certain traits that are acquired through genetic and/or environmental factors that allow them to excel over other races in athletic competition. Whites are more likely to hold these views; however, some blacks and other racial affiliations do as well. A 1991 poll in the United States indicated that half of the respondents agreed with the belief that "blacks have more natural physical ability".
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, even though the radio broadcast and target player represented by the photograph were the same throughout the trial. 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.
Throughout the twentieth century, African-Americans in the media appeared almost exclusively in roles of servitude. Butlers were sometimes portrayed as black (for example the butler in many Shirley Temple movies). Housemaids were usually depicted as black, heavy-set middle-aged women who dress in large skirts (examples of this type are Mammy Two-Shoes, Aunt Jemima, Beulah and more recently the title character of Big Momma's House).
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…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…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. Political activist and one-time presidential candidate Jesse Jackson said in 1985 that the news media portray blacks as less intelligent than we are. Film director Spike Lee explains that these images have negative impacts. "In my neighborhood, we looked up to athletes, guys who got the ladies, and intelligent people", and the images widely portrayed black Americans as living in inner-city areas, very low-income and under-educated than whites.
Even so-called positive images of Black people 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 de-emphasis on academic achievement in black communities.
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.
Even after slavery ended, the intellectual capacity of black people was still frequently questioned. Movies such as Birth of a Nation (1915) questioned whether or not black people were fit to run for governmental offices or vote.
In 1916, Lewis Terman wrote in The Measurement of Intelligence:
(Black and other ethnic minority children) are uneducable beyond the nearest rudiments of training. …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.
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 men vs. women.
Some critics have considered Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as racist because of its depiction of the slave Jim, among other black characters. Some schools have excluded the book from their curricula or libraries. The word "nigger" appears numerous times and is used to describe Jim and other black characters. While the term was contemporary for the period when Twain wrote the book, it became perceived as offensive in the 20th century. Other critics have noted that Twain's portrayal of the relationship between Finn and Jim overturned stereotypes of the time and recognized Jim's humanity and strength.
Political activist and one-time presidential candidate Rev. Jesse Jackson said in 1985 that the news media portrayed black people as "less intelligent than we are". 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."  Film director Spike Lee explains that these 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".
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:
African-American women have been represented in film and television in a variety of different ways, starting from the stereotype/archetype of "mammy" (the role played by Hattie McDaniel in Gone with the Wind exemplifies this) drawn from minstrel shows, through to the heroines of blaxploitation movies of the 1970s—although the latter was then weakened by commercial studios. The mammy stereotype was portrayed as asexual while later representations of black women demonstrated a predatory sexuality.
In Darwin's Athletes, John Hoberman writes that the prominence of African-American athletes encourages a de-emphasis on academic achievement in black communities. 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. Some contemporary sports commentators have questioned whether black people are intelligent enough to hold "strategic" positions or coach games such as football.
In another example, a study of the portrayal of race, ethnicity, and nationality in televised sporting events by journalist Derrick Jackson in 1989 showed that black people were more likely than white people to be described in demeaning intellectual terms.
According to Lawrence Grossman, former president of CBS News and PBS, TV newscasts "disproportionately show African-Americans under arrest, living in slums, on welfare, and in need of help from the community".  Similarly, Hurwiz and Peffley wrote that violent acts committed by a person of color often take up more than half of local news broadcasts, often portraying the person of color in a much more sinister light than their white counterparts. They go on to further to argue that African Americans are not only more likely to be seen as suspects of horrendous crimes in the press, but also interpreted as being violent or harmful individuals to the general public.
In 2012, Moody documented Facebook fans' use of social media to target President Barack Obama and his family using stereotypes. Her study found several themes and missions of groups targeting the Obamas. Some groups focus on attacking the president's politics, and consist of Facebook members who have an interest in politics and use social media to share their ideas. Other, more malicious types focus on the president's race, religion, sexual orientation, personality, and diet.
Moody, assistant professor of journalism, public relations and new media in Baylor's College of Arts and Sciences, 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, target a historically oppressed group, and use degrading, hateful terms.
She concluded although historical stereotypes focusing on diet and blackface have all but disappeared from mainstream television shows and movies, they have resurfaced in new media representations. Most portrayals fall into three categories: blackface, animalistic and evil/angry. Similarly, while media have made progress in their handling of gender-related topics, Facebook offers a new platform for sexist messages to thrive. Facebook users play up shallow, patriarchal representations of Michelle, focusing on her emotions, appearance, and personality. Conversely, they play up historical stereotypes of Obama that depict him as a flashy and animalistic. Media’s reliance on stereotypes of women and African Americans not only hinders civil rights, but also helps determine how people treat marginalized groups.
Because newspapers and TV shows generally do not spread racist images anymore, people have gone online. Users rely heavily on old stereotypes of blacks as animalist, evil or shiftless—including depictions of the President as a chimp or sporting a bandana and a mouth full of gold teeth.
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