Welcome To Black Women Fandoms 101. IDENTIFICATION If you’ve ever taken a course with me Like Black Women Shaming 101, you know that this post will be devoted to pointing out all of the fuckery of the treatment of black women characters in fandoms. Why is this important? Not simply a means of venting Black Women Fandoms 101 is designed to point out the very obvious very hidden ways that black women characters are marginalized so black women can be aware that they are watching their own subjugation.
So let’s open our books and take a look at all the different ways that black women play a role/ characters that black women play in fandoms. You may have heard of some of these or not. The point of this series is really more like a “refresher course” of black women in the media. And No this isn’t just a rant post I will get to the point of all of this in the next two posts.
Note: If you have not already noticed from the pictures above I will be using black women who are characters on popular television series’ today. Also note that Other people have pointed many of these phenomenon’s out I just put a name some that needed them.
Let’s get started we have a lot of material to cover
1. The Mammy:
This character will go down in infamy as the most common and most annoyingly overused characterization of black women in American Media. The mammy is the character that everyone knows, and everybody looks through. The mammy is dedicated to helping the white characters (usually white women women) achieve their hopes and dreams or is constantly dethroned ( also think Mercedes on Glee who just isn’t as good enough as Rachel). The mammy is usually overweight (think Mercedes from Glee) and she is usually happy that way. Unlike her white counterparts the Mammy is not only happy to be the unattractive sidekick to the white character, she is completely “defanged”. That is, like a rattle snake that has lost its venom the mammy has no sexuality. ( or given unsuccessful relationships like the one with Sam)Unlike the potent beauty and sexuality of her white counterpart the black Mammy best friend simply exists. There is no past, no present, no future. (though there may be some illusion to an unsuccessful past relationship that might explain her frigidness) No hope for relationships outside of the one sided exclusively beneficial ones. She is only around to serve and protect. To the cost and detriment of her own self.
2. The Mother:
Similar to the mammy although she is not as self sacrificing and does think about herself. She is very motherly to the people around her and while she may not be de- sexualized her sexuality is always muted in comparison to their white counterparts. For example Shirley on Community at first is a divorced housewife who later gets back together with her cheating, philandering ex husband when she becomes pregnant by him. While The Mother may be sexual she is not sexual with any of the main characters. Yes she had a one night stand( drunken) with a (lesser) character ( who is characterized as awful and unappealing). And she was comically hit on in the beginning seasons by ( Chevy Chases character) but nobody likes either. Her sexuality is off screen as to not be offensive. And the love she gets is relegated to second best. And certainly not with the leads.
And as the writers of Community have had the character of Shirley note on the show in a sort of Meta way, she is frequently assumed to be the “mother ” (and insulting called “mother hen” by one of the women of the group though through flashbacks (and said often throughout the show) it is later shown she is the exact age of Jeff Winger (Joel McHale’s Character) And not much older than one of the other women in the group. Though also noted through the show he has slept with all of the women but him.
The mother may have some character development but most likely it will have to do with her family like on Community.
3. The Antithesis:
This character is the stark contrast or exact opposite of the white female character/ heroine. Where the white female character is probably skinny beautiful, smart courageous or any other positive characterization, The Antithesis black female character will be the exact opposite. For Example, think True Blood. Tara Thorton acts as the Antithesis of the white female character Sookie Stackhouse. If Sookie is loved by everyone, Tara is generally overlooked. If Sookie is portrayed as courageous Tara is a whining pestiferous weakling frequently victimized and has no agency. If Sookie is optimistic and hopeful about love and life, Tara is the one that knows it “aint gone get no better.” This is also seen in looks/ appearance too. While Sookie Stackhouse is blonde and beautiful and loved by many vampires and humans alike because of her (“light”) Tara is the dark skinned (their portrayal not mine) dark souled, just generally DARK character who simply sucks the life and love out of a room (no matter how well her reasons are like RAPE).
4. The “Ëscape Goat”:
This character is simply there for one purpose and one purpose only: They are designed to be so hideous, so unlikable, so nasty, that the general audience hates them. This black female character usually comes along with a bad attitude (for no apparent reason). They are unattractive, overweight, loud, Larry, and generally a hassle to other characters. (Pick a show and any black female character can fit this role.) Generally this is so because this character is there to distract the audience from the less than desirable qualities of the main white cast of characters (a lot of times the white female character). Recently I read some comments about how the character Bonnie on the Vampire Diaries was treated deplorably .(I do not watch the show but I have seen clips and have seen what they are talking about) and one commenter said this
(no subject) – pistol_eyes – Expand
nicenicegirl 13th-Apr-2012 09:57 pm (UTC)
that’s my issue with her tbh. i liked her in season 1, and then i couldn’t put my finger on all of a sudden why i stopped liking her, and then one day i figured out it was because i don’t think we’re supposed to. we’re barely given any info on her and they only call her in for help when they need a witch. it’s awful how they treat her.
As this smart viewer brought to my attention. The viewers are not supposed to like this character. Bonnie Bennet is not going to get any screen time because Bonnie Bennett is there to serve her purpose (mammy) while holding all of the so called characteristics that nobody likes( although ironically many times if you look closely characters like this actually have many admirable qualities) . Thus distracting the audience from the same lesser crappy qualities of the rest of the cast of characters.
If anyone has ever seen the show Community there is an episode in season (1?) In which Shirley (played by Yvette Nicole Brown) threatens to leave the group if they don’t kick Pierce (Chevy Chases’ character out.)The result? They kick him out but they all soon notice that they soon they start turning on each other as they realize that since Pierce was the most obnoxious. He almost “balanced” the group because they were all focused on how much they hated him and his bad flaws instead of everyone else’s bad traits. Soon after they try and find which member will be the new “escape goat” (Troys’words) When that fails they are desperate to get Pierce back in the group to balance everything out again. Thus order is returned. Or if this example doesn’t suit your fancy think Dan on Gossip Girl frequently he was the target of derision of the Upper East Siders though most of them were more morally corrupt than him.
This is the role of the black female ‘escape goat”. She is not there to be developed, loved, liked, cared about. Her past will not be looked at or examined closely. She is simply there as a diversion to make the rest of the cast more adhesive and cohesive.
5. The Resilient One: AKA The Strong Woman or The Sufferer:
The tagline “She suffers, so your favorite character won’t have to” should be the tagline of this characterization . She is there to suffer and that is it. She is the Annie of the group except the sufferer will never meet her Daddy Warbucks or her Knight in Shining Armor.Tara from She is there to take the burden of the suffering. Tara from True Blood Is a good example. Tara frequently has nobody in her life to care about her. Her mother disowned her and was mean before she left her life. She has no father to anyone’s knowledge. She barely has any friends and the people she loves frequently die and are never replaced with other stronger bonds with other people others unlike Sookie.
Further, the sufferer provides the real gritty story lines without having to defile the white female characters by giving the stories to them. Think how Tara was raped for a lot of Season Three on True Blood and she never received any help afterwards. ( And please don’t be obtuse about Jason being raped also on the show. Because his character is actually given insight and thoughts whereas Tara is NOT for the majority of the time unless it is to characterize her worse) .
But of course you could NEVER show Sookie or Arlene or Jessica or Pam being raped. NO the Sufferer is the mule the woman who can be the whipping post for the show provide “real” moments while leaving characters like Sookie and Elena virtually unharmed. Or think how in the Walking Dead comic book ( I’ve never read) Michonne the black woman was the women who was raped brutally.
The resilient woman is there to take the hideous, heinous, crimes get up without a care, without protection or help or concern and brush it off. ( or deal with it off screen as someone pointed out about bonnie on vampire diaries or how Tara left town on True Blood)
Indeed she may be admired (or Not because * ironically* most people don’t like these characters, for being “Strong”)but she is certainly not LOVED.
6. Sassy Black: AKA the Comedy Act ( But the punch line is she’s actually not funny)
Sassy should be her first name and Black should be her last because that’s all you need to here to sum up her entire life. She is the loud, larry, (fat) unattractive, neck bobbing, angry bitter, jealous and everything in between. Usually this character is also the comedy act. Think Sherri Sheperd or whendy Williams. Sassy black is known for her comedic timing and jokes. She snaps her fingers with impeccable timing as she tells her jokes about “dem white peeples” but she’s generally just….Unappealing. Think the black woman from (Donna from parks and recreation)
The comedy act is there to reaffirm audiences that black women are indeed in their place as the lovable buffoons that they’ve always been. While threatening in manner she is no threat to white female hierarchy because she’s too busy shucking and jiving.
Sassy Black, As others have pointed out, Also may be hyper sexual. ( Sassy Black has that mythical black women self confidence) Though we never see the men ( as someone pointed out about Donna Parks and Rec). She frequently also takes on the Jezebel stereotype of black women to a T.
Sassy Black is a woman who would be described as someone who ‘doesn’t take shit” or “tells it like it is”. Sassy Black rolls her eyes, express frustration at all the white people around her and express her indignation with the best of em. Sassy black has no hope for the future and is satisfied with herself even though there is MUCH to be desired.
But of course audiences “love” this character the most. Many times Sassy Black Is the enforcer/ protector of her white female counterparts who also gives advice/ lives vicariously through the white character.
* Angry Black
Note: Angry Black is under the same umbrella of Sassy Black. And we all know about her.) She is angry for no apparent reason and she may or may not tell jokes. But one thing is for certain she is a force to be reckoned with regardless.
Similar to the maid, ( Florence?) on The Jefferson’s she is disheveled and distressed and loves to engage in angry (and sometimes witty) repartee with the rest of the characters. She is the basic of any good sitcom or show. She’s pissed at the world and the world steps out of her way. I don’t even have to list a show. She is in plenty. Though if you *need* on think HELEN on the show Drake and Josh who is ironically also played by Yvette Nicole Brown.
Angry black woman can also be overweight. And Angry Black Woman can also be physically or verbally abusive ( especially showing jealousy to white female characters or just anger at white male characters). She also loves to harangue respectable black men. Think Wendy Williams character in the movie “Think Like a Man”
,,, << Kelly Big Time Rush
and above this is Lanie from Castle
7. The Best Friend:
The best friend is actually likable. She has the most potential to be the fresh faced girl next door character close to the white female character. Except with The Best Friend while she is likable, relatable, etc. she is never given the chance or is simply not delved into like Kelly on Big Time Rush or Lanie on Castle. Usually like the character Bonnie on Vampire Diaries another of these characterizations gets in the way and she transforms into nothing but a shell. She does not date ( and certainly not the lead ( though the character Lanie is given another minor character as a love interest though its mostly off screen and shown through the mans point of view) ( Kelly on Big Time Rush is also never seen dating anyone they don’t even allude to her age either) She is a threat in many fandoms because if she is actually given the good story lines she will be liked. Most importantly she is a threat to the other female characters. As someone pointed out about Bonnie on the VD her character while interesting is never given any roles because if she was she would become more interesting than paper doll ( no agency) Elena or Caroline. She has the potential to disrupt (take focus off) the story by her own charms so she MUST BE DESTROYED. The Best Friend aka The Girl Next Door doesn’t last long.
8. Rough, Tough And Tumble:
She is supposed to be the female embodiment of feminism and empowerment. She is the strong, (but nowhere near as strong as The Resilient and she may never know true suffering like getting raped though she has had her normal share of pain) She is simply the black women that “kicks but” takes name, is a good friend, all while dressing sensibly. She is usually of average looks (or her looks are played down for audiences sake) and she is generally never given a love interest ( because of course she’s too strong for that.) She is the character white female audiences may salivate over because she is strong (which they can enjoy for the sake of principles) but they also get there cake and frosting because they generally enjoy the softer (white) characters. Think of black female captain on the show Castle who makes people call her “SIR”( for respect and has the nickname ” Iron Gates” ) . Or Regina Kings character on Southland or even Jocelyn Carter on Person of interest. (I mention Person of Interest not even because of what the writers have done but because of the audiences blatant need to shove her into this role despite all evidence of her NOT being Rough, Tough and Tumble. Carter is very vulnerable but that is a BIG problem for audience members)
Usually Rough, Tough And Tumble, “gives as good as she gets’ with men ( a feminist’s wet dream) and is generally just seen as “one of the guys” ( or course she doesn’t get in the way of white love interests on the show.)
And of course similar to mammy she doesn’t want to either.
Rough, Tough, Tumble provides a touch of realism (she wears sensible clothes, strong, tough, un feminine) without having to make black women real. ( she has no love and certainly not the lead usually they might be off the screen love interest as not to upset “progressive audiences”)
Brown face may not be a negative portrayal she is just… there. She may very well have lines, she may very well be a supporting cast member but she was only cast for one reason. To fill the quota to keep the angry black beasts from RIOTING Hollywood. She is a placation, a place marker for black women audiences. Someone on other posts has pointed out Astrid on Fringe. She is there to provide color ( and she may or may not be a full black actress though it doesn’t matter its for look and her race is generally never mentioned )but she is NOT there to do anything more than assist.
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10. Invisible Girl:
Invisible girl is just that….. Invisible. You would think it would be impossible to have a black female characterization about a character that isn’t there but actually INVISIBLE is one of the biggest most used characterizations. Invisible Black Girl, simply never SHOWS UP, though her existence is implied. Think the erasure of black women in Red Tails who were neither shown in thought or flashback. As many viewers pointed out and the love story was then replaced with a black man and a white woman. And this isn’t even targeting the interracial aspect. The point is that Invisible black girl is simply not around when things are happening though her existence is alluded to or implied. They may be married but there will be no pictures nothing, only a ring if that. Think how the first black male Captain on Castle had a wife that only showed up at his funeral and the episode dealing with the aftermath of his death. Then she faded into the background. Invisible Black Girl is always someone’s, cousin, sister, mother, but her existence is simply null outside of that. And you often wonder how other black male characters exist for all of the thought given to them. But if Invisible Girl shows up like, she is mostly a plot device to further another character. Some people may quote the backlash of (Broomhilda from Django Unchained whose story was never shown. I’ve never seen it so I am not sure) Or think about Gus on the show Psyche. Gus is a character whom even with flashbacks we don’t know who his family is who is mother is, if he has siblings etc. It is almost as if he was born unto himself.
Whew, thanks for sitting through this flash course on Black Women Fandoms, This was just a brief introduction/ flash course. I hope that this provided an identification number for these characters to black women will see them coming a mile away. If you are still interested in learning more this class will continue with these next posts in this series
Black Women in Fandoms : 102
Until Next Time,
Not Special Thanks to these posts who brought many things to my attention ( or refined what I was already thinking) so I was able to make an amalgamation of the trends that were being put in front of us.