Maya Angelou’s Phenomenal Woman: Positive Attributes of a Black Woman
“Now you understand just why my head’s not bowed, I don’t shout or jump about or have to talk real loud. When you see me passing it ought to make you proud I say it’s the click of my heels, the bend of my hair, the palm of my hand, the need for my care cause I’m a woman phenomenally, phenomenal woman, that’s me” (Angelou 1). Phenomenal Woman, a poem written by Maya Angelou about the positive attributes of a black woman. Maya Angelou is a black actor writer and civil rights activist.
Growing up during the time black people were fighting for civility, Maya Angelou has come from a generation of black people who were criticized for their skin color; a generation where becoming an actor was as far-fetched as an black woman going to the moon. Even though now there are more black women in the entertainment world the portrayal of the black woman is still pretty much the same. Today the media’s portrayal of black women is a loud foul mouthed hot headed ghetto du-rag wearing hood-rat on welfare who don’t take care of her kids because she chasing after a man.
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In the 18 to 1900s black women were known as “sassy mammies who ran their own homes with iron fists including berating black husbands and children” (Abagond 1). Another name that was used towards black women was a “sapphire”, which was described as bitchy stubborn and hateful. During the early 1900s every role of a black woman was that of a spiteful angry vindictive black woman who demeans and beats her husband. Continuing through the 70s with the show Good Times, Esther Rolle played Florida Evans a house wife who lives in the projects of Chicago, the media once again portrayed the black woman as just that, angry. During the Jim Crow period, when real blacks were often beaten, jailed, or killed for arguing with whites, fictional Mammies were allowed to pretend-chastise whites, including men. Their sassiness was supposed to indicate that they were accepted as members of the white family, and acceptance of that sassiness implied that slavery and segregation were not overly oppressive. Another example of a Sapphire was the character Pamela (Pam) James played by Tichina Arnold, who appeared on Martin, a situational comedy that aired from 1992 to 1997 on the Fox network.
Pam, Martin’s girlfriend Gina’s best friend and neighbor was a badmouthed, wisecracking friend/foe of the lead character, Martin. Tichina Arnold, the actress who played Pam, also plays Rochelle, a dominating, aggressive matriarch in the situational comedy, Everybody Hates Chris, which ran from 2005 to 2009, and is still aired on cable television. Although most of the sitcoms are used for entertainment people tend to believe that this is how every black woman is.
Using derogatory jargon such Shaniqua and Aunt Jemima to describe African American women, many whites believe that what the media puts out is not a stereotype but the truth. Arnold has mastered the role of the angry, black woman. “Although the numerical representation of African-Americans in contemporary television advertising has improved in recent years, the authors’ analysis illustrates how the potentially positive effects of including more African-Americans in advertisements are often mitigated by subtle racist elements that suggest African-American inferiority. Even in earlier cartoons when blacks were drawn into character, they were drawn to look similar to monkeys with dark skin big pink lips and ears and not very intelligent. Cartoonists went as far as to even put a monkey in the cartoon and make the monkey smarter than the black people featured in the cartoon. This was done for the amusement of white people.
From the first cartoons to the first black president black people not just women have been the center of ridicule, calling them coons and monkeys, even going as far as photo shopping Michelle Obama’s face to that of a monkey’s keeping her hair and clothing the same. Cal Thomas a commentator of Fox network stated that black women are “usually angry about something; they’ve lost a son in a drive by shooting or angry at Bush. So you don’t have a profile of non angry black women” (“Transcrpit: Fox”, 2008).
EDu paper Jatau, Mary. (2009). Western Media’s Commodification and Consumption of African Women: A Review of Three News Channels. UC Los Angeles: UCLA Center for the Study of Women. Retrieved from: http://escholarship.org/uc/item/9gs2q469 1. Bristor, Julia M., Michlle R. Hunt, and Re’nee G. Lee. “Race and Ideology: African-American Images in Television Advertising.” Journal of Public Policy & Marketing 14.1 (1995): 48-59. Print. 2.Rucker, C. E. and Cash, T. F. (1992), Body images, body-size perceptions, and eating behaviors among African-American and white college women. Int. J. Eat. Disord., 12: 291–299 none 3.Schooler, D., Monique Ward, L., Merriwether, A. and Caruthers, A. (2004), Who’s That Girl: Television’s Role In The Body Image Development Of Young White And Black Women. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 28: 38–47. None Jatau, Mary. (2009). 4. Western Media’s Commodification and Consumption of African Women: A Review of Three News Channels. UC Los Angeles: UCLA Center for the Study of Women. Retrieved from: http://escholarship.org/uc/item/9gs2q469. 5. Abagond (2008, March 7). The Sapphire Stereotype. Abagond. Retrieved from http://abagond.wordpress.com/2008/03/07/the-sapphire-stereotype/. 6. Bad times on the Good times set. (1975 September). Ebony.