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Black women on TV still stereotyped.

Many critics have commended "The Cosby Show" for being one of the first television programs accurately and positively to portray African-Americans, including women. However, according to K. Sue Jewell, assistant professor of sociology, Ohio State University, and author of From Mammy to Miss America and Beyond: Cultural Images and the Shaping of U.S. Social Politics, the show didn't start much of a trend. Such recent programs as "In Living Color" and "Family Matters" continue to present African-American women in stereotypical roles. "Not much has changed. |The Cosby Show' provided a new and positive image of African-American women, but this is still overshadowed by the traditional, negative images which remain."

One of the most common and oldest stereotypical images is that of the "mammy," generally a servant responsible for domestic duties and rearing children. She often is portrayed as the antithesis of American standards of beauty - overweight, with exaggerated buttocks and breasts and wearing a head rag. Mammies are seen as nurturers, women good at comforting and taking care of others, but also verbally aggressive.

For example, in "Good Times," Esther Rolle played Florida Evans, who originally worked as a domestic for a white family. Nell Carter was a live-in housekeeper for a single white father in "Gimme a Break." The mammy stereotype was given a new twist on "The Jeffersons," when Marla Gibbs portrayed a maid working for a black household.

In "Family Matters," the main female, Harriette Winslow (played by JoMarie Payton-France), fits the common "Sapphire" stereotype, named after a character in the "Amos and Andy" series. Talkative and sassy, she constantly criticizes and makes fun of black men for their supposed stupidity and untrustworthiness.

Another stereotypical image that lives on through television is that of the "Jezebel." Usually shown as fair-skinned or a mulatto, she is a shapely seductress who uses her sexuality to get her way. This image reinforces cultural stereotypes regarding the supposed hyper-sexuality of African-American women, Jewell maintains.

It hasn't been just white producers and writers who have perpetuated these negative images, she points out. Keenen Ivory Wayans and Damon Wayans' comedy show, "In Living Color," contains a lot of negative imagery of African-American women. On the other hand, she cites "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air" and "Roc" as examples of programs that do not demean black females, showing them as strong and capable.

Jewell contends that the media's stereotypical portrayal of African-American women has real-life consequences. "It affects how the majority culture treats black women. As a result of media images, many people have inaccurate and negative expectations about how African-American women should act and look. Only when these stereotypical images are replaced with more accurate representations will we see changes in societal perceptions and expectations of African-American women."
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Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Date:Jul 1, 1993
Words:457
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