Sapphire, named after a character in “Amos ‘n’ Andy”, always seems to have her hands on her hips while she is running her mouth – putting down her man, making everything into a fight, never taking anything lying down. She is an overbearing, hard and undesirable woman who drives men away. Think of Tichina Arnold’s character Pam in “Martin”. Michelle Obama comes dangerously close to being read this way.
A study done in 1993 of white American university students showed that nearly all of them saw black women as Sapphires to some degree. It seems to be common among black men too. I am guilty of it myself, which is why I write this.
Many black women seem to feel they have to be strong. You do not hear that so much from white women. That gives some black women a hard edge. They often come off seeming hard and overbearing even when they do not mean to. That gives the stereotype an element of truth.
But just because there is some truth to it does not mean it is completely true.
Some of it is just pure stereotype. For example, where white women are said to be “independent”, black women are said to be “emasculating”, robbing their men of their sense of manhood. Where white women are said to be standing up for themselves, black women are seen as wanting a fight. And so on. The same actions are read differently.
This makes it harder for black women to become leaders. Think if Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama were both running for president. They would not be judged the same way. Think then of what must go on inside businesses where women are trying to move up.
The Sapphire stereotype also hurts their chances of getting married. What man would knowingly marry a woman like this? Black men sometimes use it as an excuse to go after white women. For many white men it is one of the main things (but not the only thing) that keeps them away from seriously dating black women.
In my own experience the Sapphire stereotype seems to be the most true to life.
Yet, even so, the Sapphire stereotype seems to be cut from the same cloth as the Jezebel one: Just as Jezebels are blamed for their rape by white men, so Sapphires are blamed for the weak position of their men in society – instead of blaming the very same white men!
In the Moynihan Report in the 1960s the government wanted to know why blacks were so poor. Part of the blame went to a form of the Sapphire stereotype: the Matriarch.