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Sapphire


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One of the most pervasive and persistent stereotypes of African American women, Sapphire is an overly aggressive, domineering, emasculating female. Her origins can be found in Sam ‘n’ Henry, a 1926 radio serial (renamed two years later as Amos ‘n’Andy) in which two white actors, Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll, portrayed two southern African American men who had migrated to Chicago. Rooted in nineteenth-century minstrel shows and blackface vaudeville acts, in 1929 Amos ‘n’Andy joined NBC and added the Kingfish and his wife, Sapphire, and became the most popular radio show in the United States.

Ernestine Wade's radio portrayal of the Kingfish's wife catapulted the character of Sapphire into fame as the most popular and most stereotypical female in the series. She was loud-talking, abrasive, overbearing, bossy, controlling, and emasculating. The most memorable scenes of the marriage were Sapphire scolding her husband about his dishonesty, laziness, and unreliability. Their relationship was consistent with the stereotypical matriarchal African American family that Black sociologist E. Franklin Frazier portrayed in his classic The Negro Family in the United States (1939). In 1951 Amos ‘n’Andy premiered on television and etched derogatory stereotypes of African Americans into the national consciousness for more than a decade.

“Sapphire” became, long after the name's association with the program had faded, an unquestioned characterization of the so-called emasculating African American woman. She also became a pervasive image in African American folk culture and one of the most damaging stereotypes in the mass media, one that influences contemporary conceptions of Black womanhood.

Melvin Patrick Kelley, The Adventures of Amos ‘n’ Andy:A Social History of an American Phenomenon, 1991.

–Beverly Guy -Sheftall

Subjects: Literature.


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