"Sapphire" is not a Gem for Black Girls
Did you know that sapphire is not only a stone but a term used to refer to an angry black woman?
You may not be aware of the term “Sapphire” and how it is associated with the “angry black woman.” During the 1920s-1960s, there was a television and radio show called Amos’ n’ Andy. The show became popular by mimicking the behaviors of black people. Sapphire Stevens was a black woman in the show who regularly berated her black husband. In later sitcoms, “Sapphire Stevens” type characters were portrayed by characters like Aunt Esther on Sanford and Son. Aunt Esther constantly argued with her brother-in-law Fred and dominated her husband, Woodrow. In both sitcoms, “Sapphire” was angry and insulted and mocked the black men in their life. These shows falsely identified anger as a trait in black women rather than a coping mechanism.
Based on sitcoms such as these, the term “Sapphire” clung to black women and became associated with anger. However, historical stereotypes such as these create harmful outcomes for black girls today. The stereotypical “Sapphire” image creates a disconnect for black girls. It keeps them from expressing their feelings. As a result, these girls now have anger issues. Even when black girls are justified in their anger, the consequences are usually severe. For example, the brother of a young black girl is murdered over the summer. The following school year, she had an attitude. She has a right to be angry and have an attitude! Yet, her emotions are more than likely dismissed by the adults in her life. She starts to feel ignored and eventually drops out of school. Once she drops out, she will likely become part of the juvenile justice system. All because she was not acknowledged and allowed to express her feelings. No one noticed that she was a black girl in pain.
As a black woman, monitoring my expressions and words can be exhausting. Can you imagine what it is like for black girls? It takes away from their well-being as well as their self-worth. These girls experience anxiety and a feeling of unsafety. Stifling their feelings leads to emotional trauma. Understanding historical stereotypes are critical in understanding the plight of the black girl.
Helping black girls flourish is the charge given to the educational and justice systems. But, often, they fail them because of the “Sapphire” image that has stuck with black women for years. There are no gems of wisdom in the concept of “Sapphire .” There is nothing about the portrayal that benefits black girls. Society must be kinder and remember that life and trauma can lead a black girl to be angry…and that’s okay!
So next time you encounter a discussion of the “Sapphire” portrayal…Slay What Ya Hear!”
Dr. Misty grew up and currently lives in South Alabama. She lives about an hour south of Montgomery, which hosted several civil rights icons. Her childhood consisted of poverty and survival. She knew education was the only way out. As a black woman, she has experienced unconscious bias and racial microaggressions. This bias occurred in her pursuit of higher education and professional roles. She has had people ask to touch her hair, which implied that her hair was different, and they could touch it. She has experienced a store worker following her around in a store. Following her suggested that she did not belong. These experiences left her feeling terrible. Just imagine these types of behaviors and their impact on students of color.
As an educator with over 20 years of experience, she has held various positions. She’s worked as a social caseworker, special education teacher, school administrator, and director of special education. From her expertise, she quickly learned that she needed to focus on the experiences of students of color. She addressed the calling on her life! The desire to promote effective learning and inclusion for children of color. There seems to be a gap in information on how educators reach these students. In March 2021, Mocha Sprout® developed out of the desire to help educators achieve sustainable growth and become culturally responsive by creating new viewpoints. She is a thought leader, equity strategist, trainer, and coach. Her mission is to help others understand and transform their perspective of educating students of color.