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Sapphire Stereotype

***The staff of the Jim Crow Museum receives dozens of letters and emails. Some of these communiques offer insight into race relations -- historically and in the present. While some are hateful, we have decided to share some of these letters and emails with our Internet visitors.***

Hello Mr. Pilgrim -- I am fifty, about your age, and I spent a painful but enlightening hour looking at your website. I can understand why some "middle class" blacks would be offended, but we can't erase this part of our history, as hurtful as it may be.

Sapphire Stereotype

I have a question -- in your list of stereotypes, you didn't include "Sapphire" -- the loud, obnoxious, castrating black female. I am bringing this up because it appears that some in the media are trying to create Mrs. Michelle Obama into a "Sapphire." I recently read an article about Mrs. Cindy McCain and Mrs. Obama. The article kept mentioning what a commanding presence Ms. Obama is in contrast to blonde, blue-eyed, size 0 Cindy. I don't think the author was trying to be racist, but that's the way the article came across. I agree with you that "Jezebel" dominates the image portrayed of black women -- but I have noticed another one -- "The Mulatto Temptress." I am including women like Beyonce, Rhianna, etc. -- although they are not technically biracial, the have facial figures that suggest they could be. The Mulatto Temptress is also visible in music videos and in many black men's magazines.

Also, you did not mention, in your list of stereotypes, "The Magic Negro." This is a fairly recent image in film. "The Magic Negro," like Tom or Mammy of yesterday, has no life or aspirations of his own and seems to exist to help white folk, with little regard for their own sense of well-being. A typical example of this is "The Green Mile" in which a large, dark-skinned black man, with the power to bring the dead back to life, wonders the incredibly racist South of the 30's. This, as you know, was a time when black people were being tortured, raped, dismembered, burned, etc. -- in other words we lived under a reign of terror -- but this amazingly gifted black man uses his powers to 1) bring a mouse back to life, and 2) cure his white jailer's urinary tract infection and increase his sexual prowess. I don't know if you saw this film, but I really hated it!

Okay Mr. Pilgrim -- thanks for all your good work!

Melissa T.
Social Worker
-- July 1, 2008