My Battle Against the Sapphire Caricature
I am a proud, this 18-year-old, unhealthy black, patient Nigerian girl. When I say black, I don’t mean “could pass as something else with beautiful 3a-c curls” black, I mean “darker than the paper bag with thick 4b hair” black. I would describe myself as a very expressive person. Compared to most people, I have a loud laugh and my voice gets quite loud when I get passionate about some things. I don’t see anything wrong with expressing yourself passionately, but something that I get quite sick of is this constant reinforcement of the stupid “angry,” “independent,” “sassy” black woman stereotype. Yes, this topic again. I know, I can practically hear the eye rolls through my laptop screen, but just bear with me.
This stereotype started, in the 1800s, with the image of “sassy mammies”. Over time, this image evolved into the Sapphire caricature. The caricature “portray[ed] black women as rude, loud, malicious, stubborn, and overbearing” and was popularised in late 1920s America. Living in the UK and growing up around the friends that I have, I was never really conscious of being stereotyped probably because I was a child. I hadn’t matured as an individual, so if I was the angry black girl based on behaviour, then so was everyone else. I only started learning who I was as an individual in year 12. It was then that I started noticing how people, were subconsciously likening me to Sapphire.
To me, being known as “that loud black girl” was equally as bad as being known as “the angry black girl”. I even had talks with my mum about how I could make myself seem less loud, by just saying what needs to be said and not much else. She said that when the loudest voice goes quiet, other people then realise how much they value its input. The thing that hurt the most, was that this worked. Other people probably didn’t notice the difference, but I definitely did. This was the first sign that I was viewed as Sapphire.
The second sign came at the end of a trip. Whilst everyone was arguing over where to sit, I quietly slipped into my seat and put my headphones on. No shouting, no loudness, no anger – just a simple, level-headed “I’m not moving”. Despite this, someone said that I don’t have to move because I’m “scary and could protect them”. Against what, I had absolutely no idea. I simply put my headphones back in. I don’t think I have ever displayed myself in a way that would make me seem actually “scary”. So for them to describe me as such, I knew that to some degree, they subconsciously saw me as the Sapphire stereotype. It was the only conclusion I could come to.
I have had to learn not to care what other people think about me, unless I care about that person. In this society, it is imperative for girls, especially black girls to understand this. I have wanted to be upset or show emotion in response to situations, but trying to combat these stereotypes means that I internalised any response that might make me come off as “angry”. Whilst I was successfully avoiding the Sapphire stereotype, it actually made me really unhappy. No one knew about this ‘low’ in my life, I kept it to myself because I needed to figure out how to move forward and grow by myself.
Essentially what I’m saying is; for any other black girls struggling with this problem, avoid people who constantly harp on any stereotypes. These are not people you need in your life and they don’t value you as a person. It is important to find people on the same maturity level as you because it’s how you develop meaningful relationship. Most importantly, you need to come face to face with who you really are as an individual and acknowledge it.
Self-love is important. It sounds cheesy, but once you understand yourself, you start making more individual choices and you find out what YOU like and don’t like, as opposed to just following the crowd. Not everyone is your friend and you don’t have to be constantly surrounded by acquaintances – there is a difference between being alone and being lonely. The more you become comfortable in your own company, the quicker you start to notice who actually contributes towards helping you grow and prosper in all aspects of your life.
Written by Lara Soluade