Stereotypes of African Americans: Jezebel

By the early 20th century, the name Jezebel was also associated with fallen or abandoned women.

In modern usage, the name of Jezebel is sometimes used as a synonym for sexually promiscuous and/or controlling women, especially as a racist stereotype of Black women, the Jezebel stereotype.

Jezebel was in every way the counter-image of the mid-nineteenth-century ideal of the Victorian lady.

The idea that black women were sexually promiscuous stemmed from Europeans' first encounter with African women. Unaccustomed to the requirements of a tropical climate, Europeans mistook semi-nudity for lewdness.

The practice of polygamy among Africans was attributed to uncontrolled lust, and tribal dances were construed as orgies. African religions were labeled pagan and therefore inferior to Christian Europe.

If black slave women could be portrayed as having sexual appetites, then increased fertility should be the expected outcome. Because of this mindset and stereotype, black women have been labeled sexually promiscuous and immoral.

This image also gave the impression that black women could not be rape victims because they always desired sex, thereby legitimizing sexual assault of black female slaves by white males.

Ironically, Jezebel's excessive sexual appetite masculinizes her because she desires sex just as a man stereotypically does.

White slave owners not only used the Jezebel image as a justification for their forced procreation among slaves, they used this image as a legal defense when raping African-American women. Abolitionist James Redpath wrote that biracial slave women were "gratified by the criminal advances of Saxons."

Even after acquiring freedom, African-American women still suffered from sexual assault and rape throughout Reconstruction up into present times. During and after Reconstruction "Black women had little legal recourse when raped by White men, and many Black women were reluctant to report their sexual victimization by Black men for fear that the Black men would be lynched."

The jezebel stereotype existed in direct contrast with the mammy stereotype. Despite the fact that the stereotypes were extremes, most African American women could be portrayed as either a jezebel or a mammy, depending on which was more convenient for the white people in their lives.


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