Ever notice how many commercials there are featuring big black women with sassy attitudes as the primary comedic figure? I’m noticing a pattern here lately and it’s too common of an occurrence to be a coincidence.
One of the most recent Progressive insurance commercials features comedienne Cocoa Brown. She comes storming into the Progressive office loudly demanding, “Where’s Flo! Anybody know where Flo is? Are you Flo?,” complete with exaggerated hand gestures, pointing, and slightly bobbing head. As Flo slowly backs away from Cocoa, she continues, "Is this the thing you gave my husband?," referring to the "name your price" tool. Flo then explains it, and the commercial eventually cuts to the husband wanting to jump into a juggling chainsaw act.
Obviously Flo is not the comedic shtick here like usual; she’s just giving the Progressive info. The husband’s antics, while amusing, only make up about 5 seconds of the commercial. Clearly, the “entertainment” is supposed to be this big black woman storming through the store and straight up to the desk. Perhaps it would be less funny if she just acted calmly, but I don’t really understand how her head bobbing and sassy hand gesturing is supposed to be funny either.
Remember that old Safe Auto commercial with Gracie? The white coworkers encourage you to call Safe Auto to get insured but if you’re slow to do so, they’ll have Gracie, the big black lady with the voice loud enough to shatter coffee mugs all around the office yell, “Come on, dude…PICK UP THE PHONE!” Afterward, she satisfyingly adjusts her collar, rolls her eyes, and grins as the phones begin to ring off the hook.
Well of course people started calling! I don’t know about you, but if there’s one thing that’ll coax me into buying car insurance, it’s a big black lady with a loud mouth who according to the coworkers, has a “way with words.”
Then there’s the most recent (and by far the worst) offender, a commercial for LasVegas.com. A large black woman innocuously makes conversation with her coworker at their desk until a man named Mr. LasVegas.com comes in. Instantly, she starts rubbernecking and waving her long, fake purple fingernails as she goes off on him about how “didn’t nobody tell [her]” about the deals she could have gotten on her snakeskin pedicure while she was in Vegas for two days. When she asks if he has anything he wants to say to her, he calmly suggests that she check out the website before she goes on vacation next time. She then rudely dismisses him from the BMV, jumps out of her seat, and demands of her friend, “You know what, Rosaline? Hold me back ‘cause I’m going over this counter!”
Honestly, I’m tired of it.
Not only is it uncreative and unoriginal, but it reinforces one of the most damaging stereotypes black women face today. This one dimensional shtick reinforces the “sassy black woman” stereotype that we’re all intimidating, angry, attitudinal, ready to pop off on somebody at a moment’s notice over damn near anything, and aren’t afraid to get loud and obnoxious to get what we want, especially if it’s not really necessary.
Some might argue that I’m making too much out of what’s really nothing, and that nobody’s going to make the assumptions I’ve mentioned about black women. The problem is these media portrayals have more weight than many people give them credit for. For people whose only exposure to different cultures is the portrayals they see on TV, those images are particularly impactful.
How many black women walk around work faking a smile and adding pep to their step when they’re really pissed off about their day? I know I’ve done it. The times I’ve wanted to vent a little (or a lot) about something someone said or did, I’ve either limited it or restrained myself completely, lest I come off as the typical angry black woman going off over something trivial (again). True, there are some who don’t bother to mask their frustrations, and that’s great. But it shouldn’t be the case that any of us feel the need to tiptoe around at work biting tongues and smiling when we want to frown for fear of fulfilling these stereotypes with just one bad day at work.
It’s easy to blame the ad execs for coming up with this nonsense, but I’m not willing to let the portrayers go without some responsibility either. Last I checked, you still have to try out for a role to get it; nobody is forcing these women to do these commercials. The actresses filling these roles need to be mindful of the implications of doing so, and remember that no paycheck is worth perpetuating damaging stereotypical images.
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Briana Gunter is a young writer searching to find her niche in the world of words, and in the world in general. She enjoys anything that allows her to express her creativity, be it music, writing, or crafting, and jumps at any opportunity to learn something new. Email her at Briana@ForHarriet.com and follow her on Twitter @DiamondCut1902 for her daily thoughts and musings. Follow @ForHarriet