Not Your Sassy Black Sidekick

What is a sassy black sidekick? Past and present television shows have used this trope to relegate ...

What is a sassy black sidekick? Past and present television shows have used this trope to relegate black women to a sidekick position whose primary function is to entertain, act as the butt of a joke, or be an accessory.

If the black character expresses emotions of her own, it is portrayed as comic relief from the more serious issues facing the “dominant” character.  Plainly, the issues of the black woman are trivialized and reduced to a punchline in the media, as well as reality.

I was approached one day at school by a non-black woman who felt the need to convey her message to me in pseudo-AAVE, snapping fingers, and multiple neck rolls.  During this encounter, I was taken aback and wondered why this woman’s first attempt at communication with a black woman was to rely on stereotypes from the media, then I realized I did not care to know her reasoning.  In the split seconds that passed between her performance and my reaction I worried about how my anger would be taken, how my legitimate emotions would be dismissed with a “You’re just overreacting” and a dismissive wave of her hand.  I decided to react in the only way my body would allow me: I walked away.

Often told we have a bad attitude, are bitter, and are being aggressive compared to non-black women.  This is one of the many ways black women are labeled as the aggressor

Though the sassy sidekick trope negatively affects all black women, the target group is usually dark-skinned black women. Used as the go-to "homegirls" for shock value, the popularity of white pop stars using these black women as accessories in their performances is one of the most recently done forms of the trope. Performers such as Miley Cyrus and Katy Perry are notoriously problematic in their performances as they only interact with the black women performing in their shows by reducing them to caricatures of what they think black women act like.  The women are reduced to body parts and exaggerated gestures while said pop stars enjoy the spotlight and immunity from cultural stigma while being lauded by mainstream media as having inside knowledge on facets of black culture.
We are not your accessories, and we are not your token black friend.  Our feelings do not come second to yours and we are not your personal encyclopedia for all things black culture.  The emotions and actions of black women are legitimate and should be treated as such. 

When black women vent their frustrations at not being taken seriously, we are told we are overreacting. In reality, most of us have been there: minding our own business, chatting with associates in a non-black space when someone attempts to throw this stereotypical trope onto our shoulders.  Often, it is at times when black women are expressing passionate opinions or feelings when non-blacks interrupt and attempt to dominate and regulate the conversation, steering our concerns to the sideline to make themselves more comfortable. When we vocalize how these actions create an unsafe environment for black women we are overwhelmingly shut down by those who do not wish to hear or see a reality different from their own.

Black women are not your sidekicks or your punchlines, and it is past time that everyone else jumps on board.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Kinsey Clarke is a senior at Michigan State University.  She enjoys aerial silks and solo trapeze in her spare time.  You can follow her personal Twitter account here: (@tiny_kinsey)

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