Monday, September 5, 2011

The Changing Meanings Of Being Sassy, part 2

Written by Azizi Powell

This is Part II of a post on the word "sassy". Part II continues an exploration of this word particularly as it has been used in reference to Black females.

Part I provides a general overview of meanings that have been given to the word "sassy". Click

Part II

The image of sassy Black girls that is usually portrayed on a number of American television talks shows is of females who are confrontational, loud & rowdy, and unwilling to back down from anyone. These sassy Black girls would stand up in their mama’s face and sass her if they felt like it. I consider this image to be quite negative. Yet, two books that I've found online address the pyscho-social benefits for these females of this form of attitude and behaviors.

From a review of Smart & Sassy-The Strength of Inner City Black Girls by Joyce West Stevens (New York, Oxford University Press, 2002) in Book Review in Child & Youth Care Forum, 32 (5), October 2003, 2003 Human Science Press, Inc, p. 305
"Willful forthrightness in demeanor that expresses a spirited behavioral expressive style of boldness, independence, and courage, which black adolescent girls learn early to deal with everyday hassles. Sassiness can become a form of healthy social resistance that embodies the moral integrity needed to deal with everyday confrontations of social and racial inequities and indignities. During adolescence sassy behavior often emerges as an expressive function of identity exploration." (p. 189)
From Stephanie Y. Mitchem, Emilie Maureen Townes's 2008 book Faith, Health, And Healing In African American Life p. 188 [Google Books]
"Sassiness is as protective of black girls' vulnerabilities as the development of young black women's attitude. Attitude is sassiness grown up and is characterized by quick comebacks, argumentativeness, or biting humor. Attitude is also learned and helps young woman establish personal style ,negotiate new areas of school or work and is again protective. A White male colleague defined his experiences of encountering attitude when he stated “If a black woman is mad at you, you might as well be dead”. Such attitude is a protective stance, a kind of preventative medicine against the world’s cruelty. Both sassiness and attitude are modes of women’s operations in the world as independent agents. Such self-protection may seem a flimsy barrier with which to negotiate the world, but it can serve to maintain mental health, resiliency, and identity.

These ways of self-protection also become important as black women move into the working world."
In spite these psycho-social assessments of sassiness, it appears to me that being sassy is still largely viewed negatively among African Americans. So how did that definition of "sassy" change to one that emphasizes the positive characteristics of "cool", "lively", "spirited", and "spunky"?

I think that much of the "credit" for this change in definitions belongs to the considerable influence on certain populations of the now defunct Sassy Magazine (1988-1994 or 1996 depending on different online sources).
From How Sassy Changed By Life
"For a generation of teenage girls,Sassy magazine was nothing short of revolutionary—so much so that its audience, which stretched from tweens to twentysomething women, remains obsessed with it to this day and back issues are sold for hefty sums on the Internet. For its brief but brilliant run from 1988 to 1994, Sassy was the arbiter of all that was hip and cool, inspiring a dogged devotion from its readers while almost single-handedly bringing the idea of girl culture to the mainstream. In the process, Sassy changed the face of teen magazines in the United States, paved the way for the unedited voice of blogs, and influenced the current crop of smart women’s zines”."
While I don’t have any demographical information to prove it, my hunch is that far fewer Black females than White females read Sassy magazine or were even familiar that there was such a magazine. I believe that this explains why many White commenters and many Black commenters in that Huffington Post article that was featured in the first part of Pancocojams' post on Being Sassy The Changing Meanings Of Being Sassy disagreed on what sassy means. Just because you live in the same nation at the same time and both speak English, doesn't mean that you have the exact same cultural influences, or that you will interpret those influences the same way.

I'm ending this post with the words to Maya Angelou poems and videos of those poems because they speak to the self-confident meanings of being sassy and/or the positive meaning of being a female.

(Maya Angelou)

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard
'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin' in my own back yard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I've got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history's shame - I rise
Up from a past that's rooted in pain - I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear - I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear - I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Maya Angelou- Still I Rise

Uploaded by mkimimi on Mar 17, 2007

(Maya Angelou)

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I'm not cute or built to suit a fashion model's size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I'm telling lies.
I say,
It's in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.
I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It's the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.
Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can't touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them
They say they still can't see.
I say,
It's the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.
Now you understand
Just why my head's not bowed.
I don't shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It's in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need of my care.
'Cause I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

Phenomenal Woman - Ruthie Foster Live at Antone's

Uploaded by BlueCornMusic on Jun 15, 2011

Performance from Ruthie Foster's new live DVD/CD Ruthie Foster Live at Antone's available 6/21/11.

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