Black Women Writers @ Southwestern University

An English / Feminist Studies / Race & Ethnicity Studies Course Blog


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On pages 200 and 201, Ifemelu is called ‘sassy’ by one of her friends.  She had just made an observation about a picture in a magazine of a white woman surrounded by African children.  “And she’s just a skinny as the kids, only that her skinniness is by choice and theirs is not by choice.” (pg 200)  After Laura calls her sassy for this observation, Kimberly waits until she and Ifemelu are alone and apologizes for her.  Instead of being comforted by this apology however, Ifemelu is upset because Kimberly believes she’s making everything okay.

This reminded me of a scene in a show I like.  The director in the show asks the black woman to play it “more . . . what’s another word for ‘happy/threatening’?”  In an aside, the actress says, “The word he’s looking for is ‘sassy’.  He better pray he doesn’t find it.”  This scene was based off the real experiences of this actress where directors wouldn’t exactly say they wanted her to play it sassier, but that’s totally what they meant.

Another thing this quote made me realize is that, even though it’s considered to be a nice thing to apologize for someone else’s actions, Ifemelu’s reaction is completely justified and understandable.  Third party apologies aren’t going to fix any problems.  If anything, they’re just going to make things worse.


One thought on “Sassy

  1. First of all, let me just say how happy I am to know that there is another Community fan out there. That show is genius and needs to be recognized at such.
    Secondly, and far more importantly, I really love both of the points you’re arguing for here; that this idea of “sassy” trivializes (and is racially loaded, and gender-skewed) what is being said. People rarely, if ever, self-identify as being ‘sassy’ — it is a term used to distance and negate what is perceived as comical and/or socially unruly by others. Moreover, your analysis of the apology, and of Ifemelu’s reaction to it, is really thought-provoking – third-party apologizes are functionally useless, and they will not get the person who committed the apology-worthy act (in this case, Laura) to atone for the wrong she has done — which is, ideally, what should/would happen here. That Ifemelu pities Kimberly for shouldering the {misdirected} weight of the apology speaks volumes about her understanding of the situation.

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