The Mammy

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Mammies, Matriarchs and Other Controlling Images
Patricia Hill Collins: Black Feminist Thought

Chapter Main Concepts:

- As it relates to African-American women, the intersecting oppressions of race, class, gender and sexuality could not continue without powerful ideological justifications for their existence, which is perpetuated through controlling images.

- Controlling societal images is one of the many powers held by the dominant group (white males) in the U.S. to manipulate ideas about black womanhood.

- Through the perpetuation of these controlling images of the black woman as the mammy, matriarch, welfare queen, jezebel/hoochie and black lady, black women become objects instead of subjects

▪ i.e. domestic workers are often referred to as “work mules/animals” or “girl”

- Like other people of color and subordinate groups, black women are seen as the “other” in our society. By not belonging, black women emphasize the significance of belonging.

❖ Black feminist thought derives from this kind of thinking, as a means to resist these controlling images. Black women insist on the right to establish and define their own reality

Controlling Images and Black Women’s Oppression

- During this slavery era images of black women were socially constructed to maintain their subordination

- Unlike Black women, white women were encouraged to possess four cardinal virtues: piety, purity, submissiveness and domesticity

❖ Mammy:

- Asexual, faithful, obedient domestic servant; yardstick used to measure all black women behavior

- Image aims to influence maternal behavior; raises children to know place in society

❖ Matriarch:

- Spends too much time out the home working; overly the aggressive; emasculates husbands and lovers; unfeminine. Unlike mammy, she is the “bad” black mother

- Introduced in a government report on Black poverty in 1965 called the Negro Family: The Case for National Action (Moynihan report)

▪ The report blamed black mothers for their children's failures; working lead to a lack of attention and care; delinquency; Further asserts that slavery destroyed black families by reversing roles of men and women

▪ Black backlash- Diverts attention from the reality of political and economic inequalities that shape black children experiences

❖ Welfare Queen:

- Makes use of social welfare benefits to which they are entitled by law; Lazy; fails to pass on work ethic; alone; updated version of “breeder woman” during slavery

- This image provides justification for the efforts to control black women’s fertility to the needs of a changing economy

▪ i.e. during slavery children were valued as property the more slave children you have the more assets you have

▪ After WWII black women and their children seen as a economical liability

- During the 1980s, despite Reagan and the Republicans opposition, Black women and children could not be forced to work, and Black men dropped out of legitimate labor force

▪ Prison Industrial Complex

❖ Jezebel/ Hoochie:

- Represents a deviant black female sexuality; originated under slavery to justify the many assaults against slave women by white men

▪ These women are seen as having a strong sexual appetite which leads to an expected outcome of increased fertility

- Hoochie unlike the Jezebel is an image accepted by the Black community

▪ Three types of hoochie: plain, gold digger, hoodrat

- Normal female heterosexuality is expressed in terms of true white womanhood unlike the black “hot momma”

- Because of black women sexual appetite is seen as inappropriate or worst, insatiable, black women are characterized as freaks and become stigmatized in society

- Black women sexuality and fertility is defined by the dominant group (white men)...
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