All Articles Tagged "mammy"
Groan. Etsy, the site known for selling crafts, vintage clothing and assorted crap, is also being accused of trying to capitalize on Breast Cancer Awareness Month and selling racist memorabilia.
This week, the site sent a newsletter to subscribers titled “Tickled Pink” with the subhead, “Show your love to the women in your life with Breast Cancer Awareness Month.” However, upon further inspection, it turns out that only eight of the 24 products listed in the newsletter actually support causes related to breast cancer. So now the site is being accused of “pinkwashing” — highlighting things that are pink without contributing to the effort. (It’s similar to greenwashing, giving the impression of being environmentally friendly without actually doing anything to preserve the environment or aid in conservation efforts.)
Etsy’s lead merchandising specialist, Mary Andrews, told The Daily Dot:
We really appreciate the feedback and thoughtful discussion regarding the Etsy Finds email around Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Our aim in the email was to acknowledge this national campaign of awareness. While we do not promote specific shop charities, nor did we make claims to do so in the email, we do support acts of generosity and compassion within the Etsy community. The email was meant for awareness, and created in a supportive spirit. We will take all of this into serious consideration as we map out improvements to our emails and how we promote awareness within our community in the future.
Sounds like pinkwashing to us, even if it was unintentional. They wanted to piggyback on the public’s concern and enthusiasm about Breast Cancer Awareness Month to sell stuff and got called on it.
On to the second and totally not unintentional issue, a woman named Raquel Mack has voiced her anger over the site’s sale of Mammies, Sambos and other racist items. Mack points out that making these things available violates the site’s own policy about providing “items that promote, support, or glorify hatred toward or otherwise demean people based upon: race, ethnicity, religion, gender identity, disability, or sexual orientation.” She’s started a Change.org petition that you can sign here. More than 1,000 people have already done so.
The NAACP has also gotten involved, contacting the site and getting this response, according to The Grio: “[O]ur members come from all walks of life, and may hold differing opinions of the legitimate collectibility of certain types of historical items.” Translation: We’re sorry that you’re offended by this racist dreck, but we’re not inclined to do anything about it.
Moreover, The Grio points out that some of the items for sale are new items, being created specifically to be sold on the site, or even do-it-yourself kits so you can make your own hateful little toy, not historical items that have some sort of, perhaps, scholarly significance. Shameful and repugnant.
If I were a food service worker, I can’t say I’d be thrilled to be rewarded for a job well done with a spray-painted Mrs. Butterworth syrup bottle—mostly because it’s stupid, not racist as members of the University of Missouri campus are claiming after employees there were given just that.
“It’s inappropriate to give our lowest-paid employees an award representing being a faithful slave,” Traci Wilson-Kleekamp, director of diversity and outreach in MU’s School of Medicine, told the Columbia Daily Tribune.
For once though, no ill-will appears to have been truly intended. For one, Calvin Rolark, the black supervisor of food services who came up with the idea, chose Mrs. Buttersworth’s bottle because it resembles an Oscar. Number two, Deputy Chancellor Mike Middleton told the Tribune he thought Mrs. Butterworth was white—as do most people.
“You can’t jump the gun on all of these issues,” the chancellor said. “Everything is going to offend somebody.”
The thing is, there are some discrepancies with the history of Mrs. Buttersworth. Actress Thelma “Butterfly” McQueen is said to have modeled for the Mrs. Buttersworth bottle around the time she finished her role as the young mammy “Prissy” in “Gone With the Wind.” But the first television ads of the syrup icon featured her as an older white lady, portrayed by Cliff Arquette as “Charley Weaver,” and later voice actress Mary Kay Bergman also carried on the aura of an elderly white woman as the syrup symbol we see today. If Aunt Jemima were the object in question there would likely be no doubt about the racist undertone, but Mrs. Buttersworth’s mammy history is a bit more cloudy.
The University of Missouri’s hospital wrote a letter defending it’s award choice and proceeded to state the reward will stand after workers who were not offended unanimously voted to keep it. Debra Howenstine, a doctor in the department of family and community medicine, told administrators she was disappointed with the school’s response.
“I believe this response reflects an educational deficit on the part of our institution,” she said in the email. “Mrs. Butterworth, Aunt Jemima and other Mammy caricatures represent for some the servile black woman, a female equivalent to Uncle Tom.”
Elizabeth Bryda, an associate professor of veterinary pathobiology, expressed a similar sentiment in a letter to the administration.
“I am especially embarrassed that administration did not see fit to use this as an opportunity to support and promote cultural sensitivity by requiring that a more appropriate token of appreciation be used to celebrate employee excellence.”
Despite protest, Calvin Rolark says he’s not changing a thing.
“I’ll absolutely agree to their requests if I get to make some changes in their departments because I’m offended,” he said. “Trust me, I know of things I can find to be offended about that are much deeper than a bottle of syrup.”
What do you think about this reward choice? Is it offensive or just silly?
Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.
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It’s rare that anyone would boo a children’s dance recital but that’s exactly what Jackie Carter, mother of a Kenwood Middle School girl in Arlington, VA, did when the Bowen McCauley Dance Company performed “Little Rabbit, Where’s Your Mammy?” Now, she faces up to one year in jail for her actions.
Jackie first saw the performance involving a white kid and his black mammy singing and dancing to the tune of “Little Rabbit” on the morning of April 29, 2011. She immediately reached out to school officials and the founder of the dance company with no success to discuss the skit which she said was “racist and offensive to African-Americans and African American women especially.” That afternoon, she returned for another performance during which she stood up and booed and also handed out letters of protest. When Jackie returned to see yet another performance April 30 and began booing, she said she was attacked by Bowen McCauley staff members who began hitting her, blocking her from returning to her seat, and pulling her in different directions. Jackie was subsequently arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, a Class 1 misdemeanor which carries a penalty of up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine. She told Afro her actions were justified:
“The principal told me the Bowen McCauley Dance Company was a partner of the school, therefore, he was not going to challenge it. They left me with no choice.”
The school principal continued to defend the skit in a letter to Kenwood parents on May 2 as well, writing:
“The word ‘mammy’ used in the song is a colloquial affectionate term for mother or grandmother and was used historically and still today in some areas by both African and White Americans, especially in the south. I recognize that the term mammy is sometimes viewed as an offensive term for a Black nursemaid in the southern U.S.”
Jackie, a long-time and well-known stage director in the DC area, isn’t buying it, and neither should anyone else. She wrote that the mammy scene centers on the image of the slave birthing women used as wet-nurses and “the many other unspeakable crimes committed against their enslaved minds, souls and bodies,” therefore it should not be performed. The school may not have listened but Jackie will have another chance to defend her point of view and her actions at her next hearing April 23.
I can’t call this one. Do you think Jackie deserves jail time for disrupting the recital? Were her actions justified?
Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.
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by Charing Ball
Even before the film The Help opened, folks were already predicting that it would be nominated for an Academy Award. The public hadn’t seen it and didn’t know whether the film, plot or acting was any good. But the running joke for weeks prior to its opening was that the Academy Awards loves seeing Black characters playing maids, drug dealers, pimps and other lowly characters.
That’s why for many, the several nominations the film received including Best Picture, Best Actress (Viola Davis) and two Best Supporting Actress nods for Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain comes as little surprise. It’s been about 73 years since Hattie McDaniel won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Gone With The Wind in which she too played a maid. And after all this time, it certainly seems that our best work in Hollywood always comes by way of cleaning up the mess of white folks.
Nevertheless, we will all be cheering on both Viola Davis, who is not a stranger to Hollywood, and Octavia Spencer, who seems to be on a fairytale ride, for bringing depth and grace to their roles. But I would be lying if I didn’t say that their success with this film is a bit bittersweet. As Kola Boof, feminist and Egyptian-Sudanese-American novelist, noted in a tweet, “I Really *HATE**that Viola Davis will have to sit in the OSCAR audience with the term “The Help” written across her chest all night.” Word.
At first, I was reluctant to go and see The Help because, like Red Tails, I objected to the questionable marketing strategy of the film, which felt it necessary to use images of black domestics to hawk Emeril Lagasse stainless steel cookware. And where have I seen that before? Oh Aunt Jemima and her famous pancakes. But I digress.
After months of folks giving me the same old justification of “that’s true but you should really see it first,” I conceded and sat down to watch the film. Certainly it was quite entertaining watching Minnie hand deliver a special pie to her evil, former boss. However, I was still less fulfilled emotionally with the conclusion of the film. While Skeeter, the aspiring journalist and white protagonist in the story, gets to go on to New York after “heroically” telling the tale of her Black domestics (which was more about shaming her former friends), the domestics themselves, whose stories were exploited for the benefit of the aspiring journalist, are again left to clean up the mess left behind by Ms. Skeeter. I mean, who exactly is this satisfying to?
It would be nice to think that we’ve gotten away from mammy and welfare queen imagery, but even a shallow look at black women’s portrayal in the media would tell you otherwise. The angry black woman is a stereotype most of us hate but some can’t break free of, and the strong black women archetype, or independent woman as we call it today, is a label we’ve come to embrace in many ways.
In her new book, Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes and Black Women in America, columnist and Tulane University Political Science Professor Melissa Harris-Perry examines how black women are perceived in America and how these stereotypes affect the way we view ourselves.
The book’s main title is a nod to Audre Lorde’s “Sister Outsider,” a collection of essays focusing on race, gender, sexual identity, and social class. The subtitle, “For Colored Girls Who’ve Considered Politics When Being Strong Isn’t Enough,” refers to Ntozake Shange’s inspirational choreopoem, “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf.”
“Fictive kinship” is one part of black women’s problem in terms of cultural and self-perception, Harris-Perry says. “The term fictive kinship refers to connections between members of a group who are unrelated by blood or marriage, but who nonetheless share reciprocal social or economic relationships. In this book, I draw on the deep tradition of black fictive kinship when I refer to black women as sisters. This imagined community of familial ties underscores a voluntary sense of shared identity.”
By Torri R. Oats
The recent release of the movie version of “The Help” has caused a firestorm of cinema commentary. More than anything, “The Help” has re-ignited a debate on the recurring role of the “mammy”in film over the decades, and the evolution of the African-American woman in the movie world. Black leading ladies and execs behind the scenes in the feature film industry still lag far behind their Caucasian counterparts. Yet, there is hope. Black actresses of yesteryear have already done the heavy lifting, struggling through a Hollywood system that fought against their grace and dignity — sometimes playing “mammy” to make a way. The next generation built on their power, and never looked back. Because of them, more African-American women than ever are able to realize their dreams in front of and behind the cameras. We celebrate these women for their contributions to black film history. Here is how African-American ladies have gone from being “The Help” to the boss — more than ever before — in the Hollywood system.
The Foundation: Roberta Hyson
To understand how far we’ve come, and in some ways, how far we have to go, one needs to return to the beginning and explore the roads traveled by Hollywood’s black female trailblazers. “Melancholy Dame,” a short from 1928 was made at the beginning of the “talkie” era, featuring the triple threat, Roberta Hyson. Ms. Hyson, the first African-American woman in a theatrically released film, was known not for her portrayal of a mammy or any variation of such, but as an actress who portrayed positive characters in black cinema. As one half a comedic duo formed with another talkie actress, Evelyn Preer, she was able to showcase all three of her “threats”: singing, dancing and acting. Thanks to Paramount pictures, which released many of these African-American talkies, Ms. Hyson’s work can still be enjoyed today. Roberta Hyson laid the very foundation for black women in film.
You know her. She’s was solemn dark face that stared back at you in those black and white photographs, she was the bandana clad woman in “Gone With the Wind,” and she was your Aunt Jemima before she got that make over. She was the mammy and you know her well.
The mammy is a morphing figure; but, in the context of slavery the mammy was the designated childcare provider times a thousand as she virtually served as a surrogate mother for master’s children: babysitting, nurturing and even breastfeeding them in some cases. In theory the mammy is a thing of the past, no one would ask you to breastfeed their children today; yet, just like so many practices from slavery, there are remnants.
You would not believe the mess that still happens around racism in this world. Read more about what Oprah experienced on the far, far end of the world, better known as Australia, here.