Friday, September 26, 2008

Eulogy For Mammy

image Goodnight Mammy and may flights of angels fancy bring you to your eternal sleep. Rest now weary one, for you have laboured hard in the purpose of upholding and maintaining white hegemony.  Let your face hang limp now, the forced smile and the gleaming teeth no longer need to be displayed.  Dust to dust and ashes to ashes....

There are many that will wail at the news of your passing.  Who will wipe my tears now that Mammy is gone?  Who will put my children above their own now that Mammy sleeps with angels?  Who will exist simply to make sure that all of my creature comforts are met, now that Mammy has been laid to rest?

image White people love Mammy, that fact cannot be denied.  As long as she existed in their imagination, black women could indeed be understood to embrace our status at the bottom of the race and class hierarchy.  As long as Mammy's booming laugh could be heard in the wind, black women could be said to love their precious white folk.  Love is the most wonderful of human emotions, but in this case, it amounts to nothing but a perversion, a symbol  of internalized racism, because it allows  white people to signify all that is good and pure in this world.  Mammy's love of whiteness necessitated a complete denial, and hatred of all things black.

There are black men that will also weep at the news of her passing.  For them, Mammy justified some of the misogyny in the black community.  That Mammyimage existed without real power was never considered.  To black men Mammy represented a woman who daily performed race traitor behaviour.  That she may have had children of her own to feed necessitating many of her actions was never considered due cause.  Mammys very existence gave black men reason to blame black women for the continuation of white power.  Though they loudly railed against her, Mammys existence gave them cause to silence black women. We could not be trusted to act in our best racial interest, so long as it was perceived that we loved our dear white folks.  This gave credence to the idea that black men should lead.

image Mammy slaved over many a hot stove, refining culinary wonders that would never pass her own parched lips.  Mammys hands were dry and cracked from the bleach used to sterilize and purify homes, that would not open their front doors to her.  Though Mammys body was bountiful, its girth was not built from scrumptious morsels, but from the high fat table scraps that she managed to pocket. Loved and yet despised Mammy bravely soldiered on, her true thoughts an enigma to us all.

As a black woman, I have run screaming from your image, desperate to wash the taint of what you symbolize from my skin.  I feared your reproach, but I was more afraid of accepting your existence, and thus as a black woman I have not emerged unscathed at the news of your passing.  Knowing that you did what did to feed your children, or to secure some kind of favour that benefited your family, has not made the social hatred of you any easier for me to fight against. Even the times when you acted in revolt, poisoning your masters food when you knew the penalty was death,  have been overlooked as true actions of agency.

We never really knew you Mammy, only what you embodied to others, and in truth that is the existence of all black women.  Many endeavour to speak for us, deconstruct our actions, or deny that we even have minds capable of thinking.  We are strangers to the world because just like you we exist more in peoples imaginations, than in reality.  Black womanhood has come to be understood as the collection of thoughts created by other bodies, and not what we as black women actually claim ourselves to be.  Had you been empowered with a voice that could really have been heard Mammy, would the simpleton, sexless image of you still exist? 

Though this parting of ways is long overdue, as you are not meant for the modern age, I shall endeavour to reflect upon you often.  I shall close my eyes and see you, as you would like to have been seen, rather than remember you as others made you out to be.  Mammy though despised and loved by so many, you cannot be forgotten, because to forget you is to deny a significant part of black woman's history.  Perhaps one day we shall look back and reclaim you from the abyss, but until such time as black women may walk in the sunshine without shame....sweet dreams.


12 comments:

The Link Back Project said...

Well, there went my homespun version of "Mammy" up in smoke. Would it be expected for me to say that I kinda wished she was what "Gone With The Wind" portrayed her to be? Why do I and others think that "Mammy" was a good and righteous person?

See what you have done now Jack! LOL

The Link Back Project said...

So now I am stuck commenting again!

I thought to myself... "What is so bad about Mammy?" Even though I had read your post, and knew what you were saying was spot on, there was still that illusion that seemed more important than facts. It caught me off guard, because I put facts over opinion, yet Mammy was never to be touched, she was a good woman who served her master well. Then the keyword master showed itself to be the problem.

So I figured, well that is an easy fix, just cross out the word master, and replace it with "Employer". But when I re-ran the sentence through my mind, she stopped being mammy, and became a black maid. And that seemed wrong, it didn't fit what the good and righteous Mammy always was.

I feel a sense of grieving to know that the woman who I placed on a pedestal as a perfect example of a wonderful black woman, was nothing more than just a slave with enough common sense to know to do whatever it takes to survive, even if it means pretending to be "Mammy".

And what I think is even more racist of me, is that I actually miss her now that she has been debunked.

Anonymous said...

Mammy is a way of of stripping the dignity away from adult black women. An older white women who was strong, lead her family and had a job would be a matriarch, a queen. But a black woman is a mammy. Even in her own home, she is still a servant, never a queen.

The mammy was created by white people as a mask for black women to put on. Never forget the woman behind the mask. Hate the people who destroyed a woman's identity, not a woman for being mutilated.

nia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Link Back Project said...

You know Renee, and Jack if you are out there...

After sleeping on it, it seems sad that I have to give her up! And at the same time I feel as if I have been fooled my entire life...

nia said...

"would come running back to her, expecting her to take care of them. "

That is what baffles me the most, I thought that was who she was supposed to be? Mammy is such a cultural icon where I come from, it seems like I am betraying her by "being swayed by the haters". Even though I keep reading the post, it just seems wrong to turn my back on her. I can honestly tell you, I never in my life, had even the slightest bad thought about her.

In fact, to even speak ill of her was to prove you to be nothing more than an uncivilized cretin, that had no respect for the past, and its traditions.

This is hard, and I don't like it. In fact, I would rather go back to the reactionary, and the violent. LOL I just got through complaining about that, but this type of dismantling pains much more than that.

At least with the violence, you can shoot back, but to take Mammy by the hand, and take her away forever seems kinda unfair.

I am sure this makes me sound like a racist pig, I know academically, that the facts of the post speak for themselves, but it still feels like the innocent are being unjustly charged, and sent to death row for a crime they did not commit.

What pains me even more, is why didn't someone present these facts 35 years ago, before she became a "saint" in our eyes?, well, mine at least.

And it is shocking to think that black men would hate on her? Didn't they love her even more than the white people did?

Dismantling the "white wall" was going to be easy for me. Renee simply presents the data collected, I verify the data, then remove each block in a systematic fashion, then eventually, the wall is gone. But I had no idea there were these type of blocks hidden amongst all of the rest???

This might sound like I am just babbling, and being an offensive racist by even commenting this way, but you would think that her death would at least deserve a "big show" for white people!

All of the heads of state from around the globe show up, each saying a piece about her, a 21 gun salute, the "missing man" flyby, the flag draped over her coffin being folded, and presented to her great great grandchildren?

Maybe I am not "committed" enough it seems...

These are "dirty tactics" in my eyes, (LOL) it makes me wonder what are the other hidden bricks in the wall are? I feel like getting on the phone, and calling my grandmother, tell her Mammy is under attack, and to get a rescue force together and come save her.

It even seems like you have distorted the facts, but we all know that isn't true, yet why does this exist?

"White people love Mammy, that fact cannot be denied. "

There is the problem, we do love her, we never hated on her, we never used racial slurs against her, we never meant any harm, we were giving the the respect and admiration she deserved.

"it amounts to nothing but a perversion, a symbol of internalized racism, because it allows white people to signify all that is good and pure in this world."

But what is wrong with that? Yes the racism is wrong, but why is she NOT "all that is good and pure in this world." Why is that title such a bad thing, wouldn't she want to be known as that?

"Mammy's love of whiteness necessitated a complete denial, and hatred of all things black."

We never hated blacks because of her. She always appeared to be the kind and gentle "mediator" between white vs. black. Someone who could be trusted to come up with the right answer for our squabbles, The woman with wisdom beyond compare.

I realize now that we were wrong, but why her? You would think that she would at least be left as the "last brick" in the wall, that way you can just say... "You have no choice, she has to be the last to go, or you can't get to the final step".

I think the least you could do is explain how and why we got fooled? I can't make sense of it. Why do I keep wanting to justify that...

Maybe you are wrong, you weren't there, you can't supply eyewitness proof, maybe you are judging too quickly without giving Mammy a chance to supply a rebuttal.

After losing Mammy, I now have a fear of one thing you might go after one day, and I can't do that, I will be forced to return to my comfort zone, I will be left with no option to continue one. So let us hope that Mammy was the top priority target, and the rest of them get easier as you go down the list... :-)

Renee said...

@LBP the reason that you have such difficulty letting go is because Mammy is a social construction built to satisfy white needs. The very idea that you don't know what really went on in mammy's mind is troubling to you because you want to believe that she did what she did out of love rather than necessity. When you consider the troubling relationship between black women and white people how could you possibly assume that it was love? Do you work hard for your boss because you love him or because you need to, to survive.

The Link Back Project said...

@Renee...

You said...

"Do you work hard for your boss because you love him or because you need to, to survive."

Awwww.... There was the kick in the head I needed to hear...

Well, that wasn't as hard as I thought it would be!

Cya Mammy. It was fun for a while, but I was the only one having fun. Sorry for using you like a tool for my own entertainment. Forgive me.

nia said...

@LinkBack:
This is precisely the reason why I feel it it so important that the Mammy figure as we see it needs to be completely deconstructed.

There is never any attempt to contextualize her or her achievements in human fraility. Do you really think that someone who did all these tireless, self-sacrificing things so pleasing to white people could be "good and pure" all the time?

Many older black adults will tell you that they can never understand why their mothers were so angry all of the time. Many of these mothers are the same Mammy figures that we are talking about. This is a side of the Mammy figure that white people never saw. After all the soothing, clothing, feeding, offering of emotional support, substitute mothering to white people (and of course with no gratitude, it was expected of her) - you can bet Mammy felt like murdering SOMEONE when she got home. But of course she couldn't hurt the white folks. So guess who got it?

The Link Back Project said...

@nia....

You said...

"This is precisely the reason why I feel it it so important that the Mammy figure as we see it needs to be completely deconstructed."

And be replaced with what?

You said...

"I am not ashamed at all of my Mammy." In reference to your grandmother.

I don't have a problem with my grandmother, but she doesn't even come close to the "Mammy" image, because she simply isn't. But what can POC consider them to be if Mammy isn't acceptable anymore? Just a "Grandmother" like mine? Wouldn't you suffer a loss if Mammy is taken away?

You said...

"This is a side of the Mammy figure that white people never saw. After all the soothing, clothing, feeding, offering of emotional support, substitute mothering to white people (and of course with no gratitude, it was expected of her) - you can bet Mammy felt like murdering SOMEONE when she got home."

Yet again, a shock to hear. I just simply assumed that she went back home, sat in an old rocking chair with a baby in her arms and hummed old "negro spirituals".

Sounds awfully ignorant, especially from someone with a post secondary education, but that "Mammy" figure was never covered in the Psy & Soc courses. So I just assumed the old tales must be true, or else they wouldn't keep getting passed down.

Makes me wonder if I should go to a local community college and take an Afro-American & a woman's studies class. LOL Back in my day, I don't remember seeing them, not sure if they even had them back then? Or maybe you had to be looking for them to notice them...

I have since then had a few folks tell me that a womans studies class might make for a good place to pick up women, but even in those times I did tell them that was pretty pigish of them to say. They just laughed.

The same for the African-American & Latino studies classes, folks always said they couldn't be of any use unless it was your heritage.

It is kinda strange to have this conversation, because now it opens up a long row of doors that I never even thought had a reason to be opened.

You know what I am curious to see someday, is an overview of the Civil War from a POC's perspective get posted on here. (I have come to trust Renee, so I am not interested in links to others who have no standing with me.) I have always looked at "History", as that from the "Winners" perspective, with much data being removed that might shine a bad light on the victor's POV. But alas, the comments would have to be turned off in case the wrong fools stumbled by here on accident. LOL. And that would probably never be a subject that could ever be changed in the minds of many white people. Just thinking about it as I type, I couldn't just swallow it without presenting other facts that would be ignored, so skip that brainstorm, that was a bad idea....

Renee said...

@LBP I called my first womens studies baptism by fire. I learned so much and I have the equipment so to speak. I will never forget that professor nor will I ever stop thanking her for opening up my mind.
Mammy needs to be replaced with the true voice of black women. That is the whole point of this post. Everyone speaks about mammy and has ideas about mammy but we never get to hear from Mammy because black women are silenced period. It is always assumed that we think or act a certain way without anyone bothering to ask us why. I don't think that Mammy can be reclaimed until the voices of black women are truly heard, only then can we look back and examine Mammy. She is a very complicated figure even though presented as a simpleton.There can be no grieving over Mammys demise because she is the construction of others and not the construction of black women who are asked to play the mammy role.

Tish said...

I loved it!

As a Black woman there are so many different emotions tied to the "Mammy" image. It is a very complicated figure indeed. But may she rest in peace.

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