The role of the “mammy” derived during slavery, which resulted from the race relations the country endured. A mammy was typically an overweight black woman, employed by a white family to serve as their caregiver, and provide assistance to the family whom she worked. The mammy was created by white southerners to reinforce the relationship between black women and white men within a slave society and meant to prove that black people were indeed happy as slaves. The mammy figure was meant to show ugliness in black women due to the typical servant being dark-skinned, overweight, and old. She was also asexual, which meant she lacked all sexual desires and qualities. This provided safety for white wives because the idea was that no white man would chose an overweight, unattractive, older black woman over his thin, white wife. The mammy figure was also different from the Jezebel stereotype placed on black women, which was meant to over sexualize their bodies.

In this image, the mammy dressed wearing a headscarf, and a housedress to show her position as a domestic worker and her social status within the household. This image struck me, not only because it shows a caregiver assisting her employer, but also it displays another prominent stereotype within the African American community, the “Angry Black Woman.” Being labeled as angry has a lasting impact on black women and the community because it opens the door for other issues to arise, such as being useless, lazy, and incapable. Also, if women are angry, they appear less attractive to white men and women. The mammy’s unattractiveness in this picture is shown through her standing distance away from the black woman as if she does not want to be near her.

This image shows how slave owners controlled the black body in order to benefit financially. When I grew up I never thought about Aunt Jemima as a mammy figure among the white community. However, studying more about race, slavery, and intersectional issues makes me more aware of how Aunt Jemima was a reinforcement of slavery and ownership. The men who created this figure knew they could benefit from marketing a product that featured a traditional black homemaker. Nancy Green portrayed Aunt Jemima, and was displayed in shows and other platforms where she sang, made pancakes, and created an entertaining experience for those who watched her.

The mammy figure is also prevalent in modern movies such as ‘The Help’. In this movie, Octavia Spencer played a maid for a wealthy family, but her character could have also represented a present-day mammy. African Americans who serve as maids for wealthy families are an example of the ‘haves nots’ who provide support for those who ‘have’ power, status, and wealth. Maids and other servants who work for rich families do not have similar privileges and access to a better way of life due to their low status in society. Their job is to take care of their employer’s home, assist the children, cook, and support the wives. Also, most maids are from minority communities, which further supports the claim that they could represent modern mammies.

The mammy caricature is not only a symbol of racism, slavery, and oppression within the Black community, it sends a message that African Americans and their bodies are not valued in society. An African American woman being chosen to work domestically for a white family based on physical characteristics and lack of sex appeal further oppresses her. Race and gender are a few of the social constructions that socially stratify minorities and others who have less value in society. 

Taylor Simmons is a graduate student in the Humanities MA program at Old Dominion University. She received her undergraduate degree in Communication and hopes to fulfill a career in the television industry. In her free time, she enjoys shopping and watching reality television. She believes that her leadership has enabled her to succeed through her matriculation thus far. Her goal is to one day have a talk show where she can use her platform to continue to inspire and empower others.