*At the 2015 MTV/Video Music Awards, Miley Cyrus and Snoop Dogg appeared together in a pre-taped segment where Miley introduced her grandmother as her ‘real mammy.’ While she was sharing the term of endearment she uses for her white grandmother, her usage of the term had serious racial implications.
Mammy is a term that is inseparable from the painful past of the Black Community – the era when enslavement was legal and protected by law.
This incident started a huge backlash on Twitter in which many including Chance the Rapper shared their disappointment. He posted a picture of actress Hattie McDaniel from Gone with the Wind, in which she played the role of a slave housemaid and was called mammy.
The word ‘mammy’ harkens back to the stereotype of a docile Black domestic servant, usually depicted as a loud, overweight and good-natured woman. This stereotype was at its height in the days of Jim Crow and acted as propaganda of sorts about the image of the average Black woman. This idea that it meant to perpetuate was that Black women were physically ugly, mostly ignorant and obedient to their white superiors. Basically, the mammy figure was a parody of the white perception of the average black woman.
Another idea that is embedded within this stereotype is the how these black servants should love heir white superior families while ignoring their own families. In this stereotype, the Black woman was not a complete human being but an object which is a means to an end. She was only a caregiver who couldn’t be desired.
While we all know these archetypes are a lie, we should also understand that the perception of mammy was created by white people. These perceptions were solely responsible for dehumanizing Black people into a figure of servitude that should be looked down upon.
This archaic word defines a Black woman who is happy providing service to her white owner and being a second-class citizen. It’s sad that these old derogatory labels and epithets rear their ugly heads into these modern, enlightened times and we feel helpless. Although Miley Cyrus used the word, she probably didn’t mean anything racist by it. However, she unknowingly summoned up an age-old stereotype evoking painful memories of black people being used as accessories.
You should also know that when Hattie McDaniel won the Academy Award for her role in Gone with the Wind, she wasn’t there with the rest of the movies cast. She had got up from her segregated table and hurried towards the stage to collect her award.
Would you still accept being called Mammy by your white friends? And for our white readers, would you still use this ignorant archetype?
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