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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) ? Black Lady: Combination of the mammy and matriarch – Claire Huxtable, The Cosby Show
Controlling Images and Social Institutions – Schools, news media and government agencies constitute important sites for reproducing controlling images usually based on the idea of black women having some kind of deviant sexuality ? Social science research; AIDS and teen pregnancy ? Popular culture; Black hip hop music ? Accessibility to birth control measures – Controlling images are also perpetuated in Black institutions ? Family, church and civic organizations are all sites where controlling images of black women are simultaneously resisted and reproduced.
Color, Hair Texture and Standards of Beauty – Despite the resistance of Black women to being objected as the “other”, controlling images still influence their lives, becoming even more visible. They impact how Black women interact with the world ? Speaking standard/proper English somehow makes you less black i. e. “I never think of you as black”; “I don’t see race when I’m with you” – The binary thinking between Black and white beauty: ? Thin, white, blonde hair and blue eyes are not beautiful without the “other”, full lips, broad noses, dark skin and kinky hair White skin and straight hair privileges white women by being the standard of beauty; No matter what a Black woman subjective reality is, she’ll never meet the main stream standards of beauty – All women in U. S. are objectified, and their value determined by how they look, but Black is the most “un-American” Black Women’s Reactions to Controlling Images – Historically African American literature by women writer’s usually provide a comprehensive view of Black women struggles to form positive self-definitions in face inferior images Many fictional characters of Black women have themes of pain, violence and death that make up their lives; experiences of internalized oppression ? These characters use drugs, alcohol, excessive religion, and even retreat into madness to attempt to escape painful black female realities ? Denial is another response to controlling images; “I’m not like the rest” – Black female writer’s also document the responses of positive self-definition by Black women ? The Color Purple (the conclusion) ? Waiting to Exhale ? How Stella Got Her Groove Back