Thursday, January 22, 2009

Mammy: Racist Image or Protective Style Icon?

How do you feel when you see images such as these? Are you offended, bothered? Do you get angry? Are you pained and hurt?

Images are powerful. Haven't you ever heard the saying, "A picture is worth a thousand words"?

Images are only powerful, if YOU make them powerful.

Oh, don't get me wrong. I do consider these images to be nefarious on some levels.

I have a deep understanding of the historical context of these images and what they mean and what they are 'supposed' to say. When these images are displayed, many people have a visceral or downright physical response to them.
They can indeed be powerful.

But one thing I understand even deeper than the historical context of these images is this: I am far more powerful than any of these images will ever be. I cannot control the diffusion or the perception of this image or ones like it, but I can control myself, how I think, how I feel and how I react.

Unlike the person or persons who are responsible for putting this image out to the world, I see something quite different. I no longer see a demeaning image that seemed to be created to mock and dehumanize a group of people.

For me, this is a great example of what to do when life hands you a lemon. Make lemonade! When I see these images now, my idea of turning a negative into a positive is that I immediately think of hair, afro-textured hair.

I think...

Yeah, this image is powerful to me because you know what, these Sisters' are sporting protective styling. Here's a historical record, the proof of it, dating as far back as 1899 and beyond... and we on the hair boards thought we had started something new by covering our precious afro-textured hair at night! We've taken something old [and tired] and made it new and fresh. Now we use silk and satin instead of cotton.

Mammy is powerful alright. She is the progenitor of a multi-billion dollar personal care business. The question is not, "How many of us afro-textured hair sisters have doo rags, satin pillowcases or some variation that we use for protective styling?" The question is, "How many of us do not?"

An image is what you make it. It just depends on how you choose to look at it. Place your power somewhere else. How about in yourself.


Maria said...

Wow where'd you find the Memin cartoon? I used to read that. Its in Spanish.

Laquita said...

Great post :o)

tay♥ said...

I don't know if I'd completely dismiss the racist stereotypes behind these images just because mammys protective style. Doesn't the mammy wear a head scarf because she nots supposed to show her hair? For the woman it was a protective style, but portraying the Mammy in the scarf all the time was society's way of taking away any trace of sexuality or attractiveness (in addition to making her obese and homely looking). The mammy's cotton scarf was one of the attempts made to make her completely asexual and undesirable.

Also, does it creep anyone out that the child in Picture 2 is illustrated to look like a monkey?