Gabriella Morreale, Unit 6, Assignment 1

What really fascinated me about Ethnic Notions was the idea of the “Mammy” in popular culture and media. The Mammy is a short, larger black woman who ran the household in place of the white wife. She is sweet to the white children she takes care of and is harsh to her own children. Essentially, she is the antithesis of the white wife; strong and independent, which were typically unfavorable traits to have in a woman. Not only that, the depiction of Mammy was supposed to demote African Americans and present to white audiences an image of savagery. As a result, these depictions served multiple purposes in the oppression of blacks and the building of a complex and subtle form of racism. The documentary serves to point out just that; through forms of art and media, we appear to consume the content at face value, but really we are taking in and understanding ideas that are much more layered and involved than simply what we see. However, I did have some confusion with some of the content the documentary talks about. After emancipation, many African Americans started working in the entertainment industry. Many of them took on the blackface characters that white Irish Americans were doing to dehumanize and ridicule blacks. Why would blacks continue this role? Why would they perpetuate the unfair stereotype? Weren’t whites trying to make fun of blacks? If so, why would black people take on a ridiculed version of themselves? All of the other characters in film, like the Mammy, the Pickaninny, or the Sambo, were all done without blackface, and retained the complex layers of racism. Why would black people perform a role that was an outlandishly garish version of their appearance? I never knew that African Americans would do this, and it’s interesting in the context of performance as a political vehicle.

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