Thursday, March 18, 2010

Jezebel and Mammy

The first chapter in the book Ar’n’t I a Woman? discusses the hardships of being a black woman and the two personas that black women were given in the South, Jezebel and Mammy. The chapter starts by referring back to the supremacy white men held over women and blacks. However, white women and black men could in some cases be released from their inferiority by accomplishing a goal such as becoming freed from slavery. Black women unfortunately have no chance of being freed from the myth of white male supremacy which also stuck them with the two personas previously mentioned.
Jezebel was the first persona of black women that was created when slavery originally began and Englishmen traveled to Africa. Once there, Englishmen saw that black women did not wear the several layers that white women wore but rather very little, which was mistaken as vulgar rather than an attempt to stay cool in the hot weather. Jezebel became a black woman who craved flesh and would seduce white men or any man for that matter to fill her sexual desire. Because of this false persona that white men had created about black women, several women slaves were sexually assaulted. Records talk of slave women being given choices to either sleep with their masters or be sent off to hard labor in the worst of field. Some slave women were actually sold as slave prostitutes and others actually used sex to get themselves and their families a chance at freedom from slavery which was successful for some but for most it was a risk that ended up with great pain to their dignity and being sold off to another slave holder. Young slave women often took harsh treatment not only from their masters but their bitter mistresses too. Several cases of mistresses beating slave women often were due to their husband’s wandering eye. Rather than pity the assaulted slave women, mistresses blamed them for their husband’s infidelities and were very bitter about the situation.
The second persona was Mammy, the kind, nurturing and aged slave women who cared for the white children and supervised the big house, is again a misconception. Records show that it was actually the mistress of the house that not only supervised over the house and cared for her children but cared for the sick slaves and slave children while their parents went to work in the fields. There are some testimonies of black women filling the persona of Mammy but the dynamics changed from plantation to plantation. Some women who past the age of field work worked in the house because the labor was less intense but there are accounts of some being abandoned by their masters and left to die like Frederick Douglass’ grandmother. There are beliefs that most “Mammys” were actually not as old as the persona makes them out to be but rather young because they would have to be available anytime night or day which often meant little sleep or tiredness. Making Mammy old in the persona is believed by some as an attempt to separate her from the Jezebel persona and to give the possibility that the two personas could cohabitate in Southern men’s minds.

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