Date of Award

Summer 8-3-2021

Thesis Access

Open Access Honors Thesis

Degree Name

B.A.

Department

Africana Studies

Faculty Advisor

Melba Boyd

Abstract

Throughout the late nineteenth and twentieth century, American popular visual culture produced racist portrayals of Black Americans. Literature, illustrations, minstrelsy, film, and television are notorious for promoting such unflattering images. Each of these media typified African Americans as exaggerated caricatures with dark skin, bulging eyes, bright-red lips, and goofy smiles. The creators of these stereotypes project their racist beliefs into popular culture. This in turn heavily influences the way other races view people of African descent, as well as how Black people view themselves. From mammies, to Jezebels, to pickaninnies, and everything in between, the message ultimately conveyed in these stereotypes is that African Americans are brutish, unintelligent, and must be controlled.

While there are countless infamous stereotypes, this paper will focus on the mammy, along with the most famous mammy of them all: Aunt Jemima. It will discuss the origins of the stereotype, how it evolved within popular visual culture, how businesses preserved it, and how twentieth and twenty first century Black artists challenged the racist image. Mammy, who is known as the antithesis of white femininity, is fiercely loyal to her white master. She neglects her own family to cook, clean, and care for white children. Mammy was a key ingredient in making the antebellum South an enjoyable period for white families. While there was no longer a Black female slave working in the white home as a mammy following emancipation, the stereotype maintained its place in American households through Aunt Jemima pancake mix.

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