Monday, September 20, 2010

Mammy Dolls... Offensive or Not?

Photograph courtesy of Wendy Frank

What is your opinion of mammy dolls (past and present)?  Do you find them offensive, unnecessary, or a vital part of history?  Please share your comments and opinions.  Thanks!

dbg

PS  I published this blog prematurely. I had planned to save it as a draft and add additional pictures and text, but, it's early and the fingers pressed the incorrect key!  I'll still probably add another picture of two.  Thanks for your comments.

View a slideshow of mammy dolls here.
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20 comments:

  1. I have never really liked the "mammy image"!

    It's years, later that I have come to enjoy them, as a part of our history!

    Dorothy

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    1. When you say "our" history, to whom do you refer? African Americans, all Americans, People who live in the south? etc. thanks!

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  2. A. Mammy dolls are historical.
    B. I wouldn't have one because I don't collect historical dolls.

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  3. offensive... and interesting

    I have a golliwog... I know, they're terrible and totally offensive... *hides*

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  4. I'm neutral. I have several. They remind me of the movie "Gone With The Wind" and I love movies. They do remind one of a true part of history that many would like to forget.

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    1. Gone with the Wind is fiction and unfortunately, so was the life of "Mammy"...her feelings, the conditions under which she would have lived, her relationships, her own family and the possibility that they had been torn apart, the fact that she would have been sexually vulnerable for her whole life at the whim of any white man, etc. This kind of "history" is dangerously misleading. I too love film, but the reason I love any specific film has to have some specificity...I like dogs but not every dog. I like food but not every meal. I like people but not every person. Do you get my point here. Twelve Years A Slave is worth the painful watch because it portrays, much more accurately, the conditions which existed in that "peculiar institution".

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  5. I have a large collection of Mammy dolls and do not find them offensive. Once I did, I grew up during the 60's and Angela Davis and Black Power were my role models. Mammy did not fit my image of a strong Black woman.

    However, as we age,hopefully we acquire some wisdom. I realized that Mammy was indeed a very strong Black woman who paved the way for a Angela Davis ! She had to endure slavery, Jim-Crow laws and racism. Behind that smile was an intelligent person who often had to hide how smart she really was so that she did not threaten or offend others.

    Mammy worked hard rearing white children as well as her own while suffering abuse, sometimes even physical and sexual abuse.
    Still she suffered in silence and "served with dignity and pride" so that we do not have to,

    We owe Mammy, who could be our own Mothers, Grandmothers, etc, who have experienced similar hardships in work situations. Mammy should be admired, we owe her our thanks not our shame.

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    1. Yes! And we see here the differences in perspective in responses from people of color and people not of color.

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    2. Thank you so much, Anonymous, for that wise, valuable and insightful perspective. I am white, but I must tell you that I have always adored Mammy dolls! Why? For all the reasons that Anonymous gave but also because when I was a child, my white teacher presented, in a most charming manner, the poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar such as "In the Morning," "When Malindy Sings," "Lincoln", "An Antebellum Sermon" and "The Boogah Man". We students all fell in love with the images that the poems conjured up and hung on every word of the engaging Black dialect which Dunbar so eloquently and wisely preserved in his magnificent poems. These poems depicted the way of life, manners and thoughts of the Blacks. When I became an adult, I went to the library and book stores to see if I could get hold of these poems and what to my sheer delight, I was able to purchase a book of the collected poetry of Dunbar! I had no idea he had written so very many and many also in standard Englis. In this book, I learned so much about the culture, the pain and the joys of the Black population in his day that spanned life in slavery and emancipation. This same teacher also introduced us to the Uncle Remus stories written by Joel Chandler Harris, a Southern white man who collected the wonderful African-American stories told to him by Blacks who brought the wonderfully engaging stories about how the smaller animals out-witted the larger predatory animals. I went to see these stories in Disney's movie production "Song of the South" when I was a youngster. When I became an adult, I found and bought Disney's book of Uncle Remus stories which I have to this day. I have raised my son and grandchildren on these fascinating tales and they, too, have become enthusiasts of them. I understand that there was a protest about how Blacks were portrayed in the movie but as a child, I was innocent and not sensitive to this. But I would like to plead the same rationale as Anonymous in favor of celebrating the fact that Harris valued the African stories preserving them for posterity and giving recognition and attention to the immense talent of the African story tellers for their unique insights depicted in the antics of the animal characters. As an adult, I also hunted down the book of the complete works of Joel Chandler Harris to appreciate the genius of the Black story tellers. As an adult, a close Black friend of mine with whom I worked in a library brought the slave narratives to my attention. I read six of them one after the other including Frederick Douglas' and was sick for three or so weeks over the inhumanity of man against man. However, armed with the love for the African stories and Dunbar's poetry, I began making sock mammy dolls and sold my first family set to my Black professor in college. I always sold them with a letter of introduction using Dunbar's dialectical style. My professor adored them and appreciated my use of the dialect knowing that I was charmed by it and meant no disrespect. Had the works of Dunbar and Harris not preserved the charm of the Black dialect and talents, I and many others would have been deprived of these cherished cultural experiences. None of us can help or change what happened in the past, but we need to be so careful not to throw away the treasures of the black cultural past with the sordid evil that existed during slavery and after. My desire to understand and gather up more of the writings of the Black experience prompted me to take a Black Literature course in graduate school. I feel enriched by my encounter with these writings that inspired me to make the dolls and write poetry and letters in the dialect.

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  6. Wow Anon, Thank you for that....beautifully said.

    Cheers Wendy F

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  7. Thanks everyone for your comments. I truly appreciate your input.

    DOC - I had to LOL @ your comment, but thanks for the confession about your lone golliwog. :-)

    dbg

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  8. I do not find Mammy offensive. I have a couple of Gone With The Wind Mammy dolls in my collection that I purchased mainly because they depict a movie character. I love what Anonymous had to say.

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  9. I was born in 1970 (in the Caribbean) and from as far back as I can remember this image was symbolic of the female hawker. All the ladies selling their goods in the city back then dressed this way with an additional apron for putting the money from sales. I do not find the image offensive at all as it reminds me of my maternal great grandmother, grandmother and mother. I also bought (over paid) one of these dolls just for the reason of remembering my past. I don't see my relatives as often as I would like because of distance, time and money but I certainly enjoy passing by my doll and reflecting on my ancestors. I had an interestingly, wonderful childhood. (I'm smiling right now!!!)

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    1. Thanks for sharing your input on mammy dolls. You are blessed to have had a wonderful childhood and a doll that allows you to reconnect with it.

      dbg

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  10. I think it is important that the Mammy Doll is present in our Doll Collection to remember our American History. There have been times I've been offended when I've seen the dolls, however, it is imperative that we don't forget history!

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    1. I agree Sandy, mammy dolls from the past are an important part of doll history. I do not necessary want to see doll artists make mammy dolls now, however. That would be a perpetuation of the past. However, we must know our history (the positive and negative) in an effort to improve our current status and to avoid the negative from recurring.

      dbg

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  11. Such an interesting question and such thoughtful answers! My own feelingon the matter (and I'm white) is that the character is not offensive but the doll is. In other words, as Anonymous said so well above, Mammy represents a historic character with many laudable characteristics and much to be proud of. However, the choice of the doll industry - and by extension society - to only depict black women in a servile role, and to often do so with grossly exaggerated racial features clearly intended to evoke ridicule, is highly offensive. They are certainly an important part of our general history, but I find them dismaying.

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  12. I'm not American so don't share that part of history, but I don't think these dolls are offensive. The English had slaves also but they wore different clothes. What about the Ayah's in India and Duenna's in Europe - would they be offensive too? Or is it only offensive if the doll depicts a black woman? And how about the English "governess" as depicted in the Bronte sisters books?

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    1. Kay Susan - you've posed some valid questions. Are there or were there actual dolls created in the likeness of female servants who are not black? Are these dolls still being made as often as modern mammy dolls are made? I suspect the answer is no.

      This nearly 4-year-old question: Mammy dolls, offensive or not? was posed to me by an Australian doll artist, who at the time was making mammy dolls and wanted to know if readers would find her dolls offensive.

      The American "mammy," as often illustrated in books and portrayed in media as happy and content-to-be-a-servant, is a figment of the imagination of those who created her. Their intent was to justify slavery with mammy and other happy servant caricatures. Of course there were black women who were maids and caretakers of children who were not their own, but I cannot imagine anyone being happy and satisfied to be an unpaid/underpaid servant for anyone, particularly where mistreatment and abuse were often involved.

      While I own a few mammy dolls (modern ones that depict the characters from the book Gone With the Wind and souvenir type island dolls dressed in the traditional mammy attire, I currently feel there is no place in today's society for newly created dolls of any color that depict people in postures of servitude.


      dbg

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    2. Last paragraph, edited for punctuation: While I own a few mammy dolls (modern ones that depict the characters from the book Gone With the Wind and souvenir type island dolls dressed in the traditional mammy attire), I currently feel there is no place in today's society for newly created dolls of any color that depict people in postures of servitude.

      dbg

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Thank you! Your comments are appreciated!