Created By: MaklodesNovember 28, 2011 Last Edited By: MaklodesDecember 8, 2011
Troped

Mammy

A rotund, middle-aged, servile black woman working as a maid or house slave to American whites

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Trope
Older Than Radio, Subtrope of Ethnic Menial Labor, Mammy was born in the the Deep South of Antebellum America, but continued to be a presence for a century after the American Civil War. During slavery, she was largely resigned to her enslavement, perhaps even finding Happiness In Slavery. After she gained her freedom, Mammy continued to serve as a menial domestic to whites, and continued to aspire to little higher. In her freedom, she may have also moved north, although her position and character is largely unchanged whether she lives in rural Georgia or Chicago.

Physically, Mammy is generally obese, middle aged or older, and generally has little sensual or sexual about her: a white mistress supposedly secure that having Mammy about the house was no threat to her husband's fidelity. In terms of character, Mammy is generally poorly educated, but has abundant common sense and is competent in her domestic duties. She is servile toward the whites, but may be an Apron Matron toward her own family. Her earthy common sense may, if her white masters or employers become sufficiently zany, lead her to become the Only Sane Man of the household and develop some characteristics of a Sassy Black Woman.

Examples

Advertising
  • Aunt Jemima from the Quaker Oats Company's brand; was originally a character from Minstrel Shows.
Anime and Manga Film Literature Newspaper Comics
  • South African cartoon strip "Madam and Eve."
Radio
  • Beulah, who started as a recurring minor character on Fibber Mc Gee And Molly before gaining her own spinoff show.
Live-Action Television
  • Betty Draper of Mad Men grew up raised by her family's black housekeeper and then hired one for her own children.
  • Florida from Maude, and, to a lesser extent, her reprise of the role in Good Times.
  • The titular Mama from Thats My Mama.
  • Berta in Two And A Half Men is a subversion of the typical Mammy: while she is a competent housekeeper, obese, and full of common sense, she also takes shortcuts, does drugs, and insults the main characters.
Western Animation
Community Feedback Replies: 39
  • November 28, 2011
    TonyG
    Mammy Two-Shoes from the Tom And Jerry shorts.
  • November 28, 2011
    Duncan
    Delilah in both film versions of Imitation Of Life, but especially the 1934 original, where her pancake recipes actually lead to her becoming an Aunt Jemima brand, with 20% of the pancake flour's profits. ...and still works as the housekeeper.
  • November 28, 2011
    elwoz
    It seems rather likely that this is a Forgotten Trope, the Unfortunate Implications alone are enough that they ought to put any modern writer off ... what's the most recent example anyone can find?
  • November 28, 2011
    Damr1990
  • November 28, 2011
    Jordan
    In a modern example of this, The Help is about several women who were in this role in the 1950s South and a white journalist who chronicles their experiences.
  • November 28, 2011
    foxley
  • November 28, 2011
    TechUnadept
    I'm fairly certain this is racist, but I make it a point not to research slurs so I can't be sure...
  • November 28, 2011
    SKJAM
    • Old-time radio and early television: Beulah. Started as a recurring minor character on Fibber Mc Gee And Molly, played by a white man. Spun off into her own show and eventually played by black women, especially in the TV version. Especially on her own show, very much the Closer To Earth type who bailed her white masters out of zany mishaps.
  • November 28, 2011
    ladygem
    ^^ It is, and is largely a Forgotten Trope only showing up nowadays in period fiction set before the Civil Rights Movement. Still a valid, if offensive, Stock Character.
  • November 28, 2011
    Lumpenprole
    Not just a domestic but frequently a cook (hence the Aunt Jemima image) or, in antebellum times, a wet nurse to her master's children.

  • November 28, 2011
    EdnaWalker
    Note that Mammy Two Shoes from Tom And Jerry, unlike the other examples, is not servile to white people and is never seen taking orders from whithe people.

    Would Calpurnia from To Kill A Mockingbird count since she works for Atticus Finch (a white man)?

  • November 28, 2011
    Abodos
    • One TV ad for Kia-Ora from The Eighties featured a crow with the dress and mannerisms of a Mammy.
  • November 29, 2011
    CindehQ
    Although it's less blatant these days (they're less likely to work under a white family), the "fat, domestic, old, black lady whose full of wisdom" is still a pretty common character type these days.

    Look at Aunt Madea for example. There's also the grandmother in Adam's Sandler's Grown Ups.
  • November 29, 2011
    StarryEyed
    In The Rapture of the Deep, Jacky (who detests slavery) buys an elderly black woman under the pretense of having her as a mammy for her (nonexistent) child. Her actual plan is to free her, which she does, but since the woman (who's name is actually Aunt Jemimah) stays on as ship's cook, surrogate mother to the cabin boy and girl, and teller of Brer Rabbit stories, the trope is essentially played straight.
  • November 29, 2011
    Fanra
    One of the interesting things is that in the slave South, in some households the Mammy would raise the white kids with her own kids, with the white kids actually getting more mothering from Mammy than their own mothers, and the kids being best friends. Yet that didn't prevent the white kids from growing up and embracing slavery.
  • November 29, 2011
    randomsurfer
    There was a commercial several years ago for some amuesment park, possibly Disney or MGM, which was criticized for having an overly "mammy" type character - a large black woman, screaming on a rollercoaster, clutching two children (presumably hers) to each of her ample bosoms. (That is, one child to each bosom.)
  • November 29, 2011
    JonnyB
    Bubba's mother (and her mother before her, and so on) - at least until Forrest Gump gives her Bubba's share of the shrimping company.
  • November 30, 2011
    fulltimeD
    A commercial for a Show Within A Show in the film Confederate States Of America (an alternate history mockumentary where the South won the Civil War) advertises "Leave it to Beulah," a show said to be about "a slave who's always in the kitchen, but never seems to know what's cookin'."
  • November 30, 2011
    JonnyB
    I think Florida (esther Rolle) from Good Times fits the archetype, especially prior to the series when she was Maude's housekeeper on Maude.
  • November 30, 2011
    ChunkyDaddy
    • Actually, I think Berta in Two And A Half Men is a subversion of the Mammy stock character. She is a competent housekeeper, obese and full of common sense, but at the same time she takes shortcuts, does drugs and isn't afraid to insult the main characters.
  • November 30, 2011
    ClockStopping
    • Pokemon Black And White: some have argued that Aloe's appearance resembles this, and the apron she was wearing in the Japanese version was edited out in the English version to distance her from these accusations. The issue is something of a Base Breaker.
  • December 1, 2011
    JonnyB
    Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer) in the 2011 film, The Help.
  • December 1, 2011
    AgPrv
    The black woman in "Tom and Jerry" cartoons. Worth noting that when these were shown on British TV, we were totally unaware of the American context and assumed she was Jerry's owner and the housewife/home owner where Tom and Jerry lived. The fact she was only a domestic servant never even occured to us until it was pointed out these were made in the 1930's and 1940's in a different America!

    Newspaper/Web cartoons: although from a slightly different context and culture (well - considering the South Africans looked to segregation in the USA for lessons in how to make apartheid work - not VERY different) - the long-running South African cartoon strip "Madam and Eve", about a white Afrikaaner woman whose black housegirl almost completely fails to treat her with the respect and servility due to the baas-lady...
  • December 2, 2011
    surgoshan
    Live Action TV
    • Mad Men gives us two. Betty Draper grew up raised by her family's black housekeeper and then hired one for her own children.

    Literature
    • Alas Babylon gives us Missouri, Randy Bragg's housekeeper, whose ancestors were owned by Randy's.
  • December 2, 2011
    ParadiscaCorbasi
    • Rosey the Robot was this for The Jetsons
    • Hazel was a sitcom featuring such a woman as the titular maid.
  • December 2, 2011
    surgoshan
    I always thought Rosey was Latina.
  • December 2, 2011
    JonnyB
    Hazel doesn't fit; she wasn't black. Rosey doesn't fit either.
  • December 3, 2011
    jate88
    This can go in the We Are Not Alone Index because the Other Wiki has it as well.
  • December 3, 2011
    ThreeferFAQMinorityChick
    Even though she's a nurse at a psychiatric hospital rather than a domestic worker, Ruby from Patricia Mc Cormick's Cut certainly counts, in my opinion. She is the only "attendant" who actually dresses as a nurse "should" in Callie's opinion. Additionally, she is the only one who is obviously black and the only one who is shown to be motherly/matronly. She also calls Callie, who is obviously white, "honey child" a few times.
  • December 3, 2011
    Sackett
    This is an interesting trope. There is certainly a racist tinge to some versions of it. Other versions I'm not so sure are actually racist as much as Values Dissonance. (The stereotype of a large motherly black woman does not strike me as intrinsically racist.) The description seems focused on all the racist elements and gives short shrift to the non-racist versions.

    In fact the most famous "Mammy" is Mammy from Gone With The Wind, and that is probably where most people today get their image of what a "Mammy" is (in order of the strength of the association):

    1. : Large motherly black woman
    2. : Strict, no nonsense disciplinarian (often unable to control the Spirited Young Lady now that she is older)
    3. : Strong willed, down to earth, common sense sort of charismatic. (Larger then life, but not flighty)
    4. : Before the Civil War, is a house slave (usually the slavery issue is avoided- not such that she's happy about slavery, but that through force of charismatic presence it's hard to remember that she's a slave.)
    5. : After the Civil War a long term domestic servant. (Essentially a nanny. Hispanic nannies often have similar depictions in media.)

    Because of this association with strong will, the Mammy can actual be a form of empowerment of Black women in pre-Civil Rights settings. (And in fact was often considered that way back then. Mammy from Gone With The Wind was hailed as a complex, strong, black woman character when Gone With The Wind came out.)

    It's also still around in depictions of black families where the matriarch is often this type of personality and character (just without raising anybodies kids except for her own, ie still has the first three items on the list above).

    If anybody has ever been to the South they'd know that this certainly has some basis in fact.
  • December 3, 2011
    ParadiscaCorbasi
    I'm apparently misremembering Hazel.

  • December 3, 2011
    JonnyB
    ^ Florida was mentioned.

    Would Mammy from Gone With The Wind be the trope codifier or trope maker? I never can tell the two apart.
  • December 6, 2011
    acrobox
    Recent example
    • Gym Leader Lenora from Pokemon Black and White is clearly designed with the Mammy stereotype in mind. Possibly an example of Values Dissonance, as Black and White is the first Pokemon game to be based in the US. Add to it the fact that her official artwork was changed from wearing an apron that made her look big, to slinging the apron over her shoulder in international releases. And the English dub anime and manga edit out the apron entirely.
      • Despite the fact that she looks like a Mammy, she's a bit of a subversion in that she's a museum curator and highly intelligent.
  • December 8, 2011
    SchrodingersDuck
    • Big Lannie from the Dorothy Parker short story "Clothe The Naked". Notably, the story focuses almost entirely on her home life - her white employers only show up once, when she has to beg them for old clothes for her blind son.
  • December 8, 2011
    Tambov333
    ^^^Codifier.
  • December 8, 2011
    elwoz
    ^^^^ As I understand it, the key difference between Trope Maker and Trope Codifier is that the maker might produce an Unbuilt Trope, but the codifier by definition does not.
  • December 8, 2011
    sliz225
    Another common component is maternal instincts . . . if kids are Raised By Servants, then she'll care for the poor Lonely Rich Kid.
  • December 8, 2011
    ArtemisStrong
    • Mammy Jane in Charles W. Chesnutt's The Marrow Of Tradition.

    ^That should go in the Literature folder.
  • December 8, 2011
    Maklodes
    Five hats on this one. Anyone object if I launch?

Three days must pass before this YKTTW is Launchworthy or Discardable