You see, oh internets, I would be lying to you if I didn’t tell you this. I have my own mammy:
I bought this ceramic bank a couple of years ago at an antique store not far from my home. It sits on my kitchen windowsill, above the sink. I see it every day, as I do other images of black women that I collect and display in my home and in my office.
I collect these images, in part, to counter the many negative images that are out there (including the images that are created and perpetuated by my own people). I passed the ceramic mammy bank up a couple of times, because I knew what she represented. But I ended up buying her for a couple of reasons. I didn’t want anyone else, who might not know or care to know the history behind such an image to buy her. And I bought it because I wanted to reclaim and honor the image. There is a long going debate about the meaning and use of black images, especially about what to do with items that were once seen as innocuous/funny by the dominant culture, and are now seen as ironic. It is important to understand that these images were originally created to depict black women in a certain way, to “teach” society how to view us, how to think about us, what we were capable of, and what it is permissible to do to us.
The memory of these hurtful images run long and deep. (registration required) It is just as important to tell the truth about the history of these images and what they mean as it is to work against other forms of racism. Dr. David Pilgrim, curator of the Jim Crow Museum located at Ferris State University, tells similar, compelling stories here. (Unfortunately, this clip cuts off midsentence. See also the museum’s excellent web site.)
Also see this report of the brouhaha at Christie’s auction house over the sale of slave memorabilia some years ago. (registration required)
Images are important. They tell a story – nay, many stories. And some of us are heavily invested in who tells the stories, who controls the images, and why.