Jezebel Investigates: The Mammy Caricature

For Women’s History Month, Jezebel and The Root are partnering for JezeRoot, a series that focuses on women of color, domestic workers, and sex workers.

It’s no coincidence that the first black actor ever to win an Oscar—Hattie McDaniel, in 1940—was awarded by her white peers for playing a mammy. Nearly 80 years later, we still see black women in Hollywood cast as, and limited by, the racist caricature. In the video above, Dr. Kimberly Wallace-Sanders, author of Mammy: A Century of Race, Gender, and Southern Memory, explains America’s fixation on the stereotype, and charts the “mammification of the nation.”


Video Credits: Jennifer Perry, Zoe Stahl; Script Editor: Jordan Willard; Editor/Animator: Hope Sincere; Animator: Jacqui Robertson


Erica Washington

Although not discussed as much, this is yet another reason why representation matters.

What they consume in the media is sometimes the ONLY information some people receive about Black people, and because they have no one to compare it to in real life, that’s what they believe.

I can’t tell you the number of people that I confuse because I don’t behave in a stereo-typically “Black” (to their way of thinking anyway) manner. And me being built like the typical mammy type (big, brown-skinned, ethnic features), not to mention being a single parent, I guess I am supposed to be either exceptionally loud and aggressive, or behaving like EVERYONE’s mother. The fact that I do neither of these throws certain people into a complete tizzy around me.

Get your head out of the media, people! Black people are far more diverse than the narrative that has been woven around us.