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Time to Move Beyond the 'Mammy' Stereotype


As we just heard during our Roundtable, depictions of African-American women can be divisive. Commentator Betty Baye says she's tired of all the old stereotypes she sees played out in the media.

Black women have come too far to still be portrayed largely as mammies or jezebel's.

Ms. BETTY BAYE (Columnist, The Courier-Journal, Louisville, Kentucky): The warrior ancestors of African-American women would probably be greatly impressed by how far the daughters of the dust have come.

Oprah Winfrey, one of the world's richest - black, white, male or female. Condoleezza Rice, America's first African-American female Secretary of State. Vashti McKenzie, the first female elected bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Cathy Hughes, the first African-American women to head a publicly traded company - Radio One.

And they'd be greatly impressed as well that so many more African-American women are holding it down in virtually every arena of American life. The progress that black women have made in my lifetime is breathtaking. It fills my soul with pride.

But by equal measure, I believe that the ghost of Harriet, Sojourner, Ella Baker, sister Rosa, and our own grandmothers and mothers might be greatly troubled by the extent to which African-American women of distinction are badly outnumbered in the media day to day, by the other black women who, under the headline black entertainment, are piling up the negative stereotypes, if not creating new ones.

It's sad. Incredibly sad. Because it's being done by choice. Nobody has a gun to these black women's heads forcing them to perpetuate ugly stereotypes. No one is forcing them to objectify black women as all sex, all the time. I can almost hear the ancestors crying out, is that you, daughter? Is that you, my pretty young thing, in those music videos and movies wearing hardly any clothes? Shaking your rump? Jiggling your coconuts and lusting after some man who just called you a chicken head and dog that doesn't have a mother?

No one seems to have clued you in as to how it is that black women came to be objectified in the first place. When they were slaves and forced to submit or be beaten, forced to submit or see their babies sold away, forced to submit or die. It was in those days that the lie was born that a black woman couldn't be raped, that a black woman loved it rough, that a black woman never said no. And now we've arrived in the 21st century and it's not others but you, black daughters, whose actions in many minds affirm the lie that black woman, by nature, are loose and lubed.

Can anyone shame you into changing your ways? Into seeing the damage that you are doing to yourself and to the daughters that you may one day have? Is it just too late in the American culture for young black women to understand that, in this new century, they can be wildly successful without descending into the stereotypes that have dogged black women for years; the stereotypes of the black woman as Mammy, Sapphire, or somebody's whore.

CHIDEYA: Betty Baye is a columnist for The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Betty Baye
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