The Mammy Ghost

Like many of you, I was struck by the image of Mammy’s Cupboard Restaurant in our book, Sister Citizen. I find the fact that this restaurant still exists and operates disturbing.

Mammy's Cupboard Restaurant Located in Natchez, Mississippi.  Built in 1940.  28 feet tall.
Mammy’s Cupboard Restaurant Located in Natchez, Mississippi. Built in 1940. 28 feet tall. Open daily 11:00 AM-2:00PM. 

What I find still more troublesome is that companies continue to use the mammy figure to market their products.

Let’s take the example of Aunt Jemima’s Original Buttermilk Pancake Mix:

aunt-jemima-501 hdrAunt_Jemima_logo

The Quaker Oats Company uses the character, Aunt Jemima, to market its pancake mixes. As you can see above, she has undergone major transformation within the last century. According to brand’s website, the company “updated [Aunt Jemima’s image] by removing her headband and giving her pearl earrings and a lace collar” in 1989. What remains perhaps the most problematic in my eyes is silence surrounding Aunt Jemima’s origins. The history section of Aunt Jemima’s website never acknowledges or even alludes to the brand’s employment of the mammy stereotype in the creation of her character. Instead, they describe the woman who modeled for her, Anna Robinson, as “a large, gregarious woman with the face of an angel”. While image of Aunt Jemima has evolved since its inception in 1890, the company cannot the deny that its marketing is rooted in racist ideology.

The “mammy ghost” continues haunt black women (Kupenda, 22). Marketing is just one of many ways that in which this “spook” manifests itself. Just as Angela Mae Kupenda points out in her essay, Facing Down the Spooks, the mammy ghost can surface in mundane situations, such as during a personal confrontation. Can you think of any other (perhaps, less obvious) manifestations of the mammy stereotype today?

Finally, I encourage you to check the Aunt Jemima: Our History section of the website. It is truly eye-opening.

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One thought on “The Mammy Ghost

  1. Thank you for writing this post. I really didn’t make the in depth connection between the two. Yes there will be times when I will be browsing the aisles of a grocery store and come across products like aunt Jemima, Nestle-Abuelita Mexican Chocolate, Uncle Ben’s, and list of other products that has probably not registered in my minds. During those times my mind would make the individual connections to those products and their racism but I haven’t actually sat down and looked at the big picture until I read your blog post. Thank you.

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