The mammy caricature originated from the times of slavery, and depicted black female slaves as mothers who devoted their whole life to taking care of others, particularly the white family they were owned by. The purpose of creating such a caricature was to alleviate the negativity and hostility associated with slavery by having black women appear to be content and happy being the caretaker of the family. In many ways, Nanny from Lackawanna Blues reminds me of the mammy role but in a very different context in that she was surrounded by people that she chose to include into her home and family. Like a typical mammy character, Nanny dedicated herself to helping others to the point where she was willing to put herself at risk, such as standing up to the man who domestically abused his wife. However, Nanny is so much more than just the static mammy caretaker; she was head of the household, had a love interest, ran a business, and was a human being with emotional responses towards the events around her. Nanny was also shown as being exhausted from having to take care of everyone first, such as when she fell asleep at the domestically abused woman’s parents’ home. While this moment shows that Nanny prioritizes everyone before herself, it also shows the human side of her; that she doesn’t thrive from constantly taking care of everyone else but she is also subject to needing personal care. Through the character of Nanny, I think that she is able to reclaim being a caring black woman into the context of being an actual human being, since we often forget that mothers are actual people and not indestructible superheroes.
I really appreciated the exercise where Professor Haley asked us about our relationships with our mothers because I (like most people, I presume) often forget to appreciate what it means and takes to be a mother. I have never thought about motherhood (and parenthood) in an academic context but seeing the unrealistic standards set for mothers (such as holding a job while raising children, maintaining the household, always there to solve problems, being the toughest person ever, etc.) and my mother being about to meet those unrealistic standards make me appreciate her so much more. How the hell parents in general are able to do it all will remain a mystery to me. I like how in Lackawanna Blues, the reciprocity was obvious in Nanny’s relationship with her tenant members; Nanny provided them with a roof over their heads and they showed their love and appreciation for her throughout the movie and especially by the ending. I think that this scene was especially powerful in showing that love is a two way street, especially since when we think about the mammy character, we often neglect the reciprocating love and appreciation (if it exists) for the mammy. Overall, I really enjoyed our class about motherhood since parenthood isn’t something that I think about enough or show enough appreciation for.