In her essay, Collins identifies four stereotypes that have controlled the image of Black women in the United States; The Mammy, The Matriarch, The Welfare Mother, and The Jezebel, images that have been perpetuated by educational institutions, the media television, radio, music videos, the worldwide web , and government agencies. With regard to the Jezebel image, more commonly known these days as the Hoochie, one of the most surprising groups empowering this image is the Black community itself. Not only does such acceptance mask how such images provide financial benefits to both 2 Live Crew and White-controlled media, such tacit acceptance validate this image. The more it circulates among U. Blacks, the more credence it is given.
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Part of the mission of Black feminism , according to Collins, involves challenging the controlling images that affect Black women. Controlling images result from binary oppositional thinking that emphasizes and then reinforces differences among social groups. Such thinking implies a superiority and inferiority in social relationships, leading to the objectification and domination of one group over another.
Oppositional binary thinking as reported by Collins leads society to devalue Black women due to the cult of true womanhood. Society thus upholds middle class white women as the symbol of purity, piety, submissiveness, and domesticity. Black women, on the other hand, have to grapple with five different controlling images: the mammy, the matriarch , the welfare mother, the Black lady, and the Jezebel. In this blog I summarize each of these stereotypes as described by Collins in Black Feminist Thought.
The Mammy The controlling image of the Mammy characterizes Black women as domestic servants who epitomize faithfulness and obedience. Society, particularly during the colonial era, uses this controlling image to justify the social positions of multiple groups. The Mammy teaches Black children to subordinate themselves to whiteness. The Mammy also teaches that Black women lack sexuality and desirability, making them good surrogate mothers for the children of white women whose position aligns in subordination to white men as their ideal partners.
This controlling image serves to justify paying Black women low wages for service and care work. The Matriarch I have written about the myth of Black matriarchy before because the idea seems relatively popular among Black nationalist circles as an explanation for a multitude of perceived ills against and within Black America. The matriarch refers to the idea that Black families headed by unmarried mothers caused rather than resulted from the poverty and concentrated disadvantage that envelops most of Black America.
Collins writes that the Black matriarchy thesis emerged as tensions began to arise between the mid-twentieth century feminist and Civil Rights movements.
Since Black mothers worked, unlike their white middle-class counterparts, the matriarch failed to embody true femininity and instead stood too strong relative to underemployed or unemployed Black men. This imagery therefore exacerbates gender relations in Black communities due to the insistence that the structural inequalities that present Black women a means to more consistently support their families financially amounts to a cultural deficit.
Hard-working Black mothers, therefore, emasculated Black men as they failed to embody the passivity of the mammy. The belief that Black mothers behaving badly explained economic disadvantage got legitimized by the federal government in the Moynihan Report. Thus, this controlling image brings together the intersections of class, gender, and race to explain away the true causes of racial oppression in the U.
This imagery characterizes poor, working class Black mothers as responsible for the diminishing quality of life in the contemporary capitalist society as a whole. According to Collins, this perception of Black women extends all the way back to slavery, related to an image of Black women as breeders for the labor force of plantation owners.
This trope encompasses the intersections of race, gender, and class just like the matriarch. It also shifts blame for contemporary inequality to Black women as a form of social control of their fertility through targeted federal social welfare policies. The Black Lady The Black lady centers on the politics of respectability of middle-class Black women in professional careers.
Source: GIPHY Collins describes this controlling image as a modern mammy because it implicates Black women as working too hard and therefore acting too strong for men to desire them. Additionally, this perception of Black women entering middle class status leads to resentment of the gendered dimensions of affirmative action as men claim Black women have taken career opportunities away from them.
In particular, Black men contend the Black lady has gained her position in the workplace because white people perceive her as less threatening.
The Jezebel I have written about the Jezebel before due to how intimately it relates to my own research on the sexuality of Black women. The Jezebel operates at the center of the intersections of race, class, gender, and sexuality to characterize Black women as hypersexual and hyperfertile. This controlling image persists today in reality television or rap music video as the hip hop hoe.
Collins writes that the Jezebel functions to normalize binary oppositional thinking in relation to sexuality by normalizing the sexual tastes of cisgender, heterosexual men.
This characterization leads to a portrayal of Black women as sexual freaks who move between the boundaries of heterosexuality and same sex desire.
Furthermore, these controlling images hinge on standards of beauty that rely on binary thinking of white women and Black women as opposites in terms of beauty and attractiveness. Black women then either internalize these images or seek to resist them through the development of a unique sexual politics.
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Patricia Hill Collins "Mammies, Matriarchs, And Other Controlling Images"
5 Controlling Images that Affect Black Women