The Myth of Aunt Jemima: Representations of Race and Region

The Myth of Aunt Jemima: Representations of Race and Region

The Myth of Aunt Jemima: Representations of Race and Region

The Myth of Aunt Jemima: Representations of Race and Region

Synopsis

The Myth of Aunt Jemima is a bold and exciting look at the way three centuries of white women writers have tackled the subject of race in both Britain and America. Diane Roberts challenges the widely-held belief that white women writers have simply acquiesed in dominant cultural inscriptions of race. The Myth of Aunt Jemima shows how 'the mythic spheres of race, of the separation of black and white into low and high, other and originary, tainted and pure, remain to trouble a society struggling still to free itself from debilitating racial representations.' Beautifully written, with a powerful series of textual readings, The Myth of Aunt Jemima pushes at the boundaries of thought around the issues of race and gender. An important and innovative book.

Excerpt

This is not a story to pass on.

Toni Morrison, Beloved

Who knows but that, on the lower frequencies, I speak for you?

Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

It is over thirty-five years since Autherine Lucy walked a gauntlet of white students screaming “Kill her!” to enter a classroom at the University of Alabama; over thirty-five years since Rosa Parks sparked the Montgomery bus boycott by refusing to give her seat to a white man; thirty years since Fannie Lou Hamer was shot at by Mississippi nightriders for registering to vote. We in the United States have had at least three decades of powerful, passionate images of black women (and men) to complicate and challenge three hundred years of stereotypes, and yet the best-known black woman’s face in the land looks out from a box of pancake mix.

Aunt Jemima is so familiar she is practically invisible, part of America’s racial background noise. Aunt Jemima flourished in minstrel shows before she became a corporate brand name: the archetypal “mammy, ” her shiny, scrubbed black face beaming, her crimson head-rag tied smartly in a square knot. The mammy typifies the mythic Old South of benign slavery, grace and abundance; she rules the kitchen or she instructs the young ladies in decorum or she buries the family silver in the orchard so the Yankees won’t steal it. Now she presides over the great American breakfast, the head-rag gone, the face slimmer, the outfit changed to what a businesswoman might wear, a Black Urban Professional, or Buppie, Jemima. But the name on the pancake-mix box is still “Aunt Jemima”—we are still haunted by titles of slavery and minstrelsy, even in our bright egalitarian supermarkets. . .

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