January 29, 2014

‘Mammies, Matriarchs, and Jezebels in the 21st Century’

By: Makayla Moore

The U of L chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) is back and in full effect. In 1975, 44 men and women founded this national organization in Washington, D.C., and it serves to advocate quality programs and opportunities for black journalist worldwide. NABJ is known for being the largest organization of journalists of color. The university’s chapter is a recognized student organization of journalists, students seeking communication careers, and media-related professionals. If you or someone you know is interested in pursuing a career in radio and television Broadcasting, advertising, marketing, or entrepreneurship, then this is the organization for you!

On Jan. 29, the organization held their first event: “Mammies, Matriarchs, and Jezebels in the 21st Century,” in the Chao Auditorium, located in the lower level of the Ekstrom Library. The discussion was led by current NABJ president, David Wayne Southers. Southers also emceed the event, asking two panelists questions to help the audience define current stereotypes African-American women in the media face today.

The first panelist, Dr. Kaila Story, is the Audre Lorde Chair in Race, Class, Gender and Sexuality Studies, works in the department of Pan-African Studies as well as the department of women and gender studies. The second panelist, Dr. Siobhan Smith, enjoys analyzing trashy reality television and works as an assistant professor under the department of communication.

Dr. Story and Dr. Smith captured the attention of everyone there, completely engaging the audience. I think that from their perspective, it was easier to pinpoint the illustrated stereotypes within the media, than it would be for the average college student who goes home and lives through watching “The Housewives of Atlanta,” “Love and Hip Hop,” “Scandal,” “Being Mary Jane,” etc.

Many people aren’t aware of the stereotypes being represented in the viewing of reality television, advertisements, and recorded music. When addressing the issues related to African-American women in the media, the argument is that women of color are being represented as either the mammie/matriarch figure or the jezebel figure. Let me define these terms for you:

The Mammie – a fat, middle-aged, dark-skinned woman, happy to serve the white family.

The Matriarch – the head of the household woman who acts as the mother and father for her children.

The Jezebel – a sexual and promiscuous woman always wanting to engage in sexual activities.

There is no happy medium; African-American women are never seen as whole, unless they are involved in quick relationships or running everything in their life by themselves. Students attending this event soon realized how blind they had been to these stereotypes, which are present in most popular television shows and music. Dr. Story and Dr. Smith gave great visual examples and shared historical aspects regarding how these images came about.  Both professors answered questions, leaving the audience with images and correlations to think about. We know what to expect from productions made by Tyler Perry, or television shows written by Shonda Rhimes – who are on opposing sides of the stereotype spectrum. As people of the African-American race, we have to stop supporting entertainment that dehumanizes us, and continues to spread thin the reputation of the African-American woman, even if you feel like this image is needed within the media, in order to stay relevant and make money.

The National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) is proud to reintroduce the University of Louisville Chapter to the Belknap campus. During the Spring 2014 semester, they plan to continue offering great discussion events and the chapter hopes to see you there! For more information about how you can become a member of NABJ, feel free to contact David Wayne Southers through email at [email protected] General body meetings are held the second and fourth Tuesday of every month at 7 p.m. in the Cultural Center Multipurpose Room.


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