The Oscar so White movement has justly taken Hollywood to task for its diversity problem. Much has been made of the fact that when the Academy has given an Oscar to black actors it has, nearly 55 % of the time, been for stereotypical roles such as maids or slaves.
But Oscar has nothing on the Mad Men of Madison Avenue who have a long history of perpetuating stereotypes of black women.
At least Hollywood had diversity of stereotypes.
Until the 1970’s the only images of black women people would see on film were 3 stereotypical roles – the “Mammy” which depicted black women as a servant figure, the Jezebel which depicted black women as sexually provocative or the Sapphire which depicted black women as overbearing and undesirable to men.
But the Mammy was the hands down favored stereotype in print advertising.
From the turn of the last century until the 1950’s, African-American women were always portrayed in ads as jovial maids, never happy homemakers.
These bandanna bedecked black women were loyal to a fault; the sometimes sassy servant with a heart of gold made sure m’ white lady’s spotless home ran smoothly and made sho’ dem’ chilen’ of the misses were well fed and well clothed.
The happy cook of the Southern plantation era, evolved to be the happy domestic in a leafy suburban Colonial home.
I Wish I Were In Dixie
Proctor and Gamble promoted the white lifestyle – literally and figuratively in this 1928 ad for their P and G White Naphtha soap. With a raving endorsement straight from below the Mason Dixon line, the ad reprinted an “actual” letter from a satisfied southern belle praising how their product passed her fussy mammy’s approval.
I Do Declare:
I am a southerner and I believe there is no place in the world where they use more white clothes than in a well –to-do- Southern home where there are several small children.
My Negro Mammy washes for my 2 children everyday and has told me many times she “wouldn’t nurse in a family where the baby didn’t have plenty of clothes so you could dress it pretty.”
It is a sight to see these old negro women out under the trees, with fires burning under their black iron pots, boiling the clothes. Not long ago the made their own lye soap, but nowadays we mistresses insist on P and G White Naphtha Soap.
This 1930 from Flit Insecticide promises it don’ do no harm to no human, except the stereotypical offensive image and language.
Here is one Mammy’s testimonial for how Flit rid her kitchen of nasty insects:
I Don’ hol’ wid ‘em. I don’ believe in ‘em, nor yit I don’ intendto food along wid ‘em.
De first one dar’ show his bowdacious head, I shoots ‘im wid Flit. In de ole days, I used for to bash ‘em wid an iron, an’ sometimes I hits him an’ sometimes I misses him. Wid Flit I sholy gits him.
Yas’m, Miss Lucy she says to me, “Shoot ‘em wid Flit”
“What in de worl’ am dat?”
Miss Lucy, she ‘sponds,
“Dat Flit am a liquid in a gun which is gwine to gas ‘em. It don’ do no harm to no human, but it sho’ do ‘nihilate dem bugs.”
No. I aint trouble wid no vermin ‘cause I do like Miss Lucy say. I shots ‘em wid Flit. I shoots de great ones an’ I shoots de small ones. De daddies an’ de mammies of every kin’ of bugs. Flies, ‘skeetos, ants, roaches. I slays ‘em. I keeps de gun right handy. Tain’t no trouble ‘t all. Dat little easy contraption do de wuk of six of dem giggling house gals in de ole days.
No ma’am, mos’ times I don’ hol’ wid changes. Half de time dat’s all dey is – changes.
But did yere Flit- dat’s more’n a change. Hit’s a ‘provement.
Sho’ Is Scrumptious
They Sholy Do Come Clean
Who’s in The Kitchen With Dinah?
Moms may be buying the fixin’s for the big company feast, in this 1940 ad for skinless Franks, but its Dinah who’s in the kitchen preparing it.
The Servant Problem
By the 1940s many middle class might be facing the kitchen without assistance of maid service. The war offered unprecedented number of alternatives to working as a cook or a maid and many African-American women did not hesitate to leave jobs in private homes for better paying ones in war work.
Faced with the servant problem as many African Americans went to work in factories doing war work, housewives were willing to go to any length to keep their maid happy. In this ad for Servel Refriferator , Marge is just besides herself with the thought of her beloved maid Mandy leaving due to a noisy old fridge.
“I’se quittin’,”announces Mandy heatedly one day last month. “Can’t sleep nights on account of the rumbling of that ol’ refrigerator. Then just when I’se makin’ ice cream, it stops en-tirely!”
“John,” warns my wife, “If Mandy leaves we’re sunk. We need a new refrigerator…right away!”
The harried couple rush down to the dealer showroom and order a Servel refrigerator that’s always silent. Making Mandy happy. “Mandy’s giving us a second chance since we changed to silence.”
Anxious to keep their servants happy, homemakers installed convenient new labor-saving devices. General Electric’s new Electric Sink promised to end mechanically the 2 most distasteful kitchen tasks, doing the dishes and disposing of garbage. “Housework now becomes easier for both women with servants and those without help,”explains this 1947 ad.
Mammy… How I Love’s Ya…My Dear Old Mammy
When she wasn’t belting out “God Bless America” causing a tear to form in all out eyes, Kate Smith lent her good name endorsing many products including this one for Calumet Baking Powder, which she promoted on her radio show.
This ad tells the heartwarming story of a Babs a young bride who longs to be as good a baker as her dear ol’ Mammy. Frustrated by one cake failure after another, she sends away for a recipe book she heard advertised on Kate Smiths radio program. Finally thanks to Kate Smith, Calumet and their recipe book, her husband- pleasing cakes now rival Mammys.
To show her deep appreciation, Bab sews a Mammy doll to send to Kate Smith. If that sentimental tale doesn’t bring a tear to your eye , I don’t know what will:
I always wanted to be as good at baking as my old mammy – and now I am! All on account of your recipe book and that wonderful economical and sure-fire Calumet. So wont you keep this Mammy doll in your dressing room to remind you of your grateful listener.
God Bless America!
© Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.