Mammies, Matriarchs, and Jezebels in the 21st Century

The Univeristy of Louisville Chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) is back and in full effect. In 1975, fourty-four 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 as the largest organization of journalists of color. The university’s chapter is a recognized student organization of journalists, students seeking communication careers, and media-realted professionals. If you or someone you know is interested in pursuing a career in Radio and Television Broadcasting, Advertising, Marketing, or Entreprenuership, this is the organization for you!

On Wednesday, January 29th, the organization held their first event: “Mammies, Matriarchs, and Jezebels in the 21st Century” in the Chao Auditorium, which is locted in the lower level of the Ekstrom Library. The discussion was led by the current NABJ president David Wayne Southers and he emceed the event asking two panelists questions that helped the audience define current stereotypes African American women in the media face today.

The first panelist Dr. Kaila Story, Audre Lorde Chair in Race, Class, Gender and Sexuality Studies works under the department of Pan African Studies and the department of Women and Gender Studies. The second panelist Dr. Siobhan Smith, enjoys analyzing trashy reality televison and works as the Assistant Professor under the department of Communication. I watched as the audience engaged and as the professors captured the attention of everyone there. I think that from their perspective, it was easier to pin point the illustrated sterotypes 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.


The challenge is that 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 goes to show 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 women happy to serve the white family

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

The Jezebel – sexual and promiscuous women always wanting to engage in sexual activities

There is no successful happiness in between and 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 were while watching tv and listening to music. Dr. Story and Dr. Smith gave great visual examples and shared historical aspects of how these images came about.  Both professors answered the 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 – both of which are on two opposing sides of the stereotype spectrum. As people of the African American race, we have to stop supporting entertainment that dehumanizes and continues to spread the reputation of the African American woman thin…EVEN if you feel like the image is neeeded within the media order to stay relevant and make money.

The National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) is proud to reintroduce the Univeristy of Louisville Chapter to this campus. During the Spring 2014 semester, they plan to continue with 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 Genereal Body meetings are held the second and fourth Tuesday of every month at 7pm in the Cultural Center Multipurpose Room.


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