Skip to content

Farewell to Mammie

August 28, 2020

Let’s get a couple of things out of the way upfront shall we? I am fully aware of my privilege. Have been for a very long time. I’m white. I was raised with wealth. Not gonna lie, there have been times when all of that has given me great comfort. Lately, though, it often feels more like a second-hand wool sweater that is giving me a nasty rash. One of the things my privilege has sheltered me from is the realization that I’m a honest to God racist.

How the fuck did I wind up being a racist? I don’t feel like one. I don’t hate people of color. I don’t want bad things to happen to them. I certainly don’t want them to keep being killed. I despise blatant bigotry and hate. So, how did a nice girl from a nice family wind up a fucking racist? And how come no one told me until now?

I swear, I had no idea how many racist tropes and cliches I’ve been holding on to for the last 50 odd years. I thought I was smarter than that. More enlightened. Better. I was flabbergasted to find out how whitewashed and devoid of actual facts my very expensive education had been. There are times while reading or watching TV that I shout at my husband “How did we not know that?” I’m not a fan of rude awakenings unless they are happening to other people. And I am certainly not a fan of finding out I’m one of “those” people.

Ever since my social media guided self-diagnosis I’ve been trying to re-educate myself. I’ve been second guessing my first instincts and responses to people, situations, and information. It’s not easy. I’m not sure I’m getting it right half the time. It’s not comfortable. It’s like too fat for your fat pants uncomfortable a lot of the time. Which, brings me to what has arguably been the most difficult change to make: saying goodbye to Mammie.

I have always loved the archetype of Mammie. The version portrayed by Hattie McDaniel in Gone With The Wind – strong, maternal, brooked no-nonsense and also a little sassy – resonated with my own upbringing. All of the children in my family were reared, in part, by my grandmother’s housekeeper (yeah I know, privilege again) who had many of those same qualities and would have reveled in a red petticoat if we’d given her one. Every time I’ve watched that film I pushed aside the slavery and politics and focused on the more fictional and colorful elements- Rhett’s wit, Scarlett’s hoop skirts (because, well, who doesn’t want an excuse to wear a corset and a hoop skirt and have an 18-inch waist?) and Mammie’s bright, caring and feisty personality. I clearly and unwittingly bought into the romanticism that we’ve drowned slavery in over the last 400 years.

Thirty years ago I wandered into an antique store in central California. On one of the crowded shelves, I found this Mammie cookie jar. I coveted her from the moment I saw her. For the better part of the last 20 years, Mammie has sat on our kitchen counter filled with dog treats. Every dog in our family has looked at her as fondly as I have and with the implicit understanding that only good can come from her. I’ve known for a while that having her was somehow wrong, but I have struggled to let go of her. I didn’t buy her because I wanted to mock or make light of slavery, or to celebrate demeaning an entire race of people. I bought her because to me she emanated warmth and goodness.

But last night something broke. I felt it snap violently while standing in my kitchen. I don’t know if it was the shooting of Jacob Blake or the fact that the cops waved an armed killer on during an active shooter situation because he was white, or LeBron James startling blunt and to the point tweet, but I picked up Mammie, emptied her contents into another container and unceremoniously dumped her in the trash. I’m not sure that was the right way to end our 30-year relationship or if it was the ending she deserved. I just knew it was time for her to go, for me to let her go, and that I had to act then and there with no time for reflection.

This doesn’t make me no longer racist. This doesn’t fix me. It’s just one step closer to better. But fuck there are a lot of steps left to go.