How did I get to this topic? It's not like the word Mammy is running rampant from mouths like its cousin we know so well, or like I've had reason to have it on my mind, except for the recent memory of a White acquaintance who tried to explain her use of the word towards our mutual Black friend (more than once) as an expression of gratitude (whatever happened to just plain "Thank you"?).
Long absent from re:thinking, I was just minding my business, mining saved and new articles for inspiration, when I happened on a Clutch piece about artist Kara Walker's large scale installation, A Subtlety,or the Marvelous Sugar Mama, presented in what remained of Brooklyn's old Domino Sugar Factory (Spring 2014). It began:
"There is a restaurant in Natchez, Mississippi called Mammy’s Cupboard where you can slip beneath Mammy’s skirts and eat a delicious lunch with a sweet slice of pie for dessert.“Affectionately” called “Black Mammy’s” by locals, the restaurant is a Dixie ode to the Old South, where Confederate flags waved gently in the magnolia scented breeze and the blood of enslaved Africans dampened the earth.From miles around the White people come. Ignorant—or dismissive—of the subjugation and violence against Black female bodies that “Mammy” represents, they eagerly live out Gone With The Wind fantasies and giggle at the sight of the 30-foot tall Mammy standing silent, subservient and vulnerable to those who would part her skirt and rape her memory. To them, Mammy is delightful. She is mint juleps and cotton; antebellum homes and White supremacy. She is a reminder that once upon a time, White people owned other human beings and they liked it. Even more so, they would like it today." (Clutch)
The narrator said:
"The world is lucky that folks will work to keep bizarre buildings in shape."
Is that what that is? Luck? At least he acknowledges Mammy as "an outdated African-American caricature."
Cut to Doris Kemp, who runs the business:
"The building's been here since 1940, designed for just what it does, to attract the traveler to stop, look and buy, and leave their money."
Then a litte more "history": Henry Gaude (pronounced go-day) built it for his wife. And at first, it was just going to be a teahouse, y'all, but then folks started requesting food.
Cut to the woman in the kitchen:
"It's what you would expect at your grandmother's kitchen, actually. If you go to Mamaw's house, there's, you know, good delicious deserts and homemade food."
Okay, so how about you call it Mamaw's Kitchen?
Cut to Miss Lady Customer #1:
"We eat here all the tahm. We love Dawris tuh dehyeth. We think she's the sweetest person."
Well, i'n that sew sweeyeet?
And because that's not enough, it keeps coming: The place was built to fit in with The Pilgrimage, a popular annual springtime tour of the area's old homes and plantations.
Cut to Miss Lady Customer #2:
"With Mammy sittin' on top, it's different "
Jovial Male Voice:
"It's so incorrect politically, but I guess back in the 30s and 40s you could do that. But it seems to be accepted now."
More from Dawris:
"There could still be some resentment, but we haven't seen any. Because it's historic, and, and we're friends with everyone."
Everyone? Where are the Black people?
And the big finish from Jovial Male Voice:
"If she had the same restaurant in a liitle flat building, she wouldn't get the business."
Soooo, it's either a small flat building, or straight up Mammy? No other options in between? And didn't I just hear a man's voice saying "She has fantastic desserts you'd drive a hundred miles for" in the mix?
Two and a half straight minutes of folks tiptoeing around what we could call an elephant in a room, if it wasn't a giant "Mammy" structure, plain as day, towering outside. Is lightening her skin over the years, as they have, supposed to make it feel better? How long before the U.S. is ready to look its entire history in the face? Will it happen in our lifetimes? With all this so-called luck, who knows?
But while we are here, those of us who are aware can stand up, even in minuscule ways, in our own corners of the world, and say "This is an offense." Because apparently, some folks still need reminding.