Yup, that's a mammy stereotype in a kitchen with a rolling pin, printed on a pink potholder.
White tourists love their mammies, let me tell ya. I really, honestly, naively did not think that these sorts of things were still manufactured. Really! I thought that people were more subtle than that these days. Then, a few years ago on Beale Street in Memphis, I saw a whole case full of mammy figurines for sale. Given that I was on Beale Street, I thought I had maybe a little too much of the fermented grape and was hallucinating. Nope. Then, in Louisiana, I saw some "nostalgic" postcards made from scanned images of old canned food labels, each depicting the full array of "happy slave" stereotypes. I also saw an edition of "Little Black Sambo" sold in the same store. I started to get an inkling that maybe there is this whole trade still going on.
Still, being white and urban, I don't see it on a regular basis and don't have to think too much about it. Which means that I was once more stunned out of my willful ignorance when I came across this in the Market in Charleston:
"Who the hell would buy that?" I thought. "Me? Just to prove that it exists?" No, I don't want to contribute money to this. That's why I take pictures, instead. I can get evidence without supporting the sale and manufacture.
Then, right next to me, two women cooed over how "cute" the little figurines were. One of the women bought one. Again, I would not have been so surprised had they been of the demographic of the seller: a white octogenarian, like my grandmother. Instead, they were in their early to mid-twenties, white, and without a trace of irony in their voices or demeanor.
A little further down the Market, in another stall, I found more mammies:
Soap dispensers, sponge holders: These are all figures meant for cleaning. It puts me in mind of the book Slave in a Box: The Strange Career of Aunt Jemima, which told of the way that the image of the happy, helping, mammy was used to pancake mix because it called upon the fantasies of white feminine leisure permitted by enslaved --- but not patriarchally approved as attractive -- women.
That interplay between privleged, patriachally-approved pretty white women and black women as slaves or domestic servants appeared in this toy kit, which I found in the Exchange Museum:
The white half of this "Topsy-Turvy Doll Kit" is blond and made of white muslin. The black half wears the traditional "mammy" head covering and is made of black muslin. I don't mean a light peachy color and a dark brown color. I mean white and black. The head covering of the black half directly points to enslavement or domestic work. The toy sends a message to the little girls who would play with this that black girls and white girls are different, and that one serves the other. Still, I also see an irony here in that they are both parts of the same doll. One is there to serve the other, and the other's privlege is based on the service of the first.
A stall in the Market has similar dolls, as well as single dolls made of black material and with black braids popping out of its head like a child's drawing of a sun. I almost took a picture, but the white octogenarian woman behind the table caught my eye and tried to sell me one. That meant that I had suddenly become in a hurry to move elsewhere.
Elsewhere led me to yet another shop that sold not only mammies, but also "pickaninnies":
Yes, those are black children eating watermelon. Across the way, a store that prominently featured license plates of various Confederate flags and books about "dishonest Abe," you could purchase this:
I've seen several versions of Little Black Sambo in the past few years. The story was quite familiar to me growing up, and was written by an English missionary to India. The reprint that I saw back in Louisiana was similar to version that my brother had when he was 4 or 5, and came with a record with a narration and little songs that go with the story. To this day my mother cannot say the word "pancake" without launching into "pancakes! Pretty little pancakes! Eat them while they're good and hot!"
In the 1970s, there was a Denny's-type of chain restaurant called "Sambo's" that sold plush(-ish) toys of the characters in the story. Somewhere in my parents' attic I have a tiger in a cage-shaped box, along with a series of flashcards telling the story. I even found a Golden Book in the thrift store in which the story had been renamed as "The Little Boy and the Tigers."
The Golden Book and Sambo's traded in on Indian -- albeit a very light-skinned Indian --stereotypes. The story that my brother had involved African-featured characters. This book is similar to one that my grandmother had, and is based on the original version of the story, although with some alterations. The original story uses south Asian features, but exaggerrated nearly out of recognition as in a minstrel show. In this version, the characters seem to be a mash-up of stereotyped features, again exagerrated to near non-recognition as human, from around the Indian ocean and Pacific Rim.
Often, I wonder why I don't have the gumption or finesse to just ask what possesses the sellers to make and offer such wares that clearly support stereotypes, and if they are aware of the millions of insidious ways that stereotypes damage real lives.