[Ads-l] transgender Mammy

Benjamin Barrett mail.barretts at GMAIL.COM
Fri Sep 2 12:57:23 EDT 2016

A 2014 Time article appears to have originated the term “transgender Mammy”.

About “mammy”, the online Oxford Dictionary website (http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/mammy <http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/mammy>) says: 

offensive (Formerly in the southern United States) a black nursemaid or nanny in charge of white children.

Wiktionary (https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/mammy <https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/mammy>) says: 

(US, historical) In the southern United States, a black nanny employed to look after white children.

Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mammy_archetype <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mammy_archetype>) provides a great deal more information, tracing the word back to Aunt Chloe in “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” (1852). It also mentions Hattie McDaniel’s Oscar performance in “Gone with the Wind” as Mammy.

A The Washington Post article (http://wapo.st/2bVpMQG <http://wapo.st/2bVpMQG>) op-ed by Travis M. Andrews that was published today provides a succinct definition:

“Mammy” refers to a cultural archetype of an older, often overweight black woman who serves as a sort of moral compass or guiding figure for the white characters to whom she’s submissive. 

The Andrews article references a 2014 Time article by Steve Friess titled "Don’t Applaud Jared Leto’s Transgender ‘Mammy’” (http://ti.me/29FpSvo <http://ti.me/29FpSvo>). The word “mammy” in both this article and the The Washington Post article refers only to a parallel between Leto’s portrayal and McDaniel’s portrayal as Mammy.

The Daily Dot (http://www.dailydot.com/via/laverne-cox-emmy-win/ <http://www.dailydot.com/via/laverne-cox-emmy-win/>) spins this in an article (“Laverne Cox should win an Emmy for 'Orange Is the New Black'") by Nico Lang in 2014, saying: 

...a necessary counterpoint to Jared Leto’s Oscar-winning Dallas Buyers Club role, referred to as a “transgender Mammy.” 

Other articles have also picked up the analogical term without bothering with the analogy.

FWIW, in "Investigating Gender” (http://bit.ly/2c7scPy <http://bit.ly/2c7scPy>, 2012), Martha E. Thompson and Michael Armato refer to a transgender mammy in the movie “To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/To_Wong_Foo,_Thanks_for_Everything!_Julie_Newmar).

Benjamin Barrett
Formerly of Seattle, WA
The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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