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Disposable Negroes of Hypocrisy

By Kathy Y. Wilson · February 4th, 2004 · Your Negro Tour Guide
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"Mammy: A term of insult. Never used in any other way by Negroes."
-- Glossary of Harlem Slang, Zora Neale Hurston

Every day I write the book.

I'm forced to churn out pop 'n fresh chapters like I do because black bitches like me are under attack. We are targeted.

Everywhere I go and look, some motherfucker's trying to tell me who I am and who I'm supposed to be, what I need to look like and who I should talk like.

And it's usually white men and niggas. Mostly niggas.

My greatest daily task and lifelong commitment remains fighting for my right to be who I am on any given day. I defend my verbosity, my confusion and my truths.

That means squashing little volcanoes. They rain ashes of laundry lists singed by my recoiled rage: Hammer back, I'm firing sideways, street thug-style.

Newspaper, radio, TV and Internet ads whispering my shortcomings float toward me like life-sized targets. The city's my firing range.

The harshly quizzical expressions of my fellow Negroes unaccustomed to my aesthetic click past in shutter speeds I stopped measuring once I grew breasts and shaved my head.

Get this: The Mammy belongs to me. She's my lieutenant, my Barney Fife, my road dog, my Seeing Eye Mammy.

I collect and manipulate her like back issues of Playboy. I'm that heifer's Hugh Hefner.

In my Christmas bathrobe, I'm a prizefighter flicking off sightseers like Bird tied off saxophones. I blink away foes as my contact lenses get drier; smoking bricks of temptations like Chong, I come with the fire. Mostly I feel fired upon by the fears and frozen happy darkie memories of niggas thinking and living in the absolutism and classism of "don't ask/don't tell" them old stories of the O.G. Survivor we used to be.

"Don't talk about when we wuz mammies, pickaninnies, porch monkies, porters, nurse maids, washer women, drivers, bucks, field hands and minstrels."

How dare I reverse the white-owned concept of marketing my culture back to me by selling it to them first? It's on my word.

I own the Mammy. I am not the Mammy.

I come from Negroes. I am not ashamed of Negroes.

"I read your paper and I just saw an ad in your paper," Eugene from Covington said with a twang on my voicemail. He'd just seen the second print ad for my book, Your Negro Tour Guide: Truths in Black & White (Emmis Books).

He took umbrage with the Negro Mammy: "It says 'your niggra tour guide.' I think it's an insult to black people." For the first time I could hear he's black.

"It's a racist insult. I grew up in the '60s, and it's a terrible insult to me. This is really a racist insult to me, and I wish it would be put out of the paper."

Another caller a while back questioned my use of Negro, "especially in a city like Cincinnati," she said, her tone baked with disappointment in me. For history on the Tour title, read Songs in the Key of Strife.

Negro harkens to the day when we darkened elegant's door. We were dignified. Oppressed and set aside, sure, but Negro was the generation transitioning from the colored sharecropping of down South to the black power resistance of northern ghettos.

I'm as wise as naive. When Richard Hunt, my white publisher, came with the idea of using my cast iron Mammy for the book jacket, he nailed the concept of this column and the way I shout it down.

I assumed people would figure it out. I gave them too much credit.

Isn't it obvious? Both column and Mammy are offensive, funny, loved, loathed, brash, honey chile, attention-grabbing entities.

Neither is to be ignored. Neither is the point of the collaboration between a progressive white man and a likewise black woman. This is a faith move egg-rolled in trust.

Either we're geniuses or we're assholes. Equal partners or a pimp and a hoe.

The fine line divides along accountability. How accountable am I to the presentation of my visage and its metaphorical antithesis? To top it all off, literal-minded fools think the Mammy's me. Fat black/fat black.

I'm laughing at you, not with you.

People like Eugene who criticize my use of the Mammy show flaccid imagination and blind loyalty. They eat gimmicks for breakfast.

A part of being black that's equal to the size of a fleck of dust in the big black scheme of things, nevertheless of utter importance, is reconciling the entirety of who we are. Crack dealer or secretary of state? Florida Evans or Condoleeza Rice? Neither and both all the time.

I was thrilled and proud in 1996 when I interviewed then-98-year-old Effie Hutson, a northern Ohio nursing home resident confirmed as the second incarnation of Aunt Jemima from the pancake box. And I giggled happily at the part in School Daze when the Jigaboos held up Mammy fans to their faces at the end of the "Straight and Nappy" musical number.

It takes some farcical hijinks to get over on history. That means using it against itself, like in Bamboozled, another Spike Lee flick exaggerating offensive black stereotypes to illuminate the truths behind real black-on-black crime -- apathy, greed and a slippery identity.

The Mammy shall not be moved. The point of her iconography for my book is that by book's end she's destroyed, as witnessed by her shattered self on the back cover.

Death to the offensive stereotype and all that Jazz. Yep, kill the portly black bitch too big to fit in cookie cutters.

You wish you could wiggle your nose and make us disappear. You're bewitched, bothered and bewildered.

Count Mammies to put yourself to sleep. She knows how to soothe.

Meantime, judge my book by its cover. Both covers.



Hear Kathy's commentaries on National Public Radio's All Things Considered.
 
 
 
 

 

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