Journal of Black Psychology, May 1998, Vol. 24 Issue 2, p196 

By: Afi Samella Abdullah

African American women can experience some feelings of self-hatred to the extent that they evaluate and then devalue their physical characteristics (facial features, skin color, hair texture, personal behaviors) referencing beauty standards set by European Americans who imbue White supremacy. These same Black women may find themselves acting out certain behaviors in historically defined and ascribed roles dictated by individual and institutionalized racism, roles that help to maintain the dependency and oppression of Black women, One such role ascribed to a Black woman is that of mammy. This article addresses the concept of mammy and the maintaining of the mammy cultural image. The diagnosis of Mammy-ism is discussed as an example of one way that African American women historically assume the role and acquiesce to this socially determined inferior status, demonstrate attitudes of self-alienation, and display mental confusion. As a result, African social reality and survival thrust are displaced with European social reality and survival thrust. African women who display the above characteristics stiffer from the mental disorder of Mammy-ism. The Azibo nosology categorizes Mammy-ism as a subcategory of Psychological Misorientation (genetic Blackness minus psychological Blackness).

 

This article addresses the psychological health of African American women, who have historically used the coping strategy of playing the ascribed mammy roles, when White people appear to be threatened. This author conceptualizes the mammy role and traces the history of its institutionalization and current manifestations in the behavior of today's Black women. The reader is guided to understanding how the current use of this coping strategy is related to suboptimal functioning, thus depriving the woman of African descent of the true nature of her oneness with God, worldview, cultural identification, and self-appreciation. There is a need for all women of African descent to address the Mammy-ism concept and diagnosis. In the attempt to be inclusive regardless of how a particular woman addresses herself, this article refers to African American, Black, Caribbean, and all other women in the Diaspora as women of African descent.

 

A NOSOLOGY OF AFRICAN PERSONALITY DISORDER

 

Azibo (1989) systematizes disorders of the African personality with one another, as well as with the disorders within the nosology of the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manuals (DSM-III, (DSM-III, & DSM-IV; 1980, 1987, 1994, respectively). This Azibo Africentric nosology of personality disorganization in people of African descent employs and affirms principles of the African social reality (cosmology, culture, survival thrust, and ethos). Mental health is defined as "the achievement in the psychological and behavioral spheres of life of a functioning that (a) is in harmony with and (b) embraces the natural order" (Azibo, 1989, p. 176). The original African social reality is synonymous with the natural order, that is, humans share oneness and harmony with the Creator and with nature, the Creator's creations. Furthering the African survival thrust (the preservation of one's race) is defined as mental health for the original human being, the African.

 

The importance of race (the collective aspect of the self) is a key in conceptualizing disorders of the African personality. Correct orientation, as well as psychological and behavioral functioning, depicts the ultimate personality order as an individual's ultimate attainment of oneness with the One God. Human nature, as viewed in African psychology, is defined as rational and has moral integrity. Acquiring self-knowledge is natural in the progression toward self-mastery.

"Thus correct orientation is described as genetic Blackness plus psychological Blackness" (Azibo, 1989, p. 192). Azibo postulates that when there is genetic Blackness minus psychological Blackness, the manifest condition reflects the disorder of Psychological Misorientation. This author postulates that the disorder of Mammy-ism represents a condition of Psychological Misorientation.

 

CONCEPTUALIZING MAMMY

 

The characteristics of Mammy have been defined by privileged Whites and unfortunately often ascribed to and embraced by some women of African descent. This role historically portrayed by the female of African descent was previously necessary, as it was adaptive and allowed these women a way to survive. They were seen as nonthreatening, nurturing, selfless people who demonstrated love and devotion to their oppressors and the oppressors' families rather than to self or family.

 

The Mammy seemed to manage and contain any internal conflicts that may have stemmed from an expectation to nurture others at the expense of her own family's needs, wants, and ambitions and/or at the expense of her own needs, wants, and ambitions. The Mammy allegedly viewed the family she worked for as her family, often sacrificing her life for the pleasure of the slave owner or employer's home or business. These women also looked out for the slave owner, never wanting the owner's family or property harmed, damaged, or threatened. This role was assumed in response to social and political demands, even when such demands were not overt. This is a clear example of the violation of the first law of nature, in that the self is unaware/unthinking, inharmonious with the Creator, and dissonant with the preservation of own race. Black women are familiar with the Mammy roles that have been historically portrayed by African American women and idealized by Whites.

 

INSTITUTIONALIZATION OF MAMMY

 

History confirms that the media and advertisement negatively display the attributes of Black women by encouraging them to straighten and lighten their fully textured hair to aspire to and emulate European standards of beauty. There is a continuous appeal to African American women to discount their own beautiful shades of darkness by eliciting them to bleach their skin color. Greene (1994) states that Black women are encouraged to imitate White women and are rewarded for attempts to approach the White ideal. Unfortunately, this appeal is generated by Black men, Black mothers, Black magazines, music videos, and Black manufacturers of hair products and cosmetics, who fashion Black women as blond with light- colored skin tones. Such appeals reflect acceptance of the ideal beauty as being as close to the European standard as possible. Such appeals also reflect the acceptance by Black people of the negative stereotypes and the incorporation of anti-self and alien-self attitudes and behaviors. The racism of White supremacists was internalized.

Jewell (1993) speaks of how the current status of African Americans has been perpetuated through cultural images. The pervasive cultural images of Mammy have been used to define, describe, despise, disgrace, embarrass, humble, humiliate, ignore, reject, and shame women of African descent. Such images might be used so that White women can deny feeling threatened by the beauty of Black women. Black women embellish and imitate White attributes and depreciate their own beauty. Jewell (1993) explains that these cultural images were constructed as vital to the maintenance of the economic order to keep African American women outside of economic mainstream. Black women had to acquire this groomed image of docility and self-effacement to enter the job market.

 

CONCEPTUALIZING MAMMY-ISM

 

Although Mammy was a role initially played by women of African descent as a survival strategy to preserve their life and the lives of loved ones, the functional use of the role is now extinct. The playing of the role of Mammy helped to save many Black women from physical harm and assured them of "scraps" that they could take home to family members. However, with progressive educational achievements, technical skills, and employment experiences, today's Black women need not accommodate Whites by assuming this inferior and dehumanizing social position that had assured our survival during the last 400 years.

The following case was selected from the author's clinical practice. It demonstrates a family's unfulfilled dreams for a better life after migrating from the South. This resulted in family discord, economic instability, individual emotional stress, poor self-images, minimal self-respect, and even images of unworthiness of respect and love.

 

CLINICAL CASE SELECTION 1

 

Mrs. B., mother of five children, was 27 years old in 1941 and worked part-time outside of the home as a domestic. An attractive dark-skinned woman who wore her thick black hair in a bun at the nape of her neck, her trim figure belied her age and her numerous pregnancies and deliveries. Nearing the celebration of her 10th wedding anniversary, the future looked bleak to her.

Mr. B., a clerk in a neighborhood grocery, was 36 years old in 1941. He was recovering from bullet wounds he suffered during a recent store robbery. This trauma had resulted in his hospitalization and the family's introduction to the welfare system. He had recognized the dangers of working in a grocery store and had attempted to stabilize the family income by joining the army. He was rejected from joining the armed services because of his age and the number of children (five children, ages 6 months to 8 years).

 

After the declaration of World War II, many male-dominated jobs became vacant. Mr. B. had a grade school education; he secured a job as a meat inspector for a major meat packaging company in Chicago. Mrs. B. had dropped out of high school in her junior year to marry, but she was able to find stable employment as a seamstress (she loved to sew) in a sewing factory where parachutes were made under a government contract. The earning power of the family more than tripled. They no longer needed supplements from the welfare system. They were economically stable and financed their family's physical, social, educational, and leisure needs. Some middle-class strivings for their children were evidenced by expectations that the youngsters would complete high school, select upwardly mobile classmates for friends, refrain from sexual activity, and adhere to the church dogma.

Even though Mr. and Mrs. B. sought to join the labor unions at their places of employment, they were denied membership. When the war was over, the demands of the social caste system were reintroduced and reinforced. Both were fired from their jobs and ultimately had to return to prior employment situations, as grocery clerk and household domestic. Mrs. B. cleaned homes and served as adviser and nurturer for the employer's family. She was angry because she wore a smile and pretended she was happy in her work. Mrs. B. suffered from feelings of depression and anxiety. She felt hopeless about her future and the future of her children. She feared that they too would become victims of society. She feared for their lives as she remembered the trauma of her father being arrested late one night and returning to the family weeks later in a casket with cause of death unknown. Every time she sees a White man, she fears for her life and that of her family members. She resents having to work so hard in the home of a White family, where the husband is a police officer. She is hypervigilant all day and is exhausted at the day's completion. She complains of being tired when talking to her own family. With the family income drastically reduced, they reapplied for welfare assistance. Feelings of hopelessness prevailed, and Mrs. B. spent more time in church, while Mr. B. spent more money on alcohol.

 

Mrs. B. seemingly lost herself in her role as housemaid and often pretended that the employer's home was her home. She wanted the "nice stuff" and she often imitated the employer. She concluded that the only way to make her life better was to change her natural presence by straightening her hair, lightening her skin color, forcing her wide hips into her employer's discarded dresses, and speaking in a high-pitched staccato voice. Mrs B. began to hate everything that looks African, including herself, husband, children, neighbors, and friends. In 1962, she decided to leave her family to "better herself." She moved near the boundaries of a European neighborhood and began dating a European man. In 1968, at the age of 53, she came for mental health treatment.

African Diagnosis: Distorted and fragmented African Self-Consciousness, as a result of racial cultural oppression and environmental determinants. Possesses Psychological Misorientation and Assimilated Personality Traits. Anti-self mental disorder of Mammy-ism.

 

This author believes that the familiar Mammy role assigned to the Black domestic worker has now been expanded into corporate America and includes the Black female clerical, managerial, specialty-type technical, business, and professional employees. If the Mammy image made the Black woman more acceptable and even advantageous to have in the service industries, the same image (tough, resilient, self-sacrificing, nurturing maternal figure) clearly makes the Black woman acceptable in clerical, managerial, and professional specialty-type positions. Situations viewed during many clinical interviews reveal stressed women working in banking institutions, educational facilities, retail operations, hospitals, governmental agencies, and private sector health and social agencies. Such women report job-related stress associated with difficult interpersonal relationships with colleagues and/or supervisors who employ oppressive tactics. Even college-educated Black women seen in therapy consistently report job dissatisfaction. They ultimately understood how their dissatisfaction was related to their hard work greatly benefiting the company or business while merely maintaining their current work positions. Managerial work experiences, which could enhance the self-esteem and the economic stability of White women, often had the opposite impact on Black women, resulting in low self-esteem and economic instability from constant job threats. A woman of African descent can be fantasized as a tough, resilient, smiling mother figure who is all knowing and capable of protecting and defending her bosses or company (domestic or nondomestic job, public or private sector), and/or White coworkers. When today's Black woman gives in to oppressive strategies, acts out White people's fantasies, and emulates the Mammy, she is practicing Mammy-ism. What causes educated, technically skilled, and work-experienced women to internalize White racism, accept oppression, aspire to and emulate White beauty standards, call the company her company, and invest her total energies in the profits of the company, only to return home exhausted with no quality time for family? Although they act trapped, they are not as vulnerable as their ancestors were, but they act the same way. These women are suffering from Mammy-ism.

The following case, selected from the author's clinical practice, demonstrates the suffering of Mammy-ism in this well-educated, well-qualified African American woman of the 1990s.

 

CLINICAL CASE SELECTION 2

 

Miss M. is a 29-year-old woman with an MBA degree and is an account executive for an international corporation. She first sought therapy, complaining of tension and stress. She said she was committed to therapy, came regularly for her weekly appointments, and talked spontaneously about the pathology in her family. This attractive young woman has slouched posture, which emphasizes her being overweight. She has light-colored skin and wears shoulder-length hair permed straight and colored sandy blond. Her tailored suit is representative of her corporate uniform. Yet, the straight tight skirt and boxy jacket poorly fit her round physical form. She looks like a round peg trying to fit into a square hole. She is a graduate of a recognized state university and of the graduate business school of a high-ranking New England university. However, she repeatedly refers to herself as dumb and appears grateful the company continues to employ her. She feels fortunate, rather than competent, to be a graduate of both schools. When she relates situations during her college and graduate school life, the physical, emotional, and social traumas are relived. Joining the White sorority almost cost her her life. Life in the dormitories led to repeated situations of rejection and isolation.

 

Miss M. talked nonstop about her company. She talked as if she actually owned this company as she explained how she negotiated contracts and increased sales. It was shocking to learn that, even though she made millions of dollars for the company, she received a bonus of a mere $3,000. Her worth seems tied to her job production as she seeks to improve all company sales. She is proud of her ability to supervise and nurture her staff. She does not see the inappropriateness of her confiding personal issues to her supervisor or assisting in the training of new managers. She has the intelligence, creativity, stamina, perseverance, and energy of an entrepreneur yet lacks self-confidence. Her need to belong is psychosocially tied to her affiliation with her company. Her work rules her life. Work absorbs her energies from breakfast to bedtime. Her sleep habits are poor, so she works until near exhaustion as a sleep aid.

 

Miss M. feels estranged from relatives, community, former schoolmates, and/for other Africans. She lives in an integrated White community and speaks fondly of her White neighbors. She reports that she spends occasional evenings with an older married man, whom she has dated for the past 2 years. Last year, she became pregnant. As a single woman solely dependent on herself, she decided against going to term with the pregnancy. She ultimately made her decision and underwent an abortion procedure. Complications resulted in hemorrhaging and an emergency hospitalization. Miss M. shows evidence of much distress when recalling this experience. However, she continues to rely heavily on this relationship with this married man, stating that he makes her feel special because he has money.

 

African Diagnosis: Cultural and Psychological Misorientation (genetic Blackness minus psychological Blackness). Suffering from the deliberate and systematic destruction of her African culture during the period of attaining a higher education and employment experiences. The Alien Self-Disorder is Mammy-ism.

 

A Black woman may take ownership of the oppressor's troubles and pains by referring to them as her own. This is best displayed when the above employee comes home tired, asks to be left alone, but hastens to take on additional work tasks if the employer telephones her at home.

The company is referred to as her company by today's Black woman, but the profits and decision making are directed elsewhere. An ownership posture at the place of employment puts the company's needs above individual (time off due to stress or illness) or family (member's illness or important event) needs. A Black woman may evidence a strong need to fully assimilate with the European culture. When making decisions, she may refer to the Whites' standards before she makes her choices, and she rarely considers how the consequences of her decisions will affect Black colleagues or the larger Black community. These Black women practice defunct slavelike social behaviors in current daily interactions with Whites. Here are examples of such slavelike social behaviors: condemning the speech patterns of other Blacks, choosing sides with the supervisors to maintain the corporate uniform instead of permitting employees one day of casual or ethnic/cultural dress, referring to ethnic/cultural attire as costume, acquiescing in political discussions about the violent nature of Blacks and/or finding humor in ethnic/racial jokes. Unfortunately, Black women are encouraged to look like and act like the oppressors. The wearing of ethnic clothes and/or bright colors is often unacceptable. These women are suffering from Mammy-ism and are in need of psychological help.

 

Today's Black women have some recourses to overt and covert acts of oppression. They can complain to established government agencies, civil organizations, and politicians. An attorney can be hired, and the problem can be taken to court for settlement. Black women of the 1990s do not have to sacrifice their lives for the pleasure and/or happiness of employers or businesses. Life sacrificing is no longer an appropriate survival strategy. Black women of the nineties are not uniformly trapped or consistently forced to work in life-threatening situations. When Black women act trapped and sacrifice their lives and energies to the companies and employers to the extent of self-denial, they are exhibiting symptoms of Mammy-ism and are in need of psychological help. Such women also deny their beauty by succumbing to straightening their hair, instead of asserting themselves by wearing their hair in natural hair styles. Intelligence and strengths of adaptability, flexibility, creativity, perceptiveness, perseverance, resourcefulness, and capacities for problem solving are present but do not prevail. These same women exude Mammy-ism in their prestigious positions, which demand that responsible, intelligent decisions be made and job objectives be assertively managed. Job performance ratings of good to excellent are given when personal interactions with the Whites result in deferential treatment by exhibiting passiveness, insecurity, and inappropriate dependency.

Very often, Black women, especially as mothers, proudly celebrate European holidays that venerate White supremacy and serve as prototypes in the annihilation and/or oppression of people of color. She may even honor images of Christ Jesus depicted as a White man, contrary to the Biblical description of him as "hairs were white like wool . . . feet like unto burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace--fine brass as if they burned in a furnace" (Holy Bible, verses 14, 15). In this role, Black women help to teach children to elevate the White standards and to accept inferior status, thus passing on misorientations.

 

Nelson (1993) writes about her experiences as a professional journalist during more than 4 years with The Washington Post newspaper. She talks about how she gave up her successful, yet poor freelance work as a writer in New York to work full-time at the Post for the money. Her 13-year-old daughter yearned for material goods in the form of house, car, and many cats, which she had observed from a television situation comedy about a middle-class Black family. This only child seemed tired of the life of vegetarian diets, apartment living, eccentric clothes, and friends. Nelson admits that she owed her daughter a life with stability, charge accounts, funding to finance the daughter's college education, and mainstream bourgeois living and friends. Nelson attained bourgeoisdom with a reputable newspaper in a major city. She became a homeowner and financed her daughter's education, at the cost of subjecting herself to demeaning and humiliating conditions to maintain her position. Since leaving that position and liberating herself, she vows not to join a single organization and not to run for any office, stating that her Mammy-ing days are over. She agonizes over having become a mammy at her place of employment. Nelson speaks about her need to attend the annual convention of the National Association of Black Journalists for the emotional support of colleagues. She also tells of the high price she paid in maintaining her dignity and integrity in warding off Mammy-ism.

 

ETIOLOGY OF THE DISORDER OF MAMMY-ISM

 

This disorder of Mammy-ism is a disorder in the Black personality that is reflective of Psychological Misorientation. An African woman with such a disorder has thoughts, beliefs, values, and attitudes that are non-Black. Her thoughts are psychologically European or Arabian, and her values and beliefs support the survival thrust of Europeans or Arabs. Alien concepts and/or survival thrusts exist at the expense of correct psychological orientation. The anti-self misorientation, combined with the behavior of sacrificing self while exercising a survival thrust for the oppressor, can undermine the Black woman's feelings of oneness with the Creator. The alien-self and anti-self misorientation could result in attitudes of inferior self and omnipotent White people.

 

Psychologically, a woman overcome with Mammy-ism minimizes her roles and her value to her man and children. She might model self-depreciation and self-alienation to the extent that her children incorporate such devaluing, which could result in passing self-hatred (personal and extended) from generation to generation. In this role, Black women help to teach the children to expect inferior status in relation to White people, thus passing on misorientations. Case study research (Atwell & Azibo, 1992, p. 309) supports this observation.

 

CORRECT ORIENTATION

 

The ideal personality or mentally ordered individual is the African American woman who has self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-determination. She has an appreciation of her place in the universe, her connectedness with nature, and her spiritual relationship with her God. She respects her God-given right to have her physical needs, as well as her requirements in safety, affection, love, belonging, and achievement, met. She attends to the meeting of her spiritual, emotional, physical and intellectual needs as well as assuring the needs of her loved ones are met. She is aware of her African history and cultural heritage and has consciously decided to reclaim her Africanness.

 

MISORIENTATION DIAGNOSIS

 

The mental disorder is Mammy-ism. This disorder is diametrically opposed to mental health in that this condition is unnatural. This person puts the needs, wishes, and desires of an unrelated person above the needs, wishes, and desires of self family, and/or community. A sufferer of Mammy-ism is preoccupied with the comfort and pleasure of the other, while denying her own pain and that of her people. The sufferer lacks self-esteem, self-determination, and self-confidence while supporting the oppressors in accomplishing the same. The sufferer sees the self as subjugated and less than the culturally dominant non-African. Her values are out-referenced, thus denying the value of the African worldview. To devalue one's culture is a disorder. Mammy-ism sufferers devote time and energy in assisting the other to advance the politics of Eurocentrism, while devaluing Africanness and internalizing racism. The negative self-image is obvious in her attempts to imitate the oppressor (looks, speech, dress, mannerisms), which ultimately results in disparagement of her personal and extended self.

 

The first law of nature is self-preservation. Within the context of the African cosmology, the self is personal and collective. A mentally healthy person sees the self in both its personal and collective aspects as valuable and primary (Azibo, 1989). An African woman should identify herself as part of the collective geopolitical group to which she belongs. She should dismiss the stereotypes and biases ascribed to herself and her people, lest they destroy her feelings of self-esteem, strivings for self-determination, and achieving of self-actualization. If this woman fails to make a positive identification with her Africanicity, she will unite with the White supremacy racists who scheme and contrive strategic tactics of genocide against the African collective. Black men will be wrongly accused of being the enemy. Black children who escape being ripped from their mothers' wombs will be denied long-term breast feeding, personal identification, and a cultural heritage. The African children will suffer, as their "natural dependency on parental sustenance goes unfulfilled" (Welsing, 1988).

 

This diagnosis is conceptualized for women and is gender-specific within the context of the atrocities of racist and sexist trauma and torture that have prevailed for the past 400 years. The diagnosis of Mammy-ism is rooted in the survival strategies and struggles adapted and perpetuated by women of African descent.

 

Some similar mental and personality disorder of Misorientation might readily be noticed among Black men. Their experiences of atrocities from racist traumas and tortures are often intensified because they are viewed as sexually threatening. Their survival strategies and struggles yield a different presentation, which might reflect characteristics of the socially ascribed stereotypical roles of tom, coon, clown, and brutal buck (Akbar, 1984; Jewell, 1993). There are exceptional situations where Black men are fascinated in playing the role of father to children birthed by White mothers or very light-skinned women. These surrogate fathers act out the subjugating and dehumanizing behaviors of mammies and may be diagnosed as Mr. Mammy (Azibo, 1997).

 

TREATMENT POSSIBILITIES

 

Clinical healers therefore have a responsibility to assist Black women to view themselves differently. Clinical priority must be to guide people to be more self-reflective, thus increasing self-awareness and self-confidence. The therapist must assist women to clarify values and to identify with their naturalness and spirituality and to achieve personal growth in areas of expressing feelings, enhancing self-discipline, defining goals, and asserting self. The clinician must establish a warm, caring, and safe clinical atmosphere to support the sufferers' struggles with the interpretations, confrontations, and ultimate transformations needed. Outside resources such as African-centered literature, African history, civic or educational meetings, organization conferences, and networking can supplement the therapy by affecting the milieu. Assisting the African/Black woman in America to use her strong nurturing capacity to better care for herself while minimizing her investment in those who exploit her talents, is both empowering and healing. It is imperative that the clinician assist the sufferer of Mammy-ism to strive for better self esteem, through a greater knowledge of self, family, the Black experience, African cultural heritage, and the African worldview. Similar strategies should be used in the treatment of men for the conditions of Mr. Mammy-ism, Tom-ism, Coon-clown-ism, or Brutal-buck-ism.

 

Smith (1990) suggests that the way we cope with racism and sexism is based on our image of self and functioning combined with the opinions of others regarding our functioning and successes. We should continuously self-evaluate and process our behavior to determine how our behavior is affected by racism and sexism. We should further evaluate the individual functioning of friends and associates in relation to racism and sexism, while assisting them to evaluate such impacts on their behavior. Therefore, Black women must continuously clarify their values from an African perspective, while using the criteria from the African American experience and its standards, not those of the male or female European oppressor. The clinical therapist must operate from the African worldview base and be committed to teaching the African worldview and proactively assisting the woman toward extended self-maintenance/race maintenance (Azibo, 1990, 1992). The therapist most be able to appreciate the personal strengths of Black women, who have historically survived the physical enslavement period, the psychological enslavement, and the self-preservation strategies of survival through assimilation. The therapist has a responsibility to assist the Mammy-ism sufferer in reaffirming and reclaiming her African social reality (thoughts, beliefs, appearance, and values).

 

Mask wearing was used as a survival skill to help in separating the circumstances of her existence from her conception of herself. The classic Mammy may have experienced some alienation or even hostility. This self-preservation can be accomplished with humor and even transcendence. This would entail appearing to assume the values of the Whites, while maintaining an emotional detachment that would not alienate them nor let them exploit her. There is a need for Mammy to speak with constraints so as not to drop the mask. She could learn to maneuver the workplace to salvage some personal dignity to better resist depersonalization and dehumanization.

 

A need to maintain cultural references and cultural reality will lessen the trauma of the acts of oppression. Psychological damage will be minimal if the mask is controlled and cultural identity is maintained (Mays, 1985). Psychological damage will be even more minimal if the mask is removed and cultural identity is affirmed and revealed. When the Mammy-ism sufferer loses her cultural identity and spirituality and begins to suppress her beliefs, she adopts the culture of the Whites, basks in the White family and the White's house or institution in which she works, while concluding that white is right. Mays (1985) indicates that Black women could believe that degradation, humiliation, and oppression are their only realities. It becomes the clinician's task to distinguish the fantasy from the reality. This would facilitate better understanding of her behavior. The increased awareness of oppression and powerlessness is a recognition of a reality that precedes social change. Psychological health can be obtained if the mask of Mammy is removed and African cultural identity is recognized, affirmed, and asserted.

 

Effective psychotherapy with the Mammy-ism sufferer demands that the therapist be African culture-centered to assist the African American woman toward self-acceptance, self-confidence, and full awareness. The Mammy-ism sufferer must learn how to redirect her energies and concerns back to herself, her God, her family, and other African people. There is a need to alleviate the continued outreferences, self-alienation, and self-hatred to facilitate the journey toward self-transformation (Akbar, 1977; Azibo, 1990).

 

CONCLUSION

 

Historically, women of African descent have played the ascribed subservient role of Mammy in relationships with White people. This survival strategy was culturally relevant and essential in past times when there was a threat of loss of life. During those years of struggle, the woman never lost sight of her true identity, spirituality, and African values. The mask and maladaptive behavior were used in a survival strategy. That strategy is no longer imperative if one wishes to survive. We are in a time in history when the mask of Mammy must be removed and the identifiable African must emerge. The transformed and transcended African woman reflects psychological health. African women in Diaspora during the 1990s are still expected by White people to behave like Mammy in many institutional settings (university classrooms where the professor is a Black female and corporate boardrooms where the board member is a Black female). This role must be rejected, and Whites must be denied the convenience of the psychological slave. Black women have become accustomed to the nuances and characteristics of this Mammy role; the behaviors that have been inappropriately transmitted to and accommodated by Black women must be discarded in preparation for entering the 21st century. These are the years when women of African descent must recognize, acknowledge, and reaffirm their true nature of being African. Some women will be able to make the transformation with little help. Other Black women will need assistance from a spiritual healer, family, and friends. Still other Black women, suffering under the psychological enslavement of the oppressors, will need the warm, caring, therapeutic relationship of an African-centered clinical healer, who must interpret behavior and assist in sorting alien reality from African reality.

 

African clinical healers must prepare themselves for the task of growing in their own self-identity and African national identity. There may be a need for a form of accountability in the demonstration of their abilities to resist internalized racism in the face of continual bombardments of negative racial images and to serve as a role model for the larger community. Clinical healers must join in the struggle for the liberation of all African people and other oppressed people.

 

The clinical healers need to be competent in teaching how to first recognize and work to resist the acceptance of cultural imagery that perpetuates negative stereotypes about African women.

This personal transformation is necessary to assist the healing of Mammy-ism sufferers, as well as other victims of oppression who suffer from Misorientation or Mentacide (Azibo, 1989, 1994).

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Correspondence concerning this article should tee addressed to Afi Samella Abdullah, 111 N. Wabash #1320, Chicago, IL 60602.

 

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By Afi Samella Abdullah

 

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Source: Journal of Black Psychology, May98, Vol. 24 Issue 2, p196, 15p.
Item Number: 564210

Tags: Africa, Women

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