Pancake flap: Born a slave in 1834 in Kentucky, Nancy Green was the first Aunt Jemima “Mammy” in 1890. More about the case
Diane Roberts, a professor of Southern culture at Florida State University in Tallahassee and author of The Myth of Aunt Jemima, said that “Mammy” stereotype “romanticized the cruelty of slavery for a nation reconciling the trauma of the Civil War. “It’s one of those representations of black people that white people love because Mammy loved her white children so much,” Roberts said. “It proved to white people that we couldn’t have been that mean to black people because Mammy loves us.”
Stereotypes possess grains of truth and as a result, are pervasive and powerful in our culture. At the same time, stereotypes also cheapen the individual and often create and perpetuate myths that are incomplete, negative characterizations of a group. Positive stereotypes may seem less harmful or even complimentary at first glance, like “Mammy” or “Asians are good at math,” “Black people are natural athletes,” “White people are rich,” “Men are stronger leaders, “Women are more nurturing.” But in the end, stereotypes are limiting. They put “labels” on people that are difficult to challenge or overturn, both on a personal and institutional level, especially if a physical or permanent characteristic like ethnic or physical affiliation that cannot be “outgrown” e.g. wearing eyeglasses. Popular and deeply-rooted stereotypes result in implicit biases and prejudices, conscious or not, that can lead to decisions, policies, and/or unspoken “culture” based on generalizations (including falsehoods) about a group rather than individual merit or potential.