From Mammy to Welfare Queen: Images of Black Women in Public-Policy Formation

  • Emilie M. Townes
Part of the Black Religion/Womanist Thought/Social Justice book series


White supremacist ideology in the United States depends on creating and maintaining a nonhuman status for Black and other darker-skinned peoples. We may think of White supremacists as long gone, merely a dark part of the American past, but the fundamental belief of this ideology, that non-Whites are lesser breeds, still exerts a strong influence on how we think of ourselves and each other and the decisions we make as a society. One way to trace the continuing impact of the slaveholding White supremacist ideology is to see how its racial and sexual stereotypes affect our public-policy decisions. This ideology includes stereotypical images of Black womanhood: we are all familiar with the Mammy who loves her White master’s children as though they were her own, the Black Matriarch who rules her home and her neighborhood yet cannot keep a husband and thus cannot raise her children right, and the Welfare Queen who lives in luxury thanks to the hard work of the taxpayer. The negativity of these images, particularly those of the Black Matriarch and the Welfare Queen, allows us to assume the worst about Black women (and all Black folk). We then go on to develop welfare policies based on these imaginary characters’ personal failings—policies that affect not only poor people of all colors, but all of us. In forming these policies, we rarely question the justice of the structures in which we all exist and the economic, moral, political, and social impact these structures have on our lives.


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Copyright information

© Bernadette J. Brooten 2010

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  • Emilie M. Townes

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