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Black matriarchy: Wikis


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Black matriarchy was a popular stereotype in the 1950s and 1960s that exemplified black American family structure. This ideology depicted traditional black American households as being dominated and controlled by outspoken and emasculating women.

The role of motherhood that black women of this time period were expected to fulfill created a paradox known as the “superwoman.” This image of the superwoman depicted the black mother as someone who had to be a traditional good mother: nurturing and caring towards her children, but at the same time she was considered unfeminine, strong willed and too domineering.

The economic inequality that many black families faced during the time of the Civil Rights Movement created a situation of devastating poverty. Many black men could not support their families due to the economic injustices that they faced.

Their inability to provide forced many black women to join the labor force in order to prevent their families from starving and many women become the head family provider. Many scholars argue that the myth of black matriarchy worked to generate a false sense of authority that was attributed to black women due to their participation in the labor force and their contributions in the household.

Some argue that the “authority” of the matriarchal figure as a family provider was an application of personal power instead of a means for survival.


Debate over effects in postwar America

The power of black mothers at the time of the Civil Rights movement has become a widely debated topic, while some authors believe that black women could effectively harness their matriarchal power and thus enable them to make Civil Rights claims, others believed that matriarchy only further contained black American women which lead to even worse economic conditions. The myth of black matriarchy worked to contain and oppress women in several ways. It proved to be a damaging ideology for both black mothers and the black community as a whole. Contrary to the image that this stereotype portrayed many women did not choose the role as sole family provider and matriarchal figure; rather they were forced into such positions because of economic injustices that their families continually faced. This image also proved to be an effective tool for white supremacists to segregate the black community by gender, by enabling black men to blame the loss of their patriarchal power and disadvantages within the labor system on black women instead of white society.

How the Stereotype of Black Matriarchy affected the Role of Mamie Till Bradley in Society during the 1950's in reference to "I Wanted the Whole World to See" By Ruth Feldstein

Feldstein manifests her argument in the domestic containment of black women that defines their traditional role in society though Mamie Till Bradley, an African American woman, worker, mother, and resident of Chicago, who publicizes the murder of her son, Emmett Till. Mamie Till Bradley is credited to have sparked the “birth” of the Civil Rights movement yet only by depending on the “meanings of motherhood to formulate [society’s] views both on race relations and on American citizenship” which were defined by the expectations and “traditions” of white society. (Feldstein, 267.)

Feldstein argues how Bradley embraces her motherhood in order to attain authority in society, yet the public sphere limits her actions when people begin demonizing her. She defined her own subjectivity as a woman by putting herself in the public eye as a black, grieving mother and in doing so she “reformulated conceptions of both white and African American motherhood” (Feldstein, 266).

Yet, when Mamie Till Bradley “existed and acted as she did-as a mother, woman, and African American, in the public and private spheres- she became an object to be positioned, defined and contained…” (Feldstein, 267.) She is defined by the public eye because “motherhood [is] considered the ultimate form of womanhood” and this power is valorized in society. (Feldstein, 267.)

Mamie Till Bradley epitomized the domestic, contained and objectified woman of the 1950’s by relying on idealized images of white woman and to represent herself as a respectable, grieving mother. She used her constant dependability on men, her emotionalism, and physical image of femininity to assuage any doubts regarding her respectability as a mother and her maternal role.

The challenge she poses to American power as a symbol and person in a racially biased society that valorizes Carolyn Bryant, the woman Emmett Till allegedly “advanced” on, causes Mamie Till Bradley to ultimately be rejected as a motherly figure by the efforts of containment from white southerners and the NAACP.

She claims citizenship for herself by creating a position through her image as a “respectable” and “traditional” woman, which fails for Mamie Till Bradley who is ultimately constrained by the ambivalent nature of the stereotype of black matriarchy.

How the Studies of Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan Utilized the Myth of Black Matriarchy to Create Tension within the Black Community

Daniel Patrick Moynihan utilized statistics from the U.S department of labor to provide support to the notion that, “the black woman had substantial advantages over the black man educationally, financially and in employment” [1].

He therefore generated a reaction that facilitated black men to blame matriarchy for the loss of male power within the family setting. Moynihan also theorized a relationship between “the professional and educational advancement of black women to the high juvenile delinquency levels, high crime levels, poor educational levels for black males” [1]. These illusionary advantages worked to contain this oppressed social class.

In actuality black women had the lowest earning power, held the lowliest positions within organizations and corporations, and often required more education to obtain these positions then men.

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ a b Wallace, Michelle. "Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman." Myth of the Superwoman (1979): 89-127
  • Collins, Patricia. "Black Women and Motherhood." Black Feminist Thought second edition171-199.
  • Feldstein, Ruth. "I Wanted the Whole World to See." Not June Cleaver, Women and Gender in Postwar America 1945-1960 (1994): 261-305.

External links



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