The Evil Queen, Snow White, and Mammy

It’s still February, so y’all ain’t off the hook with this Black shit just yet.

Just kidding. This is Ars Marginal. Every month is Black History Month here. Or, to be more accurate, Everybody But Straight White Men’s History Month.

Anyway, this is something of a follow-up post to this one I made a while back about the Strong Black Woman stereotype and my identifying with the Head Bad-Ass Mother Fucking Bitch In Charge (HBAMFBIC) Regina Mills (aka the Evil Queen) from ABC’s Once Upon A Time.

I read this Tumblr post (and you should too) when a line caught me by surprise and hit me right in the Blackness.

That is not a stepmother. That is a house slave.

When you look at Regina’s situation, that’s exactly what the fuck she is.

Believe me, it’s bad enough that Cora murdered Daniel so that nothing would get in the way of making sure Regina gets to the throne. But when you factor in Leopold’s purpose for seeking Regina out, the amount of power he held over her, how he treated her during their marriage, and the fact that Regina is a woman of color, what you get is some straight outta slavery shit.

Remember learning about the bad old days when an attractive young Black woman woman barely out of childhood could be forced to cohabit with a dried up old rich white man, take care of his children, and have sex with him whenever he wanted?

Sure, I could be talking about Regina. I could also be talking about Sally Hemmings and other women like her. What Regina went through with Leopold was not pure fantasy. That shit actually happened.

What’s even more fucked up is how, instead of horror and revulsion at how these women were treated, white people responded with sentimental fondness for their Mammy who was more fiction than fact.

The same could be said about how Snow White viewed and treated Regina as though Regina had no thoughts, feelings, needs, or desires other than to play happy family with her. When that illusion was shattered, and Snow was confronted with the extent of Regina’s pain and rage, what does Snow do? Instead of acknowledging the human place Regina’s feelings and actions stem from, she holds fast to her notions of herself and good and pure and innocent. While it’s understandable in a child, even as a grown woman Snow does this. How often have people of color been faced with that when trying to talk about the ways white people benefit from the racism hurts us and our communities?

Let me be real: that shit is fucking infuriating.

The parallels between Snow’s understanding of Regina and white folks’ understanding of Mammy, including the disconnect from reality, are startling.

The Jim Crow Museum describes the Mammy caricature this way (bolding mine for especially Regina-relevant parts):

She had great love for her white “family,” […] she “belonged” to the white family, though it was rarely stated. […] She had no black friends; the white family was her entire world.

According to Patricia Turner (1994), […] house servants were usually mixed raced, skinny […], and young […].

Abolitionists claimed that one of the many brutal aspects of slavery was that slave owners sexually exploited their female slaves, especially light-skinned ones who approximated the mainstream definition of female sexual attractiveness.

Deborah Gray White, in Ar’n’t I a Woman?: Female Slaves in the Plantation South, says this about the Mammy figure:

This […] is the broad outline of Mammy. She was a woman completely dedicated to the white family, especially to the children of that family. She was the house servant who was given complete charge of domestic management. She served also as friend and advisor. She was, in short, surrogate mistress and mother.

[…]

Such a view required that some of the uglier and perverse elements be overlooked. […] house servants were on call at all hours. They probably had less private time than field workers. They were always under the scrutiny of the white family and far more subject to their mood swings […] Obsequious behavior was, therefore, more of a must for them […]

[…]

In reality, there were no certainties for Mammy, but she could hope that the odds would come up in her favor. One may well assume that self-preservation motivated Mammy as much, if not more, than any particular loyalty she had to her owners.

And the literal whiteness of Snow White just makes that comparison all the more disturbing.

3 thoughts on “The Evil Queen, Snow White, and Mammy

  1. A while since I saw it, but wasn’t that explicitly stated in the episode where she kills the king (where he says he doesn’t love her or anything, he just needs someone to look after his daughter, who he does love), and that the only reason we are supposed to see her unsympathetically is the last minute twist of her framing the djinni? Not because of the murder, but pretending to love him to get him to do it rather than her doing it herself. Or at least that was how I remember seeing it.

    Although, for that to work, the writers would have to have as view Snow as an unsympathetic character (at least until then), which they didn’t do.

  2. In hearing some white people romanticize the relationship between Sally Hemmings and Jefferson Smith, I boggled… she was bought, and then inherited like a piece of property and he owned her.

    They didn’t meet at a coffee shop and go dating. He inherited her.

    He owned her.

    He. Owned. Her.

    There is nothing romantic about that and there sure as fuck is nothing romantic about the relationship between Regina and MRA spokesperson, King Leopold. For all intents and purposes, he owned Regina too, belittled her, and had her as nothing more than a surrogant parent, and Snow White’s continued ignorance in the face of the systemic oppression of Regina is sickening and completely in line with white privilege and the romanticism of ‘the good old times.’

    It’s just more dehumanizing by white people who’d rather look for that ‘silver lining’ than face any kind of truth about the history of it all, because doing so would make them feel bad.

    It’s like this black and white picture of a black woman breast-feeding a white baby I saw on tumblr a few months ago that circulated around, where white people, and mostly white women, were going on about how that was a crossing of racial lines and how skin colour doesn’t count while more intelligent people, mostly people of colour, called it for the indentured servitude it was, most likely at the expense of the black woman’s own family.

    Fucking hell, Snow White Privilege… stuff gets you higher than any drug.

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