restricted access 45 Mules, Madonnas, Babies, Bathwater: Racial Imagery and Stereotypes
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45 Mules, Madonnas, Babies, Bathwater: Racial Imagery and Stereotypes LINDA L. AMMONS Facts from a recent case help to illustrate how the conduct of a battered black woman is contrasted with the perception of how a battered white woman responds. A twenty-nine-year-old black woman, Pamela Hill, lived with her abusive boyfriend, Roy Chaney. At trial, the evidence revealed that police had been called to Hill's residence on five separate occasions to protect her. According to the police report, on the night in question, Chaney had been drinking and began slapping Hill. Hill got a knife and the two began struggling over it. Hill got control of the knife and suffered several cuts before fatally wounding Chaney. Hill told the police that she had been trying to kick Chaney out of her public housing apartment, "(b)ut she couldn't just throw him out into the cold." At trial, the prosecutor provided evidence that Hill had stabbed Chaney the year before, and therefore , in his opinion, the relationship was "mutually combative." In his closing argument, the prosecutor made this statement: "(A) lot of people would have you believe Pamela Hill is carrying the banner of Nicole Simpson."l The contrasts between the two cases could not be more stark. The imagery and stereotypes that were raised by the prosecutor's comparison of Pamela Hill and Nicole Simpson cannot be missed. Nicole Simpson was white, beautiful, rich, portrayed as a good mother, and brutalized. Pamela Hill is black, poor, an unwed mother, and considered violent. Hill was convicted and received a sentence of five to twenty-five years. The prosecutor, in making the statement about Pamela Hill"carrying the banner of Nicole Simpson," wanted to make sure that the jurors had a picture in their minds of a real battered woman. However, without discounting the seriousness of the domestic violence conviction of O. J. Simpson, in comparing the situations of Nicole Brown Simpson and Pamela Hill, Hill's situation appears to be more desperate because of her lack of resources and options . Why, then, was she treated so harshly? The subtlest and most pervasive of all influences are those which create and maintain the repertory of stereotypes. We are told about the world before we see it. We imagine most things before we experience them. And those preconceptions, unless education has made us acutely aware, govern deeply the whole process of perception.2 Next comes a warmer race, from sable sprung, To love each thought, to lust each nerve is strung; The Samboe dark, and Mulatto brown, 1995 WIS. L. REV. 1003. Copyright © 1995, by the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. Reprinted by permission of WiSCOI1Sil1 Law Review. Copyrighted Material Mules, Madonnas, Babies, Bathwater The Mestize fair, the well-limb'd Quaderoon, And jetty Afric, from no spurious sire, Warm as her soil, and as her sun-on fire. These sooty dames, well vers'd in Venus' school, Make love an art, and boast they kiss by rule.3 White girls are pretty funny, sometimes they drive me mad, black girls just want to get fucked all night I just don't have that much jam.4 277 A stereotype is a fixed impression that"conforms very little to the facts ... and results from our defining first and observing second,"s "an exaggerated belief associated with a category. Its function is to justify (rationalize) our conduct in relation to that category."6 Stereotypes are "the language of prejudice";? as such, they are a part of the social heritage of a society. They appear in a range of materials from academic sources to rock-and-roll lyrics. For example, although the above quotation cited by historian Winthrop Jordan and the lyrics by The Rolling Stones were written more than 200 years apart, the statements promote the same stereotype about black women: they are sexually available. By the time a child is four or five, he or she has learned the significance of skin color and racial membership. Writer Audre Lorde recalls how one day, while wheeling her two-yearold daughter around in the shopping cart, she passed a white woman and her little girl in the aisle. The little white girl "called out excitedly, 'Oh, look Mommy, a baby maid."'s Whites have been taught either expressly or implicitly that they are better than blacks. Kimberle Crenshaw has provided the following chart to illustrate how the negative image of blacks corresponds with the image of...


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