Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Mammy Stereotype in Grey's Anatomy

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Grey’s Anatomy
is a well-known drama series about a group of medical interns in a renowned surgical program. The cast of Grey’s Anatomy is primarily white, though three or four of the lead roles are filled by minorities. Each drama-filled episode of the show follows two main story lines: one diving into the complex personal and sexual lives of the interns and doctors, and one looking at medicine and patients. It does not take a long time to notice the patterns between which characters are in romantic situations and which characters’ identities are solely developed through interactions within the hospital. Throughout the entire show, especially prominent in the first and second seasons, the personal lives of white female doctors become the main focus. Through this focus on white females and the in the desexualtion of black, female doctor Miranda Bailey through her lack of love life within the show, Grey’s Anatomy reinforces the archetype of the Mammy.

The Mammy was a big, fat, fast-talking, dumb, black slave woman who took care of the big house and any children on the plantation. She was not beautiful or sexy, nor was she the object of any man’s desires. In Season 2 Episode 12 Grey’s Anatomy, the desexualization of Dr. Bailey is briefly addressed when, after years of friendship, one of her co-workers has no idea that she has been married for years. When asked by her friend why she never mentioned her marriage at work, Dr. Bailey replied, “You never asked.” On the surface, and probably to most people viewing the episode, this interaction seems like an issue of bad friendship. However, The disinterest of this white male lead in Dr. Bailey’s personal life, especially when he is heavily involved in the personal lives of most of the white female doctors, shows the inherent dismissal of her as a desirable woman because of the color of her skin. In that same episode, Dr. Bailey is called back to the hospital for an emergency and she is wearing a dress. Upon seeing her, one of the white male interns says, “Wow, you look like a girl!” This same intern slept with countless white female doctors who he had no trouble seeing as girls, though he interacted with them in the same professional setting that he saw Dr. Miranda Bailey in every day. The discussions of Dr. Bailey’s life outside of the hospital last for a total of forty two seconds of the episode and the scene immediately switched to one following the love story of a white female intern and the date between Dr. Bailey and her husband was never talked about again. Dr. Bailey grew to a character defined by her job and strict work ethic, incapable of having a story line revolving around her personal life or love in general. The Mammy archetype being reinforced through the character Dr. Bailey was so deeply rooted in the writing of Grey’s Anatomy that it was not only demonstrated through her interactions with white male characters, but also in the overall structure of the show which managed to story lines of love when it came to its dark characters.

The character of Dr. Miranda Bailey was developed in 2005 when Grey’s Anatomy first aired, and although it ran until 2016 and Dr. Bailey’s character had plenty of time to grow more complex or dive into her personal affairs, her story lines remained primarily professional. Since Grey’s Anatomy, however, shows like Scandal, featuring a black female lead with a personality far beyond sassy or mean and professional have been developed. This growing variety, depth, and complexity in the roles obtained by black women is important in preventing the enforcement of stereotypes that can be traced all the way back to the Jim Crow South.

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