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A Womanist discourse analysis of the comedic discourse of Jackie "Moms" Mabley

University of Florida Institutional Repository
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PAGE 1

A WOMANIST DISCOURSE ANALYSIS OF THE COMEDIC DISCOURSE OF JACKIE “MOMS” MABLEY By NATASHA PATTERSON A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLOR IDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF MASTER OF ARTS IN MASS COMMUNICATION UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA 2006

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Copyright 2006 by Natasha Patterson

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iii ACKNOWLEDGMENTS First, I would like to thank my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ who never left my side during this journey. This finished thesis is a testament that ALL things are possible to those who believe in Him. I would like to extend a special appreciation to my thesis chair, mentor, and friend, Dr. Michael Leslie. He extended every dead line but NEVER lowere d his expectations for quality work. I thank him for pushing me to become a scholar despite my resistance at every turn. But most of all, I thank him for the genuine interest in my mental and physical well-being. He is a bril liant professor and I feel priv ileged to have studied under him. Thanks go to Dr. Debra Walker King, for di recting me to the womanist literature and for her initial suggestion th at I combine my interests in race and gender. Thanks go to Dr. Robyn Goodman for believing in my research and wri ting abilities. I would like to thank my frie nds and colleagues for all of their support. Whether it was sharing a cup of coffee or opening their homes to me for a month at a time, I am eternally grateful for their assistance along th is journey. In particular, I would like to thank Jorge Aguilar, Abubakar Alhassan, Da rius Dock, Fredline M’Cormack, Mwangi Njagi, Will and Michelle Thomas, and Roxanne Watson. I would like to extend a ve ry, special thanks to “Aunt” Frances Smith, the “S” Avenue Church of Christ of Riviera Beach, Florida, and Pastor Willie Wright and his

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iv wife, Eloise Wright, of the Fu ll Deliverance Church of Jesus in Sanford, Florida. I have two words for all of them: prayer changes. I would like to give a special thanks to Rashel Johnson whose daily prayers lifted me when my body and spirit were weary. Fina lly, I would like to thank my family for their understanding, endless patience, and en couragement when it was most required.

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v TABLE OF CONTENTS page ACKNOWLEDGMENTS.................................................................................................iii ABSTRACT......................................................................................................................v ii CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION........................................................................................................1 African Americans and Comedy..................................................................................1 Marginalization of African Am erican and Women Comedians...................................3 Organization of the Thesis............................................................................................4 2 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH OF JACKIE “MOMS” MABLEY................................6 3 LITERATURE REVIEW...........................................................................................13 Theoretical Frameworks.............................................................................................13 Functions of Humor....................................................................................................13 Critical Culture and Race Theory...............................................................................14 Feminist Theories.......................................................................................................15 Black Feminism/Womanism......................................................................................17 Overview of the Research on Humor.........................................................................19 Social Functions of Humor.........................................................................................19 Physiological Benefits of Humor................................................................................19 Psychological Benefits................................................................................................20 Approaches to Examining Humor..............................................................................21 African American Humor...........................................................................................23 Cultural Studies..........................................................................................................24 Contribution of this Study..........................................................................................25 4 RESEARCH METHODOLOGY...............................................................................27 Critical Discourse Analysis........................................................................................27 Analysis of the Historical Context..............................................................................29 Data Collection...........................................................................................................30 Design and Procedure.................................................................................................30 Historical Context.......................................................................................................32 Civil Rights under Kennedy.......................................................................................32

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vi Civil Rights under Johnson.........................................................................................34 Illusion of Equality and Urban Unrest........................................................................35 The Black Power Movement......................................................................................35 Women’s Liberation...................................................................................................37 Youth Movement........................................................................................................38 Cultural Scene.............................................................................................................39 5 DISCOURSE ANALYSIS.........................................................................................40 Characteristics of the Comedic Texts.........................................................................40 Mabley’s Discourse on Race and Segr egation in Historical Context.........................40 Social Construction of Africans..................................................................................46 Social Construction of Gays and Transgender...........................................................52 The Black Church and Homosexuality.......................................................................55 Women’s Sexual Needs and Desires and Males’ Inability to Fulfill Them...............58 6 DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION........................................................................64 Research Questions Answered...................................................................................69 Epilogue: Present-Day State of Black Female Comedy.............................................72 Implications of This Study..........................................................................................74 Limitations of This Study...........................................................................................76 Suggestions for Future Research................................................................................77 APPENDIX A SELECTED WORKS OF JACKIE “MOMS” MABLEY.........................................79 B WOMANIST DEFINITION.......................................................................................80 C CODING SHEET.......................................................................................................81 D CATEGORIES AND THEMES.................................................................................82 LIST OF REFERENCES...................................................................................................83 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH.............................................................................................91

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vii Abstract of Thesis Presen ted to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Mast er of Arts in Mass Communication A WOMANIST DISCOURSE ANALYSIS OF THE COMEDIC DISCOURSE OF JACKIE “MOMS” MABLEY By Natasha Patterson August 2006 Chair: Michael Leslie Major Department: Mass Communication Over the past few decades, comedy has been a major source of information for how people view current events. Thus, media rese archers concerned with the genre’s ability to reveal certain truths about society and the way it is struct ured that normally wouldn’t have been able to be told, have begu n taking a more serious look at it. This thesis attempts to document comedi enne Jackie “Moms” Mabley’s discourses on race, class, gender and sexual orientation a nd compare them to the major events of her times, demonstrating the interp lay between the two. In so doing, it provides insight about the culture and era in which the comedy was created and performed.

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1 CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION This thesis examines the ideologies and discourses of race and gender in the standup comedy routines of the black female comedienne, Jackie “Moms” Mabley. There are several reasons why this topi c is important to mass communi cation studies and feminist studies. By using a womanist analysis, this th esis will add to the discourse on race, class, and gender. It will discern the ways in which the construction of “the Black female experience” by this comedienne challenges and resists the process of hegemony by providing a voice which is criti cal of the economic, political, social, and cultural status quo in America. It will explore the role of communication in c onstructing, disseminating, and maintaining the values and norm systems that serve the dominant patriarchal class interests. It will explore the role of humor as a social learning tool and show the genre’s utility in addressing pertinent social and polit ical issues as well as ways to recognize those discursive practices which cr ipple the work of activists. By providing a historical c ontext this study will allow one to see Mabley’s comedic discourse through what Kates a nd Shaw-Garlock (1999) call textual shifters which are historical and cultural influe nces, such as the women’s and civil rights movements, around which the discourse was created. African Americans and Comedy The media’s tendency to cast African Americans in comedic roles has been well documented (Bogle, 2001). During the last 30 years there has been a proliferation of black characters in situation comedies (Bogle, 2001; Zook, 1999) many of whom had

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2 their start in stand-up come dy. African-American stand-up comedians have garnered both critical and commercial success, as evid enced by the careers of Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock, Chris Tucker and Whoopi Gol dberg. The 2001 theatrical tour Queens of Comedy, which was headlined by four African-Ameri can females, demonstrated the genre’s potential to challenge th e status quo on specific issu es, e.g., female body weight.1 Throughout the years, the crea tive responses of African-African humor has adapted to the historical and social context of their environments (Watkins, 1994; Williams, 1995), manifesting itself in four distinct types: the plantation survivalist, accommodationist, in-group satirist, and integrationist2 (Williams, 1995). The first type, plantation survivalist, can be traced back to the days of slavery when it was developed as a mechanism to deal emo tionally and psychologically with the effects of slavery and used as satire against the injustices and dehumaniz ation of the “peculiar institution” (Watkins, 1994; Williams, 1995). The plantation surviva list was essentially the slave trickster who used his wit “as barter for some advantage or gain” (Williams, 1995, p. 13). In tales the plantati on survivalist, or slave tric kster, was often symbolized by the rabbit. In these tales the rabbit as trickster would often feign weakness, practice deceit, or simply outwit his opponents (Williams, 1995, p. 12). 1 It must be noted however, that a majority of the discourse impedes the progress of blacks or at least does nothing to advance a black agenda and continues to proliferate negative images of women. 2 In Elsie Williams, The Humor of Jackie Moms Mabley: An African American Comedic Tradition New York: Garland, 1995. “A plantation survivalist was essentially the slave tricks ter whose humor expressed an ingenuity endemic to the survival of enslaved people. Whereas survivalist humor was developed by the slaves a survival tool, accomodationist humor was firs t initiated, directed by the slavemasters themselves, and later appropriated and claimed by the slaves. In-group satirist humor had two functions: conflict and control. It meant poking fun at the white oppressor, by shedding the victim’s mask and appropriating the stereotypes. And integrationist humor was similar to in-group satirist humor, except that it including Blacks laughing at themselves, poking fun of others, addressing controversial subjects—all in front of an integrated audience.

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3 By the 1820s, the plantation surviv alist form transformed into the accommodationist and was appropriated and commercialized through minstrel shows’ creation of “Jim Crow,” a racist caricatured portrayal of Blacks by whites in “blackened” faces (Foxx & Miller, 1977; Watkins, 1994). Although “Jim Crow’s” appearance was reviled by many Blacks it was commonplace by the 1840s (Watkins, 1994) and became one of the most systematically demeaning and damaging depictions of Blacks (Jones, 1963). Later, blacks attempted to shed the vi ctim’s mask and appropriate the stereotypes (Watkins, 1994). And by the start of the 1960s, pa rticularly during the height of the Civil Rights movement, African American comedian s made efforts to use humor as social commentary on many of society’s ills (Watki ns, 1994; Williams, 1995). This is termed the integrationist stage. It is this fourth stage/type of African American humor developed in the 1960s that this paper will depart. Although as the paper will point out, elements of each type of humor is present in Mabley’s humor, this paper will focus on those elements which are specific to the fourth stage and those which help the efforts of black and women activists. Marginalization of African American and Women Comedians While there has been considerable res earch on the contributions of stand-up comedians (Adler, 1986; Arce, 1979; Berg er, 1976; Burns, 1980; Coleman, 1984; Gregory, 1972; Maltan, 1978; Sochen, 1991; Wa tkins, 1994) the contributions made by African Americans and women has remained marg inalized. Of the little research that has focused on African American humor (Foxx & Miller, 1977; Schecter, 1970; Watkins, 1994; Williams, 1995) only Foxx and Miller (1 977) devoted a chapter specifically on black comediennes.

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4 Despite the accomplishments of comediennes such as Jackie “Moms” Mabley, Lucille Ball, Carole Burnett, Whoopi Gol dberg, Roseanne Barr, Margaret Cho and Mo’Nique, just to name a few, the majority of scholarship on st and-up comedians, has largely ignored or limited the contributions of women, particularly women of color. In a majority of the above-mentioned rese arch the contributions of black women are noticeably absent, except in that of Sochen (1991), Watkins (1994), and Foxx and Miller (1977). Of these, onl y Sochen (1991) attempted to situate women’s humor in their proper social and historical co ntexts and used their comedi c performances as satirical protests against the traditional roles relegated to women. There has been a recent trend to recognize the contributions made by women (Dance, 1998; Sochen, 1991; Williams, 1995). Of these, only Dance (1998) and Willia ms (1995) focused solely on the humor of African-American women, particularly as it relates to their use of the genre as a resistance and empowerment tool. In conclusion, few scholarly studies have analyzed the way these comediennes have used humor to critique and mock the hege monic practices which continue to oppress them. While there is some literature on th e physical, social, and psychological functions of humor and the analysis of jokes, there is a gap in the literature as it relates to the discursive practices of the genre. This thesis focuses on liberationist humor, which uses satire as a means to poke fun at and question the ideas of the dominant patriarchal system, providing a psychological and captive opening for progressive political action (Holtzman, 2000). Organization of the Thesis The purpose of this thesis is to documen t the contributions of Jackie “Moms” Mabley to the national dialogue on race, cl ass, gender and sexual orientation. The

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5 biographical chapter summarizes the life a nd career of Mabley. The literature review examines major theoretical ap proaches to analyzing her work. The research methodology chapter summarizes the methods used to analy ze her work. The historical context chapter examines the political, social, economical, and cultural context of her time, the 1960s. It highlights the significance of major pieces of civil rights legislation, chronicles the harsh economic conditions faced by blacks and recaps the discrimination, prejudice, and violence blacks endured as a resu lt of their race and class. In the analytical section, the actual discourse of Mabley is examined. This section is arranged topically and Mabley’s four majo r discursive themes are analyzed. In the final section, conclusions are drawn regarding the implications of her discourse. There is also a discussion of the implications of this re search. It concludes with some reflections on modern black female comedians Whoopi Go ldberg and Mo’Nique and speculates on the discursive reasons for their respective successes.

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6 CHAPTER 2 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH OF JACKIE “MOMS” MABLEY Jackie “Moms" Mabley was born Lo retta Mary Aiken in the 1890s—she professed not to know the exact date--in the small town of Brevard, North Carolina, overlooking the Blue Ridge Mount ains. She was one of five children born to James P. and Mary Aiken, an ex-slave (Williams, 1995, p.41). Growing up was not easy for Mabley. Before she reached the age of 13, she had lost her father to a tragic accident and been raped twice, the first time by an older black man and the second time by the white town sheriff (Williams, 1995, p.42). One source re ports both of these rapes resulted in pregnancies and the children were given away. (Bennetts 1987). Whereas another contends the babies were stol en and Mabley didn’t see them again until they were grown (Brown 1975). Although she never disclosed sp ecific details of her life in interviews, Mabley did admit to being “raped and everythi ng else” in one of her stand-up routines. Heeding the advice of her grandmother, who to ld her to go make something of herself, Mabley left home at the age of thirteen. She held fast to the spiritual beliefs instilled by her grandmother, who always stressed the importance of God as the only power who could move mountains in peoples’ lives. Believing that faith could help her overcome the mountains in her life, both literally and figuratively, Mabley left to earn a living. Barely three decades shy of slavery herself, Mabley realized the opportunities available to black women were limited but sh e was determined to succeed. In general, opportunities for blacks were slim during this era but they were especially lacking for black women. As Michelle Wallace noted in Black Macho and the Myths of the

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7 Superwoman slave women were restrict ed to four roles: exce llence in physical labor, serving the sexual desires of masters, mamm y, or providing special house skills such as laundresses, weavers, or spinners. In cont rast, notable careers such as artisans, mechanics, drivers, butlers, and coachmen were accessible to black men. And while the opportunities were limited for women, Lerner (1972, p.15) found that their workload was greater. In Black Women in White America: A Documentary History Lerner found that although they worked alongside men in the fi elds black women’s gender afforded them no special treatment. This same fate awaited them in film as Bogl e (1973) detailed their continued relegation to subservient roles as mammies and servants while males enjoyed a little more diversity. While slavery confin ed black women’s work to four primary domains, vaudeville and minstrelsy seemed to improve their prospects. So much so, that Jones (1963, p. 93) credited both vaudeville and minstrelsy with providing additional professional opportunities for black women. Thus, they now had more opportunities available to them than that of mammy, servant, or whore. Mindful of these improved prospects, Mabl ey packed her bags and left home at the age of thirteen. She joined the Theater Owners Booke rs Association (TOBA) and connected with the husband and wife team of Susie and Butterbeans in Houston, Texas (Moritz, 1975, p. 262; Williams, 1995, p. 43). The majority of her time in show business was not easy as she struggled to care for her family and pursue a career in a maledominated profession. Her st ruggles reflect the plight African American women experienced, as they were doubly burdened by their race and gender. During the Jim Crow era, which lasted from the 1890s to the 1950s, race presented a major burden to Mabley as well as other black entertainers as they often struggled to find work.

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8 Explaining the challenges her race presented, Mabley rema rked, “I don’t care if you could stand on your head; if you was colored, y ou couldn’t get no work at all [outside the segregated black nightclub and theatric al circuits]” (Moritz, 1975, p.262). It was in these segregated black nightcl ubs and theaters, like the Howard Theater in Washington D.C. and the Apollo Theater in New York, that comedians like Mabley found employment and acceptance. These segr egated theaters provided not only steady employment for emerging black performers but it also granted them acceptance frequently denied them in other venues. Fox (1983, p. 7) reported that they felt so accepted almost all of the entertainers that he interviewed for his book insisted “the Apollo was home.” Scoey Mitc hell, who was quoted in Fox’s book, Showtime at the Apollo echoes this sentiment in his statement about what the Apollo meant to black entertainers: If things weren’t going well, you just st ayed there---went into the dressing room and went to sleep. I’m sure a lot of white performers wanted to know what it was that was so special about this place. It was a coming together, a community of what we all had there. (as quoted in Fox, 1983, p. 7). These black theaters temporarily abolished the social caste system that existed among blacks and whites, especially in D.C. A Washington Post columnist underscored this sentiment in his remembrance of th e Howard Theater as “the one place in Washington where blacks and whites, school teachers and domestics, doctors and laborers, mingled as equals” (Gilliam, 1986). And finally, these black theaters served as training grounds for comedians like Mabley and Dick Gregory to sharpen their acts before taking their messages to in tegrated audiences (Williams, 1995). While performing on the vaudeville circuit, Mabley became known for her caring personality and her tendency to look after others. Regardi ng her as a motherly figure,

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9 friends like Duke Ellington and Louis Ar mstrong (Moritz, 1975, p. 262) bestowed the moniker “Moms” on Mabley. And from the 1920s until her death she used this moniker and granny persona, which was most likely m odeled after her maternal grandmother, whom she claimed hipped her. While it is known how she earned the moniker “Moms” the source of her stage name, Jackie Mabley, is a little less clear. One version contends she met a Canadian, became engaged, and then changed her name. It was also said that she chose the name Jackie because of her affinity for it and because it was the Canadian’s surname (Williams, 1995, p. 2). In another more humorous version, which can be heard on many of her albums, Mabley insists that it came from her boyfriend Jack who took so much off of her that the least she could take was his name. Donning an old frumpy housedress, a fl oppy hat, and clodhopper shoes, Mabley wowed her audience or “children”, with topics ranging from fairy tales to operettas. This maternal identity proved successful and se rved Mabley well throughout her career, endearing her to blacks and whites. For th e black community it established an almost immediate bond. As Williams (1995, p.48) observed, using this persona allowed Mabley to draw on the reverence and adoration best owed upon the elderly in black communities. And as Levine (1977, p. 366) observed, by usi ng the mask Mabley, “dealt with her audience not as a professional entertainer bu t as a member of their community.” Using this matriarchal character licensed Mabley to speak the truth wit hout fear, granted her protection, and permitted some artistic freedom in the male-dominated profession. For example, according to Stoddard (1975) evoki ng the granny persona allowed Mabley to draw boundaries between her and her audiences in a profession that was long thought to be a man’s world. Evoking the granny pers ona allowed Mabley to draw boundaries

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10 between her and her audiences (Williams, 1995, p. 49) which meant certain things, such as violence and direct verbal assaults, were prohibited. Li ke her counterparts Ma Rainey (Gertrude Pridgett), Big Mama Blues (Lillie Mae Glover), an d the last of the Red Hot Mamas (Sophie Tucker), Mabley capitali zed on the nickname (Williams, 1995, p. 49). Mabley effectively used this matriarchal pers ona as a refuge to a ddress political topics, race relations, and sexual relations---issues women normally avoided. Interestingly, while Mabley discussed some taboo topics, Stodd ard (1975) maintains that she still did so through a form endorsed by our patriarchal so ciety. According to Stoddard, “Before the most recent wave of the women’s movement the cultural taboo on women being funny in public kept a firm hold on the number of fema le comics who existed and who received national attention; those who di d receive attention generally engaged in a humor that was acceptable to a patriarchal society—the depictio n of women in socially sanctioned roles” (Stoddard, 1977, p. 14). As Williams (1995) noted, if black audiences loved her because she was like a member of the family then white audiences cherished her as she reminded them of a figure/role with which they were most fam iliar and comfortable with, the black woman as mammy. Besides how could they get mad at a character that was so endearing? Mabley made more than 25 recordings, with her first album, Moms Mabley: The Funniest Woman in the World, selling more than 1 million copies. (Williams, 1995, p. 51; Moritz, 1975, p. 262). Although he r career spanned more than 60 years, Mabley didn’t experience the same commercial success as th at enjoyed by her white and black male colleagues. In her good-humored way Mabley had this to say about her late found success, “Wouldn’t you know it? By the time I finally arrived at the big money, I’m too

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11 old and sick to enjoy it” (Schiffman, 1984, p.121) And in another tone she said, “I try not to be bitter; I would like to have gotten my chance earlier, but that’s the way things were in those days…better times are coming” (Jacobson 1974). And she was right as better times arrived in 1961 when she earne d $1,000 for one engagement at the Apollo (Schiffman, 1984, p. 121). By 1962 and 1963 she had upgraded to headliner status and commanded $5,000 per week, which was a far cr y from the $85 beginning salary she received in the 1930s and 1940s (Fox, 1983, p. 96) After appearing on the Merv Griffin show, her rates exceeded $5000 per week (Sasso as cited in Williams, 1995, p. 52). And after a 10-day stint in 1968 with B.B. Ki ng in Chicago’s Regal Theater in 1968 she grossed $91,000 (Williams, 1995, p. 52) Towards the latter part of her life her car eer began to take off. She appeared on the Smothers Brothers, Comedy Hour, Merv Griffin, Bill Cosby Show, Mike Douglas, Ed Sullivan, Garry Moore, and Flip Wilson shows. She also performed at the Kennedy Center, the Playboy Club, Carnegie Hall, and Copacabana (Moritz, 1978, p. 263). She performed on black and white college campuses, was invited to the White House Conference on Civil Rights in 1966 and she even visited the governor’s mansion in Georgia to talk with the then-governor Jimmy Carter (Williams, 1995, p. 50). Foxx and Miller (1977, p.98) maintain Mabley was the first female to emerge as a “single stand-up act.” And although black and white women went into the profession at about the same rate, black women were mos tly unable to transcend the fat black mammy and Aunt Jemima stereotypes and roles. Fe minist scholars have argued that one of the main reasons that women weren’t successful in the field of stand-up comedy is the aggressive factor that’s typical of most stand-up humor. For example, Stoddard (1977)

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12 contends that while aggressive behavior is acceptable for men it is not for women. One must remember that the dominant roles for wo men have always been that of a virtuous woman or whore. In spite of this Mabley was able to make it. Perhaps how she made it may lie in a quote by Johnny Carson (as quoted in Williams, 1995, p. 69) in which he said it required a lady not being a lady for a little while to make it in show business. While it was probably a combination of stratagems that resulted in her succe ss, Mabley found the formula and was able to succeed, comparativ ely speaking. But although she received a considerably larger salary than when she started, she never earned the same amount as her male colleagues. It is her legacy th at Mabley made it on her own negotiated terms and paved the way for contemporary black comedians like Whoopi Goldberg, Marsha Warfield, and MoNique. In 1974, Mabley realized a long-time car eer goal when she starred in the motion picture Amazing Grace alongside Slappy White, Moses Gunn, and Rosalind Cash (Williams, 1995, p. 52). While on the film set she suffered a heart attack, and shortly after the films completion she died, on May 23, 1975. Her popularity and lasting influence were evidenced by the hundreds who paid their final respects to a woman who had nursed their crying souls.1 1 Although other resources were consulted, the author of this research relied heavily on the material, organization, and structure contained in The Humor of Jackie Moms Mabley written by Elsie Williams to compile the biographical sketch. Given the difficulty in following the life of a historical figure like Mabley, the bibliography and discography in Williams book proved invaluable.

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13 CHAPTER 3 LITERATURE REVIEW Theoretical Frameworks To explore the research questions pr esented in the introduction, this study integrated several theoretical frameworks. The first group of theoretical frameworks, referred to as humor theories, explain the so cial, physical, and psychol ogical functions of humor. In addition, this revi ew incorporates two theoretical frameworks that explicate the marginalization of Afri can-American women based on the “double burden” of their race and gender: critical culture a nd race theory and womanist theory. Functions of Humor According to humor theories, humor usually functions at three levels: physical, psychological, and social. Some of the physical functions of humor in clude an anesthetic effect (Cousins, 1979), exercise for the cardi ovascular and respirat ory systems, tension relief in muscles, opiate release into the blood system, and laughter (Fry & Salameh, 1986). The psychological functions cited by Fre ud include humor as ego assertion and as a mechanism of aggression and displacement (cited in Brill, 1938), encouragement, empowerment, and balance (Klein, 1989). Fina lly, the social functions of humor have chiefly been explained in terms of interg roup conflict resolution and social control (Burma, 1946; Haig, 1988; Ob rdlik, 1942). Understanding th ese functions explains how black women have used its physical (laught er instead of crying), psychological (empowerment), and social (control and resist ance) functions to cope with and transcend the oppression caused by institutional sexism and racism.

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14 While the academic community has been he sitant to regard comedy as a “serious discipline,” several soci ologists have persisted in studying this “disreputable” research topic because it shows its possibility of rev ealing certain truths a bout society and human existence (Davis, 1993). What truths? Humor reveals the truth a bout the way individuals order themselves into communities. As noted by sociologist J oyce Hertzler in the text, Laughter: A SocioScientific Analysis the study of humor can serve “as a ki nd of sociocultural index of the culture or society, the groups and population se gments, the communities or localities, and the eras in which it occurs.” Hertzler goes on to argue that “what a people laugh at at any given time can reveal what they perceive soci ally, what they are interested in, concerned about, amused by, disgusted with, preoccupied with” (1970, pp. 58-59). Yet despite its ability to te ll us about society’s values and social relations, the study of humor as a “serious” discipline has stirre d quite a debate. Criti cs contend it is an unsuitable academic topic and thus feel time and financial resources would be better spent on other subjects However, proponents ma intain that researchers “can use the way humor deconstructs the social world to comprehend more precisely how people have constructed it” (Davis, 1993, p. 313). Critical Culture and Race Theory Critical race theory suggests that we live in a society that privileges whiteness (Omi & Winant, 1998) and makes whiteness the societal framework whose goal is to maintain existing power relations between the races (van Dijk, 1993). Critical race theorists view the mass media as not only a powerful source on ideas about race but also “a place where these ideas are articulated, worked on, tr ansformed, and elaborated” (Hall, 1981). Because one of the ways that the racist system maintains social control is through

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15 omission of voices that are critical of raci st ideology, it is impor tant to explore the discourse of these critical voices in the mass media. Our racist capitalistic society uses the mass media to disseminate information and to normalize whiteness and everything else as “otherness.” This normalization results in two things: a belief of entitlement to certa in privileges for whites in the United States and a justification for exploi tation and violence toward nonw hites (Kivel, 1996). Critical race theorists have argued that racist ideo logy is used as a technique to obstruct nonwhites’ power (van Dijk, 1993) Included in much of the critical theories of race is the concept of hegemony. Hegemony is the process by which the dominant group gains and maintains power over the subordinate classes (Lull, 2003) and norma lizes race relations a nd views of people of color. Hegemonic racism helps explain the purpose of the racist ideology (to keep nonwhites out of power as well as to serve the dominant group’s economic interests) and media’s use of racist ideology (to serve and preserve the dominant classes since they own it). The concept of hegemony and counterhege mony, or its resistance, are particularly helpful in exploring and expl aining black comedians’ approach to white supremacy and oppression. Feminist Theories Feminists contend that we live in a patr iarchal society that privileges males and makes maleness the yardstick against which wo men’s behaviors, bodies, and abilities are measured (Tavris, 1992). They also maintain that our patriarchal society uses this male privilege to maintain power relations between th e sexes. Feminist theorists argue that the media construct and disseminate gender ideol ogy and thus are a major socializing agent (van Zoonen, 1994).

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16 Like the critical race theories, included in much of the feminist theories is the concept of hegemony. The concept of hege mony and its counterpart counterhegemony is the process by which the dominant group secures the consent of the socially subordinated to system to the system that oppresses them (Gramsci, 1971). These power relations are naturalized and made to appear almost comm on sense through inst itutions like religion, education, and the media and thus overt fo rce from institutions like the police isn’t necessary (Dines & Humez, 2003, p.731). Alth ough Gramsci didn’t include gender in his model of hegemony, his concept of power rela tions is helpful to feminist studies in explicating male domination over females and helps to explain the purpose of sexist ideology. Another concept important to understanding feminist theories and to understanding how hegemony works is the notion of ideology. Ideology works to reproduce systems of domination and subordination (Kellner, 1978; Kellner, 1979) by what Hall (2003, p. 89) says are “images, concepts, and premises which provide the frameworks through which we represent, interpret, understand, and “make sense” of some aspect of social existence.” Because ideology is essentia l in reproducing hegemony, both concepts will be particularly helpful in examining a nd explaining black women’s negotiation of dominant discourses on race and gender. Feminist theory is comprised by the two key constructs of gender and power (van Zoonen, 1994, p. 4) which are critical to the an alysis of this paper. Gender can be thought of as both a social concept and a type of discourse. According to the definition offered in the glossary of Gender, Race, and Class in Media gender is what “society defines as “masculine” or feminine” one partic ular set of characteristics and behaviors,

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17 and then socializes children (or adults, aut hor’s note) accordingly” (Dines & Humez, 2003, p. 730). The definition goes on to explai n that these characteristics are not fixed and they can vary across time and between cu ltures and even within cultures (Dines & Humez, 2003, p. 730). Contemporary scholars ha ve even proposed that gender and its extension, sexual identity are best understand as occurring along a con tinuum, rather than as being binary (Nanda, 2000; Schwartz & Rutter, 1998). As a discourse, gender can be thought of “a set of overlapping and often contradictory cultural descripti ons and prescriptions referri ng to sexual difference, which arises from and regulates particular economic social, political, te chnological and other non-discursive contexts (van Zoonen, 1994, p. 33). Black Feminism/Womanism While there are many typologies of femini st theory, this paper will use a black feminist/womanist approach because according to Collins (2000) it allows black women to use an alternative epistemology to inte rpret their own oppressi on and to rearticulate black women’s standpoint through authorities validated by them as opposed to what she calls the Eurocentric masculinist process (Collins, 2000). Although there have been debates with the academy surrounding the distinctions between womanism and black feminism (Collins, 1996) in this paper the terms will be used interchangeably. As Barbara Omolade noted, “black feminism is sometimes referred to as womanism because both are c oncerned with struggles against sexism and racism by black women who are themselves part of the black community’s efforts to achieve equity and liberty” (Omolade, 1994, xx). Developed out of their frustrations with not having their needs adequately addressed by either the feminist movement s or the black liberation movements, black

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18 women decided developed their own “voice” or standpoints about black womanhood in the 1980s and 1990s (Collins, 1990). Thus, they developed their own standpoint to define themselves and articulate their life e xperiences. Defining themselves was critical as Audre Lorde noted, “it is axiomatic that if we do not define ourselves for ourselves, we will be defined by others---for their use and to our detriment” (1984, p. 45). Following Lorde’s notion that “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house” (1984, p. 112) black women began using th eir self-defined standpoint as a tool and started “talking back” against the dominant discourses about th em and black womanhood (hooks, 1989). According to Alice Walker, who coined the term, womanist derives from “womanish,” a word used by Black women to de scribe the boldness of some black girls. It refers to a “black feminist or feminist of color.” Also, it can be used to reference “a woman who loves other women, sexually an d/or nonsexually,” or someone who is “committed to survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female.” This thesis seeks to combine Walker’s (1983) multiple definitions of womanism with the Afrocentric feminist epistemology1 suggested by Collins’ (2000) to analyze and rearticulate the everyday experiences a nd oppression experienced by black women as expressed in humor from the period of 1960-1971. Although this study will use the discourse of Jackie “Moms” Mabley to narr ate the era, it is assumed that it embodies other black women’s struggles given the shared experi ences of black women. 1 According to Collins, Afrocentric epistemology is knowledge that accounts for the blacks’ shared experiences as a result of colonialism, imperialism, slavery, apartheid, an d other forms of racial domination. And feminist epistemology is knowledge of womens’ shared history of patriarchal oppression which transcends race, social class, sexual orienta tion, religion, and ethnicity And as Collins noted, because black women have access to bo th of these standpoints it only seem s logical that they combine them to reflect their own viewpoints of their oppression.

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19 Overview of the Research on Humor There has been much research conduct ed on humor (Barron, 1950; Brill, 1938; Burma, 1946; Coleman, 1984; Dance, 1974\8; Davis, 1993; Hertzler 1970; Haig, 1988; Leveen, 1996; Middleton, 1959; Stephe nson, 1951; Obrdlik, 1942; Watkins, 1994; Williams, 1995). This research has spanne d the disciplines including communications (Potter & Warren, 1998), couns eling (Goldin & Bordan, 1999; Sluder, 1986; Herring, 1994; Herring & Meggert, 1994), folklore st udies (Dance, 1978; Abrahams, 1970a; Abrahams, 1970b), psychology (Brill, 1938; O’Quin & Aronoff, 1981) and sociology (Barron, 1950; Burma, 1946; Obrdlik, 1942; Stephenson, 1951). Other studies have explored the physical, psychol ogical and social functions of the genre (Burma, 1946; Cousins, 1979; Fry & Salameh, 1986; Haig, 1988; Obrdlik, 1942). Social Functions of Humor Studies examining the functions of humor ha ve documented its use as a social tool used for control and resistance. For exam ple, Watkins (1994) documents how African Americans have used it in various ways lik e for survival during slavery to criticizing bigotry and racial discrimina tion, particularly during the civil rights movement. Williams (1995) documents how Mabley used it to ch allenge and even resist society’s double standards regarding women’s roles and behaviors. Physiological Benefits of Humor Whereas earlier studies documented the pr esence of humor in various literary forms, such as folklore, (Dance, 1978; Abrahams, 1970a; Abrahams, 1970b), with focuses on an analysis at the joke level and its social functions such as control. However, there has been a recent trend to highlight the physical and psychologi cal functions of the genre, specifically as it relates to health (Bruehl, Carlson, & McCubbin, 1993;

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20 Frederickson, 1998; Fry, 1994; Lefcourt & Ma rtin, 1986; Martin, 2004; Martin, Kuipier, & Dance, 1993; Martin & Lefcourt, 1983; St one, Cox, Valdimarsdottier, & Neal, 1987) Since Cousins (1979) published Anatomy of an Illness noting its physiological benefits, researchers have been hypothesi zing on the relationship between humor and health. Martin (2000) suggested humor has various aspects including physiological, emotional, social, and psychologically. Fr y (1994) found that la ughter increases the production of endorphins which act s as a pain reliever, serves as a muscle relaxer, and helps stimulate circulation. Other resear chers have suggested it improves the body’s immunity (Stone et al., 1987), generates posi tive emotions which e nhance pain tolerance (Bruehl et. al., 1993), and combats the cardiovasc ular consequences of negative thinking (Frederickson, 1998). Psychological Benefits Researchers have also noted it s psychological benefits, par ticularly as it relates to counseling. (Goldin & Bordan, 1999; Sluder, 1986, Herring, 1994; Herring & Meggert, 1994). Sluder (1986) studied the use of counse ling among elementary students. The researcher found that humor can be used to build rapport, self-disclose information about one’s own imperfections to put the child at ease, and as a coping mechanism by the children. And Herring (1994) and Herring and Meggert (1994) studied the way humor has been used as a strategy in counseli ng Native American children. Herring and Meggert (1994) suggested that while Native Americans differed among groups and individuals in what was pe rceived humorous, activities such as story telling, story reading, images, puppets, games, tongue twiste rs and rhymes could be used to convey

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21 emotionally-laden messages which might ot herwise be unacceptable if directly acknowledged. Goldin & Bordan (1999) studied the diagnos tic and therapeutic uses of humor in the client-counselor relationshi p. The researchers relate th rough transcripts of counseling vignettes the ways in which a counselor uses humor in variety of ways (i.e. to convey understanding, assess depression, identifying the humor in a pa tient’s situation, etc). They found that when humor is utilized in c ounseling, the counselor o ffers an alternative frame to the client’s reports of his or her experiences, which is meant to have therapeutic value. And they found this value of humo r benefits both the counselor and client--it allows the counselor to streng then the rapport with the patient and makes light of very painful experience for the patient. Approaches to Examining Humor The majority of the research reviewed for this paper attempted to approach the study of humor from one of three approach es: a humor function perspective (Burma, 1946; Cousins, 1979; Fry & Salameh, 1986; Ha ig, 1988; Obrdlik, 1942), a correlational lens, and/or an experimental approach across various disc iplines. Research from the humor function perspective te nds to highlight the social physical, and psychological functions of the genre and sp ans across disciplines such as communications, sociology, psychology, and counseling as highlighted in the previous sec tion. Martin (2004) maintains that studies that ha ve focused on sense of humor and health have usually used an experimental design or what he calls a “co rrelational” approach in which subjects use scales to self-report sense of humor and perceived pain. Of these three approaches, empirical evidence for the benefits of humor continues to be the w eakest (Martin, 2004).

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22 Using an experimental design, Cogan, Cogan, Waltz, & McCue (1987) tested whether laughter is a pain an tagonist. In the first experi ment, the researchers conducted tested their subjects’ threshol ds for pressure-induced discom fort after having them listen to an audiotape that was either laughterinducing (Lilly Tomlin ), relaxation-inducing, audiotape, a dull narrativ e, or no audiotape at all. They found the discomfort thresholds increased for subjects in the laughter and re laxation-inducing conditi ons. In the second experiment, they again tested their subjects’ thresholds for pressure-induced discomfort. However, this time they sought to determine whether it was the laughter itself or simply the distraction associated with attending to humorous materials th at leads to reduced sensitivity to discomfort. So this time part icipants either listened to a laughter-inducing audiotape (Bill Cosby), an interesting narrative (Edgar Allan Poe), an uninteresting narrative, or completed a multiplication task, a nd one group received no treatment at all. They found that laughter, and not simply di straction, reduced a subject’s sensitivity to discomfort. Thus, suggesting the potentia l to use laughter as intervention for easing discomfort. Their research concluded that because la ughter is naturally-o ccurring and doesn’t require training to be effective, it might be a useful technique in decreasing pain sensitivity. Citing it was difficult to draw a firm conc lusion that humor has an advantage over a boring stimulus condition from the conducte d by Cogan et. al (1987), Weisenberg, Tepper, & Schwarzwald (1995) conducted their own study. Using an experimental design also, Weisenberg et al (1995) sought to find out wh ether humor was superior to other methods of distraction when the intere st level was comparable. They contrasted

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23 humor with a repulsive and neutral stimulus which was controlled for interest level. Although the stimuli were distracting, they did not possess what they called the unique aspects of humor. They used four groups where three were shown a film which was either humorous, repulsive, or neutral. Th e fourth group was not shown a film. They found that when compared to the other groups, both the humor and repulsive groups showed a significant increase in pain tolerance. They c oncluded that on a theoretical level, besides merely being a distraction, hum or doesn’t hold any special advantage in pain tolerance. The researchers agreed that any conclusion about humor should be regarded as preliminary. African American Humor Research by Watkins (1994) and Williams (1995) demonstrates that the creative responses of African American humor were ad apted throughout the year s to the historical and social context of their environments and manifested through four types: the plantation survivalist, accomodationist, in-group satirist, and integrationist.2 The first type, plantation survivalist can be traced back to the days of slavery when it was developed as a mechanism to deal emotionally and psychologically with the effects of slavery and as satire against the injus tices and dehumanization of the “peculiar institution” (Watkins, 1994; Williams, 1995). This type of humor, which was primarily used by the slaves to direct th eir course of life in a hostile environment, was later used by 2 In Elsie Williams, The Humor of Jackie Moms Mabley : An African American Comedic Tradition New York: Garland, 1995. A plantation survivalist was essentially the slave tricks ter whose humor expressed an ingenuity endemic to the survival of enslaved people. ” Whereas survivalist was developed by the slaves a survival tool, accomodationist humor was firs t initiated, directed by the slavemasters themselves, and later appropriated and claimed by the slaves. In-group satirist humor had two functions: conflict and control. It meant poking fun of the white oppressor, by shedding the victim’s mask and appropriating the stereotypes. And integrationist humor was similar to in-group satirist humor, except that it included Blacks laughing at themselves, poking fun of others, and addressing controversial subjects—all in front of an integrated audience.

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24 slave masters for their own amusement during the accomodationist stage. Although later appropriated by blacks, humor during the accomodationist stage was initiated, directed, and shaped by slavemasters. Donning black ened faces and performing in outlandish costumes, white performers appeared onstage singing popular songs while enacting racist caricatured portrayals of blacks. (Foxx a nd Miller, 1977; Watkins, 1994). With these minstrel shows, whites had ushered in a form of entertainment of blacks as a comic figure that permanently etched in the minds of Ameri ca. Later, black entertainers working the minstrel shows attempted to shed the vict im’s masks and appropriate the stereotypes (Watkins, 1994). Although reviled by many black s, these minstrel shows, which were commonplace by the 1840s, provided job opportuniti es and social status, not available elsewhere during the period, for many black entertainers. The third type of Afri can American humor, in-group satirist was popularized on the segregated vaudeville circuits. The co medians during this stage used the liberty afforded by the segregated audiences to not only sharpen their hum or against outsiders but also as a form of internal control to keep the black community in check. In contrast to the comic antics, funny co stumes and folk speech used by the ingroup satirists, comedians during the integrationist stage performed their satiric material for integrated audiences (Williams, 1995, 25). Performing during the height of the Civil Rights movement, the comedians of the 1960s provided social commentary on many of society’s ills (Watkins, 1994; Williams, 1995). Th e third and fourth stages are the focus of this study. Cultural Studies Because humor serves as a “kind of soci ocultural index of the culture, groups or populations, and the eras in which it occurs (Hertzler, 1970, pp. 58-59), using the way it

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25 “deconstructs the social world can help one better understand how people have constructed it” (Davis, 1993). As Kellner ( 2003) observes, one way to fully grasp this relationship between discourse (comedic disc ourse) and culture is through the use of a cultural studies approach. This study deploys cultural analysis with disc ourse analysis to explore the meanings of the text in cultural context. This multifaceted method, when applied to the study of mass communication, looks at how mass communication functions within culture and how it helps to produce and reproduce the ruling class’s social domina tion through the establishment of social ideologies, norms, values, and representa tion of “Others.” It also shows how communication enables resistance through subversive cultural work (Kellner, 2003 ). Key to cultural studies, as well as this thesis, is a critical theory appro ach which highlights the dominant role of culture in shaping individual respons es to social systems. Contribution of this Study Because of the scant literatu re on the contributions of black female comediennes, their contemporary commercial success, and th eir performances critical of the dominant patriarchal system, I will use this study to examine how Mabley, a major exponent of this group, used humor to defy society’s rules in what has traditionally been a maledominated field. This examination of Mabl ey’s work informs our understanding of how black women articulate their beliefs and expe riences to combat the “double burden” of their oppression. The field of stand-up comedy is male-domin ated and as a result the endeavors of female comedians, in general, and black fe males in particular, have been overlooked. Although my study examines the functions of humo r as a social tool, it does so in novel manner. Not only will its primary focus be the work of black comediennes from a black

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26 female perspective, it will show the genre’s utility in advancing pertinent social and political issues as well while interrogating those discursive practices which cripple its effectiveness.

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27 CHAPTER 4 RESEARCH METHODOLOGY This thesis will use critical discourse analys is and analysis of the historical context to explore the following research questions: 1. What are the prevalent themes of comedienne Jackie “Moms” Mabley? 2. What range of representations does this comedienne offer to her audiences? Which elements and themes are excluded? 3. What is the economic, political, social, a nd cultural function of these themes and ideas in American society a nd in particular for women and blacks in America? Are they hegemonic or counter-hegemon ic in their ideology? How? 4. How are the comedic performances (i.e. dr ess, behavior, lang uage) influenced by the social, cultural, and historical co ntext during which they were created? The goal of this methodological approach is to elucidate how the comedic discourse of Jackie “Moms” Mabley constructs disseminates, maintains and/or resists the values and norms that characterize our white, male, supremacist, capitalist culture. Critical Discourse Analysis Before discussing the details of a discourse analysis, it is important to first describe what discourse means. Although the term discours e is slippery, elusive and often difficult to define (Henry & Tator, 2002), the following succinct definition offered by Henry & Tator (2002) will be used to form my theoretical approach: A discourse is a way of re ferring to or constructing knowledge about a particular topic or practice: a cluster or formation of ideas, images, and practices that provide ways of talking about forms of knowledge and conduct associated with a particular topic, social activity, or institutional site in society. (Henry & Tator, 2002, p. 26) Although most discourse is dominant and serves the particular interests of those in power not all discourse articu lates the ideology of the domin ant class. As Lull (2003, p.

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28 65) observed “expressions of the dominant ideo logy are sometimes reformulated to assert alternative, often completely resistant or contradictory messages.” It is these resistant or counterhegemonic tendencies of communication that ar e the focus of this thesis. So what exactly is critical discourse anal ysis (CDA)? van Dijk (2001) defines it as a type of discourse analytic al research that primarily studies the way social power abuse, dominance, and inequality are enacted, reproduced, and resisted by text and talk in the social and political context. With such dissident research, critical discourse analyses takes e xplicit position, and thus want to understand, expose, and ultimately resist social inequality (p. 352) This approach extends beyond highlighting dominance and power abuse by seeking to show ways this dominance can be resist ed (van Dijk, 2001). It also goes beyond the abstract language to see how meaning of discourse is made in the economic, political and social order in wh ich it circulates. Critical discourse analysis was the best method to analyze the comedic discourse presented in this paper for two reasons. Firs t, it allows the researcher to address the two major problems in analyzing talk, positionality and evidence, as identified by Barker and Galasinski (2001, p. 22). Barker and Galasins ki’s concept of positionality, or the belief that knowledge is never neutra l but instead a reflection of the social position of the speaker, the audience, and th e purpose, is accounted for by a rigorous analysis. This rigorous analysis will consist of the three levels on which most discourse occurs as identified by Fairclough (2000): (a.) th e actual text (micro le vel) (b.) discursive practices (intermediate level) and (c.) the larg er social context whic h influences the text and discursive practices. McGregor’s (2004) definitions of the terms actual text, discursive practices, and social context were used for the analysis. The actual text is the transcript of the audio reco rdings of Jackie “Moms” Ma bley and as McGregor (2004)

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29 noted “often involves the presen tation of facts and beliefs, the identities of participants discussed in the communication, and the strategies that are used to frame the message.” Discursive practices refers to those “rul es, norms, and mental modes of socially acceptable behavior in specific roles or re lationships” which are used in producing, receiving and interp reting the message (McGregor, 2004). According to Alvermann, Commeyras, Young, Randall, & Hinson (1997) th ese codes of behavior govern the way individuals learn to act, think and speak. Finally, the larger social c ontext refers to the settings where the discourse occurs (i.e. comedy club, segregated audience, the segregated society)—each with a set of rules and obligations that governs what indivi duals occupying these places are permitted and expected to do (McGregor, 2004). The second reason critical di scourse analysis is the be st research method is its compatibility to the cultural studies approach. Critical discourse analysis is ideal to use with cultural studies as both are concerned with language and power or ideology and hegemony (Barker & Galasinski 2001) While critical discourse analysis can focus on body language, symbols, visual images and other forms of semiosis, this thesis will be limited to analyzing the talk text with a womanist critical perspective as the main perspective. Analysis of the Historical Context In addition to the recordings of the come dienne’s performances, this study used primary and secondary sources to learn about the past and to develop a context of the economic, social, and political environment from the period of 1960-1971. To do this, the researcher used commentaries, review s, newspaper articles produced during the period, and reference materials, including but not limited to, biographical dictionaries and

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30 chronologies to obtain facts a bout the key figures and major events of the period (19601971). These sources helped the researcher summarize the historical and political context. The History of American Life series edited by Schlesinger and Fox and James Trager’s The People’s Chronology were consulted for descri ptions and assessments of the nation’s social and cultural environm ent during the period, which included the influence of events such as the Wome n’s and Black Liberation movements. Finally, to provide a context of the econom ic environment, income statistics and indices for the quality of life, crime and cost of living of U.S. citi es were obtained from various sources. Using this information as a framework, the researcher was able to critically interpret Mabley’s discourse in regards to the contemporary social and political conditions of her times, including the limitati ons and barriers faced by black comedians in general and black female comediennes in par ticular. It also allows us to more justly measure Mabley’s professional achievements a nd commercial success in light of the era’s standards for women’s, particularly bl ack women’s, behaviors and roles. Data Collection The researcher analyzed and extracted data from seventeen comedy albums recorded by Jackie “Moms” Mabley. Photographs and descriptions from The Humor of Jackie Moms Mabley : An African American Comedic Tradition were viewed and used to describe the comedienne’s physical comedy, dress, nonverbal behaviors and to compile the biographical sketch. Design and Procedure This study analyzed Mabley’s audio reco rdings between the years of 1960 – 1971. Over a four-week period, the researcher tr anscribed each album, then listened to the

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31 albums while reading the transcript to ensure accuracy. The researcher listened to the albums a total of three times in an effort to en sure all words were deci phered correctly. If after three times the word or phrase was s till unclear, the word or phrase was labeled inaudible by the researcher. To analyze the data, the author initia lly went through the texts line by line and marked those chunks of material that suggested a category. For example, using the above-mentioned example from the critical discourse analysis the excerpt was coded into the category of “Shortage of living quarters for blacks.” After all categories were identified, a codebook was create d that listed all of the cat egories, the code names for each category, the number of incidents coded, and the location of the incident in the data records. Using the coding process developed by Ba nks et al. (2000), the following questions were asked to assist in grouping the data into categories: 1) “what appears to be the meaningfully cohesive topic unit?” 2) “What does the unit of discourse describe or what is the subject described as doing?” 3) “What is the underlying principle of this expression?” Next, connections were made between the categories. And finally, new categories or themes that connected several categorie s were created. These two processes were repeated until the categories were “theoretically saturated”, or until new categories added little value to the themes or concepts (G laser & Strauss, 1967, p.110). Finally, richly detailed excerpts were quoted as supporting evidence to answer the initial research questions.

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32 Historical Context To understand the comedic discourse of Jackie “Moms” Mabley it is necessary to look back at the 1960s, a time when African American comedians used their humor to challenge the status quo and a dvance social and political i ssues pertinent to the black community. This was a tumultuous decade in which the nation was forced to scrutinize its fundamental beliefs and inst itutions regarding issues of race, class, gender roles, and political philosophy. When the decade began, a wave of energetic optimism permeated everything. But few sensed the dramatic changes that were a bout to occur. President Kennedy’s idealistic promises for a 'new frontier', the creation of a new birth control pill which heralded a new freedom for women, and the civil rights move ment which blacks and whites supported--all seemed to signal a new age. However, the early optimism coul dn’t be sustained and by the decade’s end, despair began to set in among many of the groups that were fighting for social justice. While the civil rights movement won many legal and political battles, economic and social equality was still far fr om reality for blacks, particularly those residing in urban ghettos. Fr ustrated by the pervasive racism which affected their housing and employment prospect s, urban blacks began rio ting. The assassination of national leaders John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X brought disillusionment for African Americans and th e country as a whole. Furthermore, the United State’s involvement in the costly (both in dollars and deaths) Vietnam War began destroying the Americans’ confidence in the nation’s economic and moral fitness. Civil Rights under Kennedy Initially, Kennedy was reluctant to address the civil rights issue because he feared the political clout of southern Democrats, ma ny of whom had helped him win election in

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33 1960. Before long, however, he was forced to confront the issue. In 1961, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) sent a group of black and white “freedom riders” to the Deep South to test the court ruling which banned segregation on buses and trains (Tindall & Shi, 1999, p. 1511). When whites in Alabam a assaulted the freedom riders, Kennedy sent in federal marshals to protect them. In the fall of 1962, Kennedy again sent the federal marshals when Governor Ross Barnett and an angry mob of students atte mpted to prevent James Meredith, a black student, from enrolling at the University of Mississippi (“Crisis in Mississippi,” 1962). Despite opposition, black activists and white su pporters continued to challenge the Jim Crow system that was prevalent in the South. In 1963, the centennial anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, Martin Luther King, Jr. led a series of nonviolent demonstrations in Birmingham, Alabama. At the local level, King wanted to desegregate the downtown businesses. However, the overarching goal was to secure federal enforcement and new legislation by provoking racists to display their hatred and violence publicly (Tindall & Shi, 1999, p. 1512). King believed that nonviolen t protests would force the president’s hand. Television and newspaper coverage of the young demonstrators being hosed by water and mauled by dogs galvanized support for King and the movement throughout the nation. In June of 1963 Governor George Wallace literally stood in the doorway, blocking the entrance of Vivian Malone and James Hood as they tried to register for classes at the University of Alabama (Sitton, 1963). Determ ined not to have a repetition of what happened at Ole Miss, Kennedy mobilized the Alabama National Guard who asked

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34 Wallace to step aside. Wallace eventually left and the students were able to ‘integrate’ the campus. The recalcitrance of a public o fficial of Wallace's stature as well as the horrifying images of black children bei ng attacked by dogs in Birmingham provoked Kennedy to draft a comprehensive Civil Rights legislation. Also, Kennedy was concerned about how these images might aff ect America’s image abroad, particularly since the United States was promoting democracy. On the same night (June 11, 1963) of the in cident at the University of Alabama, Kennedy addressed the nation about the state of race relations and announced his plans to draft legislation that would guarantee equa l rights for blacks (Kennedy, 1963). Later that night, after Kennedy’s address, NAACP field secretary of th e Mississippi branch, Medgar Evers was killed as he returned home in Jackson, Mississippi (Perlmutter, 1963). In support of this legislation, more than 200,000 blacks and whites gathered in Washington, D.C. on August 28, 1963 and liste ned as Dr. King gave his “I Have a Dream" speech which spoke optimistically abou t racial harmony. Known as the “March on Washington," this was the largest demons tration in history on the nation's capital (Franklin & Moss, 2000, p. 537). Two weeks after the march it became painfu lly evident that th e country was far from achieving racial brotherhood when a bomb exploded in a Birmingham, Alabama church, killing four black girls as they ma de their way to Sunday school (Sitton, 1963). A month later on November 22, 1963, President Kennedy was killed in Dallas, Texas, filling blacks with more despair. Civil Rights under Johnson When President Lyndon Johnson assumed office he made it known his strong support for Kennedy's civil rights program. In January of 1964, Congress ratified the

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35 Twenty Fourth Amendment to the Cons titution, outlawing the poll tax in federal elections, long a means to dise nfranchise blacks in federal elections. And in June of 1964, Johnson pushed the Civil Rights Act through Congress. The most far-reaching and comprehensive legislation in s upport of racial equality, this act prohibited discrimination in voting, education, and the use of public facilities (Franklin & Moss, 2000, p. 539). Illusion of Equality and Urban Unrest For many urban blacks living outside of the South, the civil rights movement brought little tangible improvements or benefits. For example in 1963, the unemployment rate for blacks wa s 114 percent higher than th at of whites. And where blacks were employed, more than 80 percent wo rked in the lowest paid menial jobs as compared to only 40 percent of employed whites. In 1964, the unemployment rate among blacks was 9.6 percent versus 5.4 percen t among whites. Five years later, in 1969, the median income for blacks with eigh t years of schooli ng was $4,472 whereas it was $7,018 for whites with the equivalent am ount of schooling. (Fra nklin & Moss, 2000, p. 545). Racial discrimination combined w ith labor union discrimination and meager opportunities for apprenticeship training limited blacks’ chances for moving up (Franklin & Moss, 2000, p. 545). The Black Power Movement In the mid-1960s, the nonviolent phase of the civil rights movement began to fragment and the new “Black Power" phase began. On August 11, 1965, less than a week after the passage of the Voting Rights Act, riots broke out in Watts the poor and predominantly black neighborhood in Los Angele s (Bart, 1965). When the rioting ended, there were thirty-four dead, almost 4,000 in jail, and property damage exceeding $35 million (Tindall & Oshi, 1999, p. 1532). But this was just the beginning. In the summer

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36 of 1966, Chicago, Cleveland, and forty other cities experienced racial riots. And the next summer Detroit and Newark burst into flam es. About 70 percent of America's black population lived in urban areas that had been bypassed by postwar pr osperity (Tindall & Shi, 1999, p. 1533). These areas were ch aracterized by high unemployment, poor schools, police brutality, inadequate housing, a lack of access to health care and chronic poverty. A special Commission on Civil Disorders no ted that unlike earlier race riots which were caused by white perpetrators, blacks ins tigated these riots which reflected their frustrations with the racism embedded in American society.1 Just one month after the report appeared in 1968, Dr. King was a ssassinated and the riots resumed. By 1966, “Black Power” had become the ra llying cry of blacks. Radical members of the SNCC who had risked their lives to increase voter registration became disillusioned with the slow pace at which bl acks were gaining their equality. And under the leadership of Stokely Carmichael, they began insisting that “black power” must be used to combat “white power” which had s ubjugated blacks for y ears (Franklin & Moss, 2003, p. 547). H. Rap Brown, who succeeded Carmichael in 1967, urged blacks to “get you some guns” and “kill the honkies” (Tindall & Shi, 1999, p. 1533) Meanwhile, on the west coast, a group of young black militants under the leadership of Huey P. Newton and Bobby S eale organized the Black Panther Party. The organization called for full employment, d ecent housing, black control of the black community and an end to every form of re pression and brutality (Franklin & Moss, 2000, p. 553). 1 Kerner Commission (1968). Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders. New York: Bantam Books.

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37 One of the major proponents of black nationalism and its most articulate spokesman was Malcolm X. Malcolm was a convert to the Black Muslims (Nation of Islam) which was led by Elijah Muhammad. Malcolm didn’t believe blacks could achieve full status as citizen s by integration and thus he en couraged a separation of the races and he motto for achieving this wa s "by any means necessary" even it meant violence. He wanted blacks to be self reliant and have their own community in the United States. By 1964, Malcolm had broke n with Elijah Muhammad and began to moderate his stance and embrace the concep t of racial cooperation. Muslim assassin killed him in early 1965. Women’s Liberation Inspired by the successes of the early ci vil rights movement and the antiwar protests, women began launching their own movements to redress perceived wrongs. Frustrated with their marginalized treatmen t organizations like the SNCC and the Black Panther Party and the ubiquity of messages ur ging them to be stay-at-home mothers like June Cleaver of the popular television show Leave it to Beaver women began to form their own organizations. Betty Frieden’s The Feminine Mystique urged them to break free from the domestic role and do someth ing more than marry and have kids. The Commission on the Status of Wome n, authorized by Kennedy and chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt documented the discrimination that women faced in the workplace and helped to legitimize public debate over wo men’s roles and rights (Davis, 1991, pp.34-38). Sylvia Plath ( The Bell Jar ) and Mary McCarthy ( The Group ) were instrumental in raising awareness about the unhappiness with which wo men lived in their “domestic roles” and resisted the image of the happy mother a nd housewife prevalent in the 1950s. And feminists Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan ( The Feminine Mystique ) began to pave the

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38 way for the feminist movement. Black women writers like Maya Angelou, Gwendolyn Brooks and Margaret Walker Alexander cont ributed to the movement by writing about black women’s experiences regarding race and gender. Youth Movement The youth movement of the 1960s sprang from the college-age population who finally free from the responsibilities of fa mily and career could now experiment with their minds and bodies in ways that usually shocked and enraged the older generation (Isserman & Kazin, 2000, p.150). Although, it is pr obably best remembered for its focus on sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, some of the participants engaged in political action such as protests and sit-ins. Hugh Heffner’s Playboy magazine marketed female nudity to them. Lenny Bruce’s comedy shocked censors th at allowed violence in films but forbid depictions of sexual in tercourse and in her book Sex and the Single Girl Helen Gurley encouraged women to have sex whenever “h er body wants.” As a result, many gays and lesbians “came out” to their family and fr iends during this period. (Isserman & Kazin, 2000, p. 151). Leading the political arm of the movement was the Students for a Democratic Society founded in 1962. The SDS aimed to create a ”New Left” movement throughout the U.S. which endorsed “leftist” goals such as increased spendi ng on social welfare programs, decreased spending on military, and civil rights legislation (Isserman & Kazin, 2000, p. 169). Throughout the decade they satin, marched, proteste d the Vietnam War, among other things. In April 1965, they spons ored an antiwar march in Washington, D.C. that attracted 20,000 to protest U.S. involvement in Vietnam. (Isserman & Kazin, 2000, p. 170).

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39 Cultural Scene On the cultural scene, musicians, artists, and comedians, were using their artistic talent to offer commentary on the events of the decade. For example, comedians Jackie “Moms" Mabley and Dick Gregory used humor as social commentary on issues ranging from society’s double standards for gender roles and racial relations. Folk musician Bob Dylan’s album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan which was released in May of 1963 had clear messages of political out rage, particularly, “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “Oxford Town” which is about white Mississippians who rioted to prevent integration of state university (Isserman & Kazin, 2000, p. 96). Wr iters like Harper Lee wrote about race relations in a small town in To Kill a Mockingbird As the decade drew to an end, the Vietnam War was costing hundreds of lives per week and American communities were in racial conflict. The political and cultural gap also seemed to be widening as Americans gr appled with issues like religious and moral values and homosexuality.

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40 CHAPTER 5 DISCOURSE ANALYSIS Using a discourse analysis, th e researcher analyzed the to pics of the comedic texts of Jackie “Moms” Mabley. The discourse analysis included 17 comedy albums that were recorded from 1960-1971. The purpose of this study was not only to explore the topics and themes of Mabley’s discourse, but al so to evaluate whether there were any counterhegemonic tendencies in her texts. Characteristics of the Comedic Texts Coding categories for the disc ourse analysis included topi cs such as integration, segregation/Jim Crow, sexual innuendo, women’ s sexuality, sexual organs, civil rights, homosexuality, gender identity/sexual orientat ion, hard times (which included a recession and the Depression), lynchings/hangings, male sexual incompetence, international community, general criticisms of governmen t, people, etc, older women/younger men relationships, and manner of speech with author ity figures. It is important to note that these categories are descriptive of Mabley’s work as a whole. While there were hundreds of topics, these were identif ied as the major ones. Mabley’s Discourse on Race and Segregation in Historical Context Mabley’s discourse on race and segreg ation spoke to African Americans’ discontent with the government’s “with all deli berate speed” stance in granting them full civil rights and its broken promises to liv e up to its ideal. Her discourse condemned racism and the marginalization of blacks and articulated the hardship s they faced as an

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41 oppressed group. Before exploring this discours e, a brief summarization of the incidents that informed the heated 1960s debate regarding segregation is included. Throughout history many legal battles were waged as America struggled with the crucial issues of equality and civil liberties for blacks. One of these famous battles occurred in 1896, when the Supreme Court uphe ld the “separate but equal” doctrine in Plessy v. Ferguson. This ruling had far-reaching implications and for more than seven decades affected almost every aspect of Amer ican life. It legitimized the system of segregation known as “Jim Crow” and justifie d whites’ antipathy toward blacks. In Brown v. Board of Education (1954) the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that segregation of public schools was unconstituti onal. Although this ruling was a sign of hope, blacks were not overly ecstatic, as th ey were all too familiar with the broken promises of white America. Despite its na rrow ruling, the decision signified progress and provided blacks with legal a re medy to combat segregation. Several of Mabley’s texts present a constr uction of segregation from the viewpoint of blacks. One of these jokes unfolds from the perspective of a black Congolese male who is refused a hotel room. One them Congo men walked up to the desk in Little Rock and said, “I’d like to reserve a room please.” The man said, “We don’t cater to your kind.” He say, “No, you misunderstood me. I don’t want it for myself. I want if for my wife. She’s your kind” (Mabley, 1960). This passage illustrates what critical race theorists desc ribe as the “normalization” of their own race by whites, whereby everyone el se is seen as the ‘other.’ The white antagonist in this joke perceives himself a nd the Congolese as belonging to two different

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42 species. His word choice ( kind ) underscores his belief that he and by extension, the white race, belong to the “normal” human species while the Congolese and other blacks belong to a different kind of species. This belief that blac ks and other nonwhite s are the ‘other’ and inferior is central to th e racist ideology which legitimizes the dominant group’s rule over the ‘other.’ Representing blacks as the “Other” ha s had, and continues to have, serious implications. First, defining blacks as subhum an provided the rationale for the legitimacy of segregation. And this in turn fostered id eas of caste and inferiority as Justice Harlan prophetically said it would in his dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). And as Holtzman (2000, p. 174) contends “once the steps are take n to see other humans as inferior, all of the potential for racism and subsequent dehum anization and violence becomes possible” One need not look far, as the tumultuous events of the 1960s particularly as it relates to the civil rights movement, provi de extensive evidence. This hegemonic racism reared its ugly head in the Alabama church bombing whic h killed four little black girls (“Connor holds court,” 1963 and justified public safe ty commissioner Eugene “Bull” Connor’s order to firefighters to turn their fire ho ses on young black demonstrators in Birmingham, Alabama (“The Major Events,” 1963). Continuing the analysis of this joke we are told the protagonist’s ethnicity is African, which here signifies dark skin, wh en the narrator says, “One them Congo men walked up to the desk in Little Rock.” (M abley, 1960). Given th e history of whites’ preferential treatment of light -skinned and mulatto blacks (as they were easier for whites to identify with), the Congolese’s darker hue and ethnicity (he’s not even American) becomes significant as this increas es white antipathy toward him.

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43 Closer inspection yields an interpretation of the joke as an act of resistance and self-empowerment by the Congolese. Aware of his social status as a second-class foreign visitor, the Congolese a ttempts to maintain some dignity by challenging this ideology with a reference to miscegenation by sayi ng, “No, you misunderstood me. I don’t want it for myself. I want if for my wi fe. She’s your kind” (Mabley, 1960). Given that simply speaking to or ma intaining eye contact with a white woman could be used as grounds for lynching (Chafe & Korstad, 2001), this is interpreted as a bold act of defiance. Frequently subject to harsh beatings and other forms of cruel treatment, humor provided blacks with a means to cope with everyday forms of oppression and allowed them to somehow chart their survival in a volatile environment (Williams 1995). Finally, the fact that the “C ongolese” resorts to using his white wife as a bargaining chip in negotiating for a hotel r oom by appealing to white sensibilities points to how shrewd black people had to be in or der to survive Jim Crow laws and practices and challenge white inhumanity. In another joke Mabley parodies the Jim Crow institution by stressing its absurdity. For example, she extends the institutions’ i llogical reasoning to r unning a traffic light. Mabley describes being stopped in South Caro lina for running a red light. When asked why she ran the red light, she tells the o fficer, “I thought the red light was for us” (Mabley, 1961). Mabley uses the metaphor of the red light to emphasize that blacks were so often blocked from achieving their goa l by whites, that it would seem normal for blacks to believe that “stop” lights were intended exclusively for them. While Mabley’s humor served as a form of resistance, she also used it as a tool to attack issues, like white’s resistance to inte gration and voter disenfranchisement to the

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44 political forefront. For example, in her “ope ras,” which were usually sung to a medley of popular tunes, Mabley sounded o ff on issues like segregation, integration, and ghetto life. In one of her operas, which showed her cons ciousness of current events, she recounted the opposition James Meredith encountered when he integrated the University of Mississippi. In the first stan za of the opera she sets the s cene by referencing the places and institutions Jim Crow affected: Now I ain’t gone sit in the back of no bus And I’m going to the white folks’ school And I’m gone praise the Lord in the white folks’ church And I’m gonna swim in the white folks’ pool I’m gonna vote and vote for whoever I please And I’ll thumb my nose at the Klan And I double dare ‘em to come out from behind them sheets and face me like a man They don’t scare me with their bomb threats I’ll say what I wanna say! And ain’t a damn thing they can to about it ‘Cause I ain’t going down there no way! (Mabley, 1962b). Holding true to the womanist tradition, Ma bley displays guts wh en she invites the cowardly Ku Klux Klan to a confrontation and dares them “to come out from behind them sheets and face me like a man.” (Mabley, 1962b). In the second stanza she details Mississippi’s opposition to the integr ation of Ole Miss as she sings: And you know why, “cause it took the marshal, the army too, JFK and I don’t know who Every law and every rule To try to get one boy in the Mississippi school (Mabley, 1962) Here Mabley describes the scene as Mere dith walked onto the campus. Historians deemed this event, which resulted in a ri ot, two deaths, and th e National Guard being dispatched as one of the most violent and dram atic efforts to prevent integration (Franklin and Moss, 1988, p. 443).

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45 School days, school days Barnett said, “To hell with the congressional rule days!” Lead pipes and black jacks and pistols, too Those are the books that they take to school They don’t study science or history They only study hate and bigotry They be scaring the heck out of you and me Since we was a couple of kids What kind of school is this? This school they call Ole Miss I know that sticks and stones will break my bones But this is ridiculous How can we pretend we l ove our foreign friends When they can plainly see what kind of fools they’ve been So, take me out to th e ballgame (to the campus) If we don’t win it’s a shame But with our trust in the Lo rd and the nation of God We’ll get in just the same Keep on knocking They’ll open that door after awhile (Mabley 1962b) Mabley’s description not only shows th e physical opposition Meredith faced from the lead pipes, black jacks, and pistols but it also describes whites’ opposition laws mandating integration in then -Governor Ross Barnett’s statement, “To hell with the congressional rule days!” (Mabley, 1962b). Another point of interest in this opera is Mabley’s critique of the U.S. government. Invoking the spiritual aspect of womani sm, Mabley plays on the nation’s founding principle of a belief in God and the often-ci ted Biblical scripture which condemns as liars those who “love God whom they cannot see, yet hate their nei ghbors whom they can see.” Thus in a similar vein, she too ques tions the nation’s spirit uality by asking “How can we pretend we love our foreign friend, wh en they can plainly see what kind of fools they’ve been?” (Mabley, 1962b). In other words th e United States wa s hypocritically professing to love its foreign friend while dehumanizing its black population. This statement is significant as it probably also reflected international sentiments toward the

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46 United States. According to legal scholar Mary Dudziak (2000), the United State’s foreign policy during this time focused on containing communism and promoting democracy. Yet, stories and images freque ntly showed blacks living in substandard housing and living conditions. (D udziak, 2000) Nevertheless, th ese incriminating reports of racial inequity tarnished the United Stat es’ integrity and undermined the democratic ideal it espoused. To summarize, black comedians like Jackie “Moms” Mabley entered the debate by lampooning race relations with non-threaten ing humor. Comedy, both a public and popular form of entertainment--which was also accessible to mo st people--became a forum where African-American comedians debate d social issues like race and class. Similar to other entertainment professions, stand-up comedy provided blacks with steady employment (Watkins, 1994) and granted them freedom to voice their dissent against racial discrimination without fear of punishment Mabley used this genre as a tool of resistance, like her ancestors did during slavery, to challenge oppression. Social Construction of Africans While Mabley pushed the envelope on he gemonic racial and gender norms in a majority of her work, her perspectives on Af ricans, and helped perpetuate the dominant ideology. Through stereotypical representa tions, Mabley’s dialogue constructs a disparaging image of these groups that undermines their struggles for liberation. To inform the analysis of Mabley’s di scourse on Africa and its meaning, several things must be pointed out. First, while most Americans have never visited and will probably never visit Africa ther e is already an image of Africa in the American mind (Hawk, 1992, p. 3). This image is derived from school textbooks, the media, church missionaries, the entertainment media, family, and friends. Of these sources, the media is

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47 most important, as it is ubiqu itous and it’s the place where most individuals look to be informed.1 These images paint Africa as an unciv ilized and barbaric region where halfnaked people run around dancing in leaves (McCarthy, 1983). Defining Africa in this manner had and contin ues to have several functions. First, we must remember that defining others helps us to define ourselves. Thus Europeans’ characterization of Africans as subhuman, in ferior, and dumb is telling of how they viewed themselves, which was essentially th e opposite of how they defined Africans: human, superior, and intelligent. Thus, African s represented the antithesis of Europeans. Second, this classification of Africa as the unc ivilized “Other” provi ded justification for Europeans’ slavery and colonization of Af rica and persons of African descent. According to McCarthy (1983), these imag es of Africa were widely accepted by blacks and whites. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries a majority of black Americans subscribed either consciously or subconsciously to these dangerous and fallacious ideas of African identity. One of these black Americans was none other than “Moms” Mabley. In Mabley's discourse on Africa, whic h always elicited laughter from her predominantly black audiences, she construc ts a view of Africans based on her perception of their dietary habits, languages, and conflicts. For example, on her Youngest Teenager album Mabley talks about returning from a trip to the United Nations in her role as “adviser" to President Kennedy. In one of her jokes she ta lks about being on the 1 While an argument can be put forth about the purposes of different kinds of media, i.e. the news media inform and entertainment media, just that entertain, I would argue differently. Whether it is news media or not, most people get their information, particularly about racial groups with whom they are not familiar from the media. So whether the information is f actual or not, people see the images as authentic representations of those it portrays.

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48 plane with an African representative to the United Nations. When the flight attendant asks the African diplomat what he would lik e for dinner, he replies, “Bring me the passenger list” (Mabley, 1969). Through this comment by the African representative, Mabley paints an image of Africans as cannibals. On her 1963 album I Got Somethin’ to Tell You! Mabley again references Africans’ dietary habits when she talks about returni ng from a mission trip to the Congo. She says she has to have a lunch prepared before her departure because she says, “I can’t eat that stuff like they eat over ther e. I ain’t used to it” (Mabley, 1963). She continues by saying Africans eat “crocodile dumpling, you know, and lizard casseroles and things like that” (Mabley, 1963). These descriptions of Africans’ diet reflect racist attitudes of th em as “Others” who feast on crocodiles, lizards, and even humans. This discours e interprets the consumption of these foods as deviant behavior because the items aren’t the “normal” delicacies consumed by westerners like chicken, cows, a nd pigs. The comment that she “ain’t used to” these types of foods not only reinforces the notion of Africa as the “Other” compared to Europeans but it also alienates the con tinent from African descendants in America (Mabley, 1963). Mabley’s word choice-they and over there —suggests a desire to detach herself from Africa. Further evidence of this det achment is seen in the comment, “I’m born here. I’m American…Damn it if I don’t know nothing about over there (italics is Mabley’s emphasis) (Mabley, 1969). This practice whereby African-Americans de ny or distance themselves from their African heritage and any thing Afrocentric is a manifestation of intern alized racism. This

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49 internalized racism is defined by Holtzman (2000, p. 161) as “the taking in of negative messages of overt and covert racism, superiority and inferi ority, and white privilege.” Holtzman maintains internalized racism is a reaction to racism and therefore can only be eliminated when society ends racism. Mabley’s discourse in the opera communicat ed insensitivity to the sounds produced by African languages and minimized Belgium’s role in the Congo crisis of the 1960s by couching the conflicts in racial terms. Fo r example, Mabley said Tshombe told her, “Vinga vagabondo what's the matter with the Congo” (Mabley, 1963). Here Mabley mocks the sound of African languages as she hears it. When Mabley says “vinga vagabondo” she gives the impression that Ts hombe’s talk is more like “noise” than intelligible speech (Mabley, 1963). Mabley further derogates the continent a nd its peoples with one of her famous operas to Moise Tshombe, then-President of the Katanga province of the Congo Republic. The main message of the opera is that the United States and the UN are there to help save Africa from the fighting and killing caused by Tshombe and more importantly communism. In another line Mabley says, “You got brot her fighting brother and they killing one another and that stuff's got to go (Mabley, 1963). Hawk (1992, p. 9) argues that phrasing African conflicts in terms like black-on-black violence or in this case “brother fighting brother" serves the purpose of dehumanizi ng the conflict and casti ng it in racial terms (Mabley, 1962). It also i gnores the complicated coloni al history of the Congo and absolves Belgium of its role in the repub lic’s political situation at that time.

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50 While Mabley and her audiences may have had the opinion that these jokes and gross depictions were merely for a good laugh, in truth they’re harmful and have important implications as the joke continues to be on Africa. First, these images, which are often accepted at face-value, influence ot hers’ perceptions and tr eatment of Africans. Second, these depictions sanction prejudice, discrimination, and even violence. And finally, the implications are alarming when we consider their potential to influence policy, as it is the media (whether that be news or entertainment) where policymakers look for their information. A perfect and appalling example of this is the 1994 Rwandan genocide. In the span of one hundred days an estimated 800,000 Rwandans were slaughtered (“Rwanda: How the” 2004). And al though this catastrophe could have been prevented with aid from the United Nations ’ peacekeepers, no help was dispatched because the victims were black. Finally, and what may be the most serious implication, is that these depictions and this type of discourse impede and thwart African nations’ efforts to become economically independent. Although he was referring to journalism or news media specifically, another more seri ous implication was pointed out by Smith (1980) when he said: The struggle to escape from our bad image of the Third World is an essential stage in its struggle for independence. In this sense the journalism of the West is helping to arrest the historic process of developmen t, and if there is any point at which the vicious circle of dependence can be broken, it is there, in the intractable issue of information. (p. 110) As black racial pride was gaining moment um, Mabley detached herself (at least through her "Moms" persona) from the Moth erland. Although it seems odd that Mabley

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51 would engage in a hegemonic discourse which could be used to denigrate her ancestors’ birthplace, a couple of explan ations will be offered. One explanation sounds something like this: “I may be a black but at le ast I’m not African.” Although it sounds preposterous, many blacks subscribed to this rationale, both consciously and subconsciously, and used it for social mobility and leverage and to cope psychologically with their perceived inferior social status. Denying their Af rican heritage placed AfricanAmericans on a higher social st atus of at least one group (eve n if this group included their own ancestors). So African Americans simp ly appropriated the ps ychology they learned from their colonizers and used it to subjugate anot her group. Mabley’s adoption of these hegemonic racist views regarding Africa il lustrates the powerful effects colonization continues to have on the colonized no matte r how progressive or revolutionary they appear to be. It shows the be haviors an oppressed “outside”gr oup engages in as it tries to assimilate and become a member of the norma l “inside” group. It also underscores the subtle, hegemonic ways in which the media obt ains the consent of those it marginalizes and subjugates. Another possible explanation for Mabley’s complicity in propagating this ideology is the argument that she was simply a histor ical figure who spoke the dominant discourse and adopted an unquestioned ideological pos ition (Kates & Shaw-Garlock, 1999) that presented Africans in her comedic texts as the “Other.” As Stuart Hall (1982, p. 88, italics added) noted “ideology is a function of the discourse and of the logic of social processes, rather than an intention of the agent ” (emphasis as it appears in text)

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52 While her reasons for portraying Africa in this light aren’t clear, what is apparent is Mabley’s cognizance of the stigma and inferi ority associated with blackness in general and an awareness of the comparatively hi gher status of blacks here in the U.S. Social Construction of Gays and Transgender Mabley’s depictions and social constructi on of sexual orientation, particularly gays and transgenders, perpetuate the hegemonic ideology of them as “Others.” An examination of these representations found narrow depictions of sexuality which were often stereotypical in nature. Three jokes wh ich best reflect this ideology have been chosen for this analysis. In one of Mabley’s jokes, two men are wa lking down the street when they happen to meet another fellow. This fellow says to the first, “Hi fellow” (Mabley, 1962a). Then he says to the other fellow, “Hi Queen (M abley, 1962a). The man addressed as "Queen" gets mad and punches the third man who calls h im this. He then tells the other fellow with whom he was walking, in a high-pitched voice, "Now, when he come through, tell him I'm no queen. And tell him my mother a nd father are still living. I'm a princess” (Mabley, 1962a). This elicits laughter from the audience wh ich suggests either the character or his behavior (high-pitched voice) was deviant. The text implies that either this is an effeminate heterosexual male or an effemina te gay/transgender male. However, given the narrow understanding of sexuality during this period and Mabl ey's recurrent talk about gay males, whom she referred to as fairies, th e character in this joke is probably a gay male. The most important elements in this construction of gay ma les are the referent word “queen” and the high-pitched voice. Here "queen" is an example of Mabley’s use of double entendre. Not only was “queen a stre et term for an effeminate gay male it was

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53 also a referent for woman. Thus, the combin ation of the high-pitched voice, which is usually associated with a female and the not ion of femininity, and the visual imagery evoked by the word “fairy” and all its connotatio ns--is essentially a so cial construction of gay males for Mabley’s audiences. It is also a narrow, controlling perspective on gender. Thus, under this classification of gender, masculine males aren’t allowed to have feminine traits such as highpitched voices. For if they do, they are deemed less-manly, or fruity, and even run the risk of being labeled a homosexual. As noted in the theoretical framework s ection, gender and sexual orientation are both social constructions that are best unde rstood as being fluid or occurring along a continuum rather than being bipolar. And the characteristics that belong to gender and sexual orientation can vary tremendously over time and between cultures. In another joke, a fairy or gay male walks and sits dow n in the back of the church. We are told he is ashamed and puts a $100 b ill in the offering plate. We are led to believe this shame is the reason he takes a se at in the back of the church and gives so much money. To show the church's apprecia tion of the fairy's la rge donation, the usher tells the fairy that the choir will give (si ng for) him any hymn he wants. To which the “fairy" replies, “I want him and him a nd him and you” (Mabley, 1961). The audience laughs. The key tools of construction of sexu al orientation and the accompanying heterosexist views in this joke are the “fairy” image, the concept of shame, and religion, which is represented by the church. Fairy wa s a colloquial term us ed during the 1960s to refer to a homosexual male who usually assumed the feminine role or had effeminate qualities (Wentworth & Fle xner, 1975, p. 176). This metaphor appealed to the

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54 audience’s pre-existing notions of gay males. The word fairy also functioned as a code to indicate to Mabley's audiences that someth ing was different and perhaps even abnormal about this guy. Another thing about the word "fairy" which might be the most significant is that it is an example of the use of a fe male referent to deride a man, particularly a “deviant” man. This is a perfect illustration of how our language refl ects and conveys the interests of the dominant group--w hich in this case is hetero sexual males. A linguist once wrote of the English language: “Emotive wo rds acquire their connot ations by reflecting the sentiments of the dominant group in our society---in our case white Anglo-Saxon males” (Strainchamps, 1971, p. 252). Thus heterosexual males’ sentiments about women---that they are inferior and the blam e for everything----is extended to homosexual males in this joke. Through the exploitation of a female referent, women are made the scapegoats and a connotation between female traits, decadence, and homosexuality is established. Although th e original denotative meaning of “fairy” was associated with positive images like Disney and the tooth fair y, those in power co-opted the word and gave it the connotative meaning c onveyed in this joke. This co -opting of female words is not new however. As Hazou (1990, p. 22) noted other female referents like nymph, bitch, dame, and broad--which previously had no negative connati on are now used to denigrate women. That there ar en’t as many male equivalents applied to describe deviant individuals further suggests that we live in a society which privileges “maleness.” As underscored in the methodological chapter of this paper, language reflec ts the ideology of the ruling class. And although Mabley has an a ffinity for presenting alternative readings of the dominant ideology, this particular discourse endorse s patriarchal views of women and sexual orientation.

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55 The second and third key elements in this joke are the concept of shame and the institution of religion, which is symbolized by the church. Since relig ion is central to the homosexuality debate and religious institutions teach that homosexuality is a sin and an abomination, which essentially makes homosexua ls feel shame the two will be discussed together. The Black Church and Homosexuality Let’s examine the institution of the c hurch, particularly the Black church2, as it has a vital function in the black communit y. Given that Mabley’s audience was predominantly black it only seems appropria te. Although the church ’s function in the black community has evolved throughout the years from being an institution where escape routes were discussed during slavery to being a politi cal agent during the days of Martin Luther King, it has always been a place of moral instru ction (Dyson, 2004). And more important than religious instruction has been its role as a center of social interaction. This becomes particularly impor tant as homosexuals are not only chastised for moral reasons but they are also aliena ted from the social community and social activities---which is a lifeline for most pe ople. While there’s no difference in the teachings against homophobia between black and wh ite churches, the influential role that the church plays in the black community may be why homophobia is more of a taboo (Boykin, 1996, p. 126). In other words the church has the power to not only give moral instruction but it also influences one's soci al life and thus support systems. Although some critics like bell hooks challenge the a ssumption that homophobia is more of a taboo 2 While it is common for people to talk about the Black ch urch as if it is one unified entity, it is not. Rather it is composed of a variety denominations including, Baptist, Methodist, and Pentecostal which serve various African-descendant communities. Instead, by Bl ack church I am making a direct reference to the notion of church (religion) and its importance in the black community. Consequently, black is just an adjective used to desc ribe the membership.

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56 in black communities than in other commun ities (hooks, 2000, p.68) “there are few areas where the dread and condemnation of homosexu ality is more noticeable than in black church settings" (Griffin, 2000, p. 110). Holtzman (2000, p. 293) outlines four positions the church can take on homosexuality.3 Of these positions the Black church takes the rejecting but nonpunitive position which essentially hates th e "sin" or act of homosexual ity, and not the “sinner” or the person. Mabley’s joke makes the following associa tion: homosexuality is a sin for which one should feel shame. Referring back to the joke about the gay male in church, we are explicitly told he is ashamed and that he make s large offering we might infer that there is a correlation between this shame and the amount of the offering. We might conclude that the large offering was an attempt to atone or as the Biblical expr ession says “cover his sins.” Ironically, despite his shame the "f airy" acknowledges his affinity for men when he says, “I want him and him and him and you ( Mabley, 1961). On another level this entire exchange between the "fairy" and the ushers and deacons, can be seen in church can be seen as a metaphor for the pa radoxical relationship that exists between homosexuals and the Bl ack church. As noted by Dyson (2004) the black church is known for its open denunciati on of homosexuality, yet simultaneously its choir and music director can be led by an openly gay male whose performance receives applause and from the congregation. It’s easy to see why the Black church would 3 The rejecting and punitive position holds that homosexuality is a sin explicitly prohibited in the Bible. The rejecting but nonpunitive position separates the act of homosexuality from the person, essentially condemning the “sin” but not the “sinner.” The qualified acceptance position holds heterosexuality as superior and maintains that gays and lesbians are born with that sexual orientation and thus shouldn't be condemned for something they have no control over. And the full acceptance position is based on the idea that there is a rich diversity of creation which homosexuality is a part.

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57 participate in such contradict ory behavior---it has openly stat ed its position, which allows it to condemn the sin, yet exploit the sinne r for his talent. But why would gays participate in signing their ow n demonization? One reason goes back to the importance of the church in the black community, particul arly in one's social life. Many black gay males may feel they want and need the support of their communities and want to be included in the social activities, so they tolerate the weekly messages condemning their sexual orientation, as it is worth the benefit. Another reason might have something to do with what Boykin describes as homosexuals' multiplicity of identities Multiplicity of identities implies homosexuality is only one part of a person's identity and therefore things like race and class are other aspects of a person’s identity. Thus for black gays and lesbians' their racial identity might be more sa lient than their sexual orientation in certain situations like church settings which w ould explain why they tolerate homophobic attitudes in church. In another joke, a black man named Willie from Harlem has the job of driving a white woman home after she gets drunk. When they reach the door she tells him to pull off her coat. He does it. She then tells him to pull off her dress. Willie pulls off her dress. She then tells him to pull off her girdle After he pulls that off, we hear the punch line when she tells him, “And never let me catch you with 'em on again you understand.” 4 The audience’s laughter at the punch line conf irms cross dressing as deviant behavior. Until the punch line is delivered the audience is titillated by the possibility of a sexual taboo act between a black man and white woma n. However, by the joke’s end we see a construction of a transgender male who wears dr esses, girdles, and women’s jackets. The 4 Mabley, Now Hear This

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58 only thing the audience is told about this male character is he wear’s women’s clothing. There is no mention of the word “fairy” or any others which might indicate we are to assume this is a female character such as a high pitched voice, thus we have to consider the male to be transgender. This was yet a nother denigration of an effeminate male. The analysis of Mabley’s jokes on se xual orientation found a narrow range of depictions of sexual orientation. And all of th e representations were of effeminate gay or transgendered males. Mabley's discourse o ffered no representations of lesbians. This omission, especially when viewed with the unsubstantiated rumor that Mabley herself was a lesbian, might be explained by a desi re not to bring attention to her sexual orientation. Or it could be r ead as her struggle to reconcil e her strong religious beliefs with her sexual orientation. Women’s Sexual Needs and Desires and Males’ Inability to Fulfill Them In one joke Mom uses a conversation be tween a man and a widow to contest the belief that widows should remain celibate and alone after their husbands died. When the widow says she has had another child th e male responds by saying, “Your husband’s been dead 20 years.” (Mabley, 1960). This statement is typical of the prevaili ng social attitudes regarding widows. He not only questions that she has had another child he seems to be surprised at even the possibility that she could be with someone else Mom's response, “He’s dead. I ain't,” is a classical womanish response (Mabley, 1960). Considering the era this was not only courageous of Moms to say but it also shows her willful behavior in that she was going to do what she wanted to do. Women were not ex pected to be with anyone other than their husbands and certainly not expected to have sexual relations with anyone else. Because widows are usually older, unless an untimely death happens, on another level this joke

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59 makes a comment concerning older women’s sexuality. Mabley’s “I ain’t” response expresses her belief that she' s still living so why shouldn't she have fun. In other words, just because her husband's dead doesn't mean he r life, particularly her sexual life, has to stop. Here the widow is seen as having power because Mabley wants to challenge the idea of what women are expected to do. In another joke, Mabley takes a feminist position and challenges society’s double standards which had allowed men to date younger women but frowned when females exercised this freedom. Let me tell you girls something. George took me home to the other night and kissed me. My big toe shot up in the air, ju st like that. My big toe shot up in the air, just like that (Mabley, 1960). Mabley is bold in this joke and takes her fe minist approach a step further when she says her “big toe shot up.” Restricted by the era and her gender to make direct sexual references, Mabley uses the “big toe” as an allusion for sexual arousal and to suggest that the job was done. Another analysis of this joke is to consider it from th e “boldness” perspective of which Walker also defines as womanist. C onsidering Mabley was in her 60s and her on stage granny persona, just th e mention of her sexuality would be considered a daring statement. Especially since there’s the noti on by some that age adversely affects or at least hinders one’s sexual desires. As the joke continues again Mabley addresses the notions of what it means to be a proper lady:

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60 He, he’s a nice boy though. Goes home, he goes to bed every night at 9:00. And he gets up at 4:00 and goes home. George makes me so mad. He knows I like him, you know. And he makes me so mad. I met, you know, I first met him, we was out West, you know (Mabley, 1960). One gets the impression that George is a “nice boy” because he goes to bed at 9. Here playing on the “good girl good boy” image, Mabley goes on to show how he’s not as good as we think he is because he goes hom e at 4 in the morning, implying he stayed the night at her house. Thus she is implicati ng them both, but especially herself, because during this era especially, but even now, a nice girl doesn’t stay overnight with a man who isn’t her husband. Thus without any appa rent shame for her behavior Mabley is again challenging the notions of what it means to be a proper lady. And finally by the joke’s end, Mabley ma nages to tackle another social taboo, cohabitation: So he was going on his vacation. I said, “Baby, you gone take me.” He say, “Have gun, will travel.” I say, “Yeah, have kn ack and will shack, until gun gets back!” (Mabley, 1960). Here the big toe is a connotation or referen ce to libido or sexual pleasure. And thus a signal for the job was done. Mabley’s comment that he’s a nice boy though would suggest that nice boys don’t have or give sexual pleasure to/wit h women. This contrast is put in to highlight the taboo of nice girls/guys having sexual pleasure. Mabley continues to draw on the good boy image by saying that he goes to bed at 9:00 which is a respectable hour. Thus, he's not out in the w ee hours of the morning. Then she says he gets up at 4:00--she turns this “good’ boy imag e on its head---4:00 in the morning is not an acceptable hour for a good girl/boy to be going home. The fact that he gets up suggests that he stayed overnight at her home. This overnight staying, especially

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61 sleeping in the same bed with a man/woman to whom you were not married was highly frowned upon, particularly for women. Next, the guy says, “Have gun, will travel” (Mabley, 1960). To which Mabley responds “Yeah, have knack and will shack until gun gets back” (Mabley, 1960). It is important to make a note that he re ferences a gun. This could be seen as a reflection of the measure some men would have taken to keep women in their place. Here the suggestion is that he would use a gun to control and keep her there while he traveled. She says have “knack”---the knack here is the tendency or ability for sexual relations. That’s why she says will shack. He re Mom has a female challenge this idea of women remaining faithful to men. Here sh e shows that she knew that the gun would be used and that she knew her place. But she insists that would still shack until the gun got back. In other words like the old saying ‘w hile the cat was away Moms would play.’ In another joke Mom uses a supposed mis understanding of a word jaw (she heard it as drawers) to express sexual innuendo. Mabl ey retells the incide nt by saying the other passenger said, “Mom, drop your jaws. And I misunderstood her. I-I did. I-I did. (short pause) I caught a terr ible cold. I did.” (Mabley, 1984). We know it is drawers that she heard because she says she caught a cold. In order for here to catch a cold she had to not be wearing a particular cl othing item. We know this code to be drawers (a slang term for unde rgarments). They sound alike. This joke is bold in the womanist way because Moms dr ops them without hesitation. Although she gets out of it by saying she misunderstood. If she couldn’t hear, w hy would she take off her underwear (that’s not going to solve the he aring problem), unless she wanted to. As the joke continues, Mabley has difficulties he aring due to air pressure and says to the

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62 other passenger, “ Honey do something. I’m dying. I can’t hear nothing. ” (Mabley, 1984). This difficulty in hearing causes her to hear the word jaws as drawers, which is a slang term for panties. This is a malaprop ism which is often employed by comedians. Here the granny persona allows Mom to fei gn ignorance as an old lady with hearing problems while managing to use sexual innue ndo. Sexual innuendo is suggested by her catching a cold because she wasn’t wearing any undergarments. Also Moms would be committing a taboo by taking off her undergarments in a public place. While onstage, Mabley, in the granny mask, expressed her desire to sexually satisfy or “take care” of a young boy, when she says, “L et me take care of that little boy…I like the way that boy beats that drum. And I got an old beat up drum” (Mabley, 1962a). Here Mabley challenges the perception of granny figures as sexually active. Not only does she proclaim her sexual active status she displays bravado and insists that she can still please a man, even a young one. Because Mabley often used double entendre “take care” could be interprete d as she would take care of h im financially especially since wasn’t shy in telling her audi ences she paid her y ounger boyfriends to be with her. This possible interpretation is ruled out when we c onsider her use of the word drum. Mabley used drum to signify her female organ, the vagina. And her use of the colloquial term “beat” which refers to some type of sexual ac t or penetration as in “beat her drum” we know that this joke is sexual innuendo. In another joke, Mabley makes a direct reference to her hus band’s inability to satisfy her sexually Mabley when admits, at hi s funeral, that she had him cremated when she says, “I burnt him up. I was determin ed he was gonna get hot one time anyhow” (Mabley, 1984).

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63 The word “hot” is a connotation for se xual arousal. Mabley addresses this taboo topic of sex. Here she takes a direct jab at a male’s sexual inability to become sexually aroused and thus to please her. She also dealt a blow to males’ egos. Mabley was stepping outside the expect ations for her. The other female comediennes during this time often took puns at themselves or focused on domestic chores. But Mabley took a direct stab at males’ pride, egos and sexual competence. This is a womanist attitude because of Mabley’s au dacity to not only ta lk about a taboo subject but to also reference a man’s greatest pride, his sexual prowess. In this joke women are depicted in power. Mabley has the po wer to validate her late husband’s sexual competence. On the other hand, the male is shown to be powerless in the literal sense, not only because of his sexual incompetence but also because he is dead and can’t counter her claims. Mabley is exerting power to say that wo men have a say in evaluating male’s sexual incompetence. Also she is coun tering the belief that just because they say they are skilled in bed doesn’t mean it’s true One must remember when evaluating this joke that Mabley was the lone black fe male comedienne in a field dominated by testosterone. Also this was the time during which the image of Mrs. June Cleaver was popularized and being circul ated as the woman all others should emulate.

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64 CHAPTER 6 DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION As was stated earlier, there were two objectives of the pr esent research. First, it sought to discover the ways in which the co medic discourse of Jackie “Moms” Mabley maintains and/or subverts the hegemonic valu es and norms reflected by our white, racist, patriarchal society. Second, it s ought to identify the ways in the discourse furthered or crippled the advancement of a progressive liberationist agenda by activists. Using a womanist perspective this thesis analyzed the comedy albums of Jackie “Moms” Mabley produced from 1960-1971 to id entify the prevalent themes and the ways in which Mabley framed her discourse on race and gender. Ultimately, it sought to recognize the counter-hegemonic tendencies pres ent in the texts and the ways in which Mabley used them to articulate her viewpoint s on their everyday experiences with racism and sexism and how she ultimately subverted the hegemonic discourse to rearticulate her own identities. Identifying the hegemonic and counter-hegemonic el ements present in her comedic discourse opens up a discussion ab out how its elements function to create, maintain and disseminate the values and norms of our dominant patriarchal racist system. The findings of this study reveal that the comedic discourse of Jackie “Moms” Mabley was largely progressive in advancing a liberationist agenda/p erspective for blacks and women. Mabley’s discour se had several strengths as it related to promoting a liberationist agenda for blacks. For exam ple, one of the obvious strengths of her discourse is that it reflected the current soci al and political concerns of blacks during the 1960s and included discussions on topics su ch as unemployment, housing shortage,

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65 racism, and integration. An outgrowth of this strength is that it ke pt black issues on the national agenda and forced the nation to face them. Another strength of her discourse on blacks is that she went beyond espousing a pr ogressive perspective about black issues and actually outlined an agenda for how black liberation could be achieved. In other words, she took the liberationist ideas a bout progression for blacks and summarized the areas in which improvement was needed and thus challenged blacks and whites to become social agents for remedying these problems or issues at hand. No doubt influenced by her faith in God and her count ry, she adopted an integrationist liberal perspective that was comprehensive in nature as it included politic al, economic, social and educational aspects. For example, in her discourse she frequently spoke about how education, suffrage (so that blacks could par ticipate in the political process), employment and housing accommodations were needed to address the needs of blacks in addition to a call for a status for full citizenship and equali ty. Yet another streng th of her discourse on race is she forced blacks to critically evaluate their own complicity in impeding their progress. Likewise, she revealed the absu rdity of whites’ behaviors and attitudes on racism and toward blacks so they could eval uate their own prejudices, hypocrisy and the practices and institutions such as Jim Crow and the school system that were used to deny blacks equal rights. Although Mabley’s discourse was largely st rong in promoting a liberationist black agenda, it failed in her discourse on Africa. Essentially her disc ourse on Africa upheld the notorious colonial image of Africans as sa vages and effectively served to distance her from Africa and thus denied the strengths of her African heritage. This discourse indicated a lack of racial pr ide and is particularly importa nt because it goes against one

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66 the main principles of liberation theory which encourages individuals to embrace who they are and establish their own self-ident ity. Not only does this discourse hinder the social liberation of Africans it also has broader implications as it has the potential to hinder their economic liberation by reinforcing cultural images of blacks as incompetent buffoons. This discourse also undermines the connection between African Americans’ liberation and that of blacks across the Di aspora. Mabley undermines the black unity agenda through her decision to separate herself from over there thus evoking an impression that she is not proud of her ethnic id entity. This is a perfect illustration of the powerful effects of negative internalization and shows how agents of change themselves are affected by dominant culture racism. Nonetheless, Mabley’s disc ourse on women advanced a li berationist perspective. For example, Mabley discussed topics such as women’s physical liberation from the restricting corsets, sexual liberation, and black women’s liberation from the mammy image. One of Mabley’s strengths in adva ncing a liberationist perspective for women was her mere presence in the male-dominat ed profession of stand-up comedy. Another strength was her consciousness–raising. Sh e articulated and chal lenged society’s double standards regarding women’s behaviors. She encouraged women to explore their sexuality. Mabley’s discourse reflected the current of th e emerging women’s movement which voiced the women’s dissatisfaction with their subordinate status and their gender roles. Mabley’s appropriati on of the matriarchal character, which historically has been seen as a stereotypical representation of black women served as yet another strength. This matriarchal mask effectively allowed her to subvert the politics of race and gender.

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67 On the other hand, her weakness lies in the f act that she never call ed for a course of action. However, given the mores, cultu re, and opportunites available to women, Mabley’s mere articulation of a liberationist ag enda was a feat in itself because it really was forward thinking and very progre ssive behavior for the era. Another strength of Mabley’s discourse is her total rejection of the mammy image. This was particularly important to the liber ation of black women as it not only liberated black women from a stereotypical image but it also helped them to articulate a new selfidentity. Mabley’s discourse was weak in specifical ly addressing the topic of gender roles. While her career spoke directly to the issue of gender roles, it wasn’t specifically referenced in the discourse analyzed for this paper. Perhaps her total refusal to focus on such issues is a statement in itself on the limited acceptable roles available to women of her time. Mabley’s humor reflected elements of a ll four stages/types of African American humor as identified in the intr oduction. However, it can mostly be characterized as ingroup humor with an integrationist theme. Mabley’s humor was characteristic of the third stage of African American humor in th at it was performed mostly for segregated audiences and included elements of conflict and control as id entified in humor theories. Like the slaves, Mabley used her humor as a survival tool to overcome personal tragedies such as the death of her parents and rape. Sh e also used it as an emotional tool to deal with the humiliating and often volatile circumstances that existed during Jim Crow. And she used her humor to barter for gain or advantage as in her example of avoiding a speeding ticket. Although, the accommodationist elements aren’t readily apparent in the

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68 discourse analyzed here (and this may be due to the blacks insistence on condemning these practices and showing themselves in a new light), it can be assumed that if she performed on the TOBY circuit, her acts included some such elements. For example, her use of slapstick humor reflected the accommoda tionist stage as well as her use of comic antics, nonstandard English, and elements of conflict control reflec t the third, in-group, stage of African American humor. Using comedy as a vehicle, Mabley was ab le to enter the national dialogue on race relations and keep civ il rights issues at the forefront of the American minds. Mabley presented her discourse on racism as one of absurdity. However, the findings also indicate complic ity with dominant ideology as it relates to the depictions of Africans and sexual orie ntation. Of the few examples where she did comment on homosexuality, Mabl ey offered very narrow depi ctions, choosing to only comment or give images of effeminate gay ma les. And there were no representations of lesbians. This seems somewhat of interest, that Mabley, who is rumored to have been a lesbian herself, chose not to even mention lesbians. One possible explanation for her exclusion of lesbians in her discourse is that Mabley may not have wanted to “out” hers elf or bring undue atte ntion to her sexual orientation. And she may have felt a sense of shame about her sexual orientation. She alludes to the shame some homosexuals may experience in her joke about the “fairy” attending church service wh ere she comments “he felt shame you know.” Also, being that she was very spiritual as evidenced in he r discourse, this may ha ve been an area of her life where she may not have been able to reconcile her religious beliefs with her personal feelings. And finally, when one c onsiders the racial climate and society’s

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69 limited notions and constructions of homosexua lity and gender during the era, Mabley’s race may have been more salient than her se xuality. Another study where information is collected about Mabley’s “pri vate persona” is required to fully understand why Mabley wasn’t progressive or count erhegemonic on this topic. Research Questions Answered The findings of the research revealed that the themes of Mabley’s discourse reflect those articulated by Maria Stewar t (cited in Richardson, 1987) as being characteristic of a black woman’s standpoint. These four them es were a legacy of struggle, activism, sensitivity to sexual politics, and a replacemen t of denigrating images with self-defined images through topics such as the civil rights movement. Mabley represented these themes through topics such as difficult econom ic times, the civil rights movement, and women’s sexuality. The first research question asked about the range or representations offered in the discourse. The study found that Mabley offe red a range of representations of black women, however, it was done so through her gr anny “mask.” For example, she depicted a nurturing matriarchal “mother” figure who defied culturally sanctioned notions of womanhood. In other jokes, she spoke about a granny figure who not only acknowledged but also enjoyed her sexuality through explicit talk. And she offered images of a “lady” advisor to the presid ent who confronted world leader s and bigots on their policies and practices. Although these representations vari ed, they were consistent in defying the culturally-sanctioned behaviors and roles of the pious, pure, virt uous and submissive woman. It is significant that Mabley used the image of the cari ng maternal figure especially considering this image pathologized black wo men as being the cause of black families’

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70 poverty and as the reason for a lack of bl ack male leadership in the family. (U.S. Department of Labor 1965). This stereoty pe of black women effectively penalized aggressive women, stigmatized them as unf eminine, and in many cases causes their abandonment by black men. Interestingly, however, she excluded re presentations of do mesticity. This exclusion of the domestic sphere is noticeabl e for a couple of reasons. First, domesticity was considered “women’s terri tory” and thus deemed a suitable and appropriate topic for women to discuss in public. Second, Mabley ’s counterparts such as Erma Bombeck and Phyllis Diller were using domestic themes in their routines. Mabley’s refusal to talk about domestic topics exemplifies her resistan ce and reflects her will to define her own career path. Another topic that Mabley omitted was a discussion the Black Nationalist movement. This absence is conspicuous esp ecially since she perfor med during the height of Malcolm X’s popularity. Also, for the years ex amined during this study the civil rights movement had ended and the rise of the c ounterculture black nationalist movement was the order of the day. A closer examinati on highlights the omission as somewhat odd and perhaps even intentional, esp ecially being that many of her albums were performed in the Harlem, New York area. This is especially true as the paper has noted that Mabley was abreast of the current events as reflected in her material. One reason for this may be that because she was very spiritual, she may not have shared the views espoused by Malcolm X. Or it could be a reflection of the disc ourse that was allowed and that which was censored. Although Mabley’s discourse was certainly counterhegemonic, Malcolm’s

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71 discourse was considered radical and even dangerous by many, particularly his call for the separation of races. The third research question asked what we re the functions of these themes for blacks and women and the ways in wh ich they were hegemonic and/or counterhegemonic. The study found that econom ically, it helped Mabley earn a living and to make profits. This is important, as noted in the biog raphical sketch, the opportunities for black women were very li mited. Politically, it informed and influenced the thoughts and perceptions of her audiences and indirectly the national government as it challenged it to make true on its promises and it kept the important political issues on national conscious. Thus she used it to criticize those in office and their actions and then gives the black comm unities response. She usually attacked the administration on policy or character (image). In terms of policy, she attacked the administration in three areas, future plans, ge neral goals, and past deeds. For example, she often criticized the government about the delay in the passage of the Civil Rights Bill and about its failure to live up its promise of 40 acres and a mule. Culturally, Mabley’s humor exposed the double standards regarding acceptable occupations and roles for women and to challenge the double standard regarding women’s sexuality. It set new standards for how women and society viewed their sexuality and the preconceived notions of women. Most impor tantly, it provided inroads for black women to enter the profession on their own terms, or at least with a model that they could emulate which did not follow the tr aditional role expected of them and gave them a model of success and a model that challenged the cult of true womanhood.

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72 The fourth research question asked how the comedic performance was influenced by the historical context duri ng which it was produced. Th e study found that the events of her times definitely provided the material for her comedy as they were its main topics, particularly the civil rights movement. Th e limitations and restri ctions placed on women were also evident in Mabley’s discourse. This helps explain why she made use of a lot of double entendre, as there were many things she could not say because of her sex. The attitudes of the day regarding race, gender a nd sexual orientation also spilled over in her material. For example, the limited thi nking regarding sexuality and the social construction of gender was evident in the discourse analyzed. Epilogue: Present-Day State of Black Female Comedy Jackie “Moms” Mabley is pr obably the best known and mo st successful of African American stand-up comediennes. And while there exists no major national figure with which to compare Mabley, there are a coupl e of contemporary comediennes whose work is of a similar vein and thus deserves me ntion. These comediennes are Whoopi Goldberg and Mo’Nique Imes Jackson, better know n as Mo’Nique, who like Mabley have struggled to find their voices and balan ce themselves against the constraints of mainstream society. And while trying to strike this balance, they like Mabley often give inconsistent messages that although inte nded to be counter-hegemonic, aren’t. Comedienne Whoopi Goldberg has been on the scene and worked the comedy circuits since approximately 1975. In the womanist tradition, Goldberg draws upon the legacy of struggle. Goldberg, like Ma bley, overcame poverty and used her past dependency on public assistance as material in her performances. Goldberg’s humor, unlike Mabley’s, is performed mostly for in tegrated audiences and her material often takes aims at mainstream social issues Recently, however, Whoopi has alienated many

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73 audiences with her strong political view s during a stand-up comedy routine at KerryEdwards fundraiser in which she allegedly ma de an off-color remark about President Bush. Whoopi, like many blacks in her comedi c career has struggled to find the balance between artistic freedom and social responsibility to her gender and race. Mo’Nique who had her own sitcom, The Parkers on UPN and who was the headliner of the Queens of Comedy Tour, has found outlets for her comedy mainly in heavily-populated African–American venues. Like Mabley, she evokes the womanist’s tradition through her defiance of society’s st ereotypes of women through by aggressively dismissing society’s preoccupati on with thinness. It is evident in her comedic routines that she embraces her “fatness” at ever y opportunity. During the summer of 2004, Mo’Nique hosted the BET Music Awards. During this show, she made frequent wardrobe changes, emphasizing her volupt uous body. Many of her jokes during this show emphasized her pride with her body si ze. Currently Mo’Nique is hosting “Mo”Niques Fat Chance” on the television stat ion Oxygen, a beauty contest for plus size woman. Mo’Nique’s subversive humor is at best when she talks about the emphasis society places on thinness. Monique’s comedy works and finds an audience because of her willingness to reject so ciety’s ideology of the perfect woman’s body size. However, the humor is double-edged in that she aliena tes those persons who are not as voluptuous with her criticisms of “skinny bitches.” Inst ead of Monique’s material simply valuing plus size woman, her preoccupation with “skinny bitches” and vulgar language, effectively does the same thing to skinny women as society does to big women, e.g., it discriminates against them.

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74 Implications of This Study The rising commercial success and incr easing popularity of stand-up comedy performances as a source of information fo r Americans places a great responsibility on African American comedians to be mindful of the discourses and representations they transmit about the everyday experiences of blacks and women. This responsibility becomes even more significant when we consider many policymakers and elected officials rely on the media for information (Ebo 1992, p. 22). The nonchalant attitude of the producers of comedy shows like Black Entertainment’s Co micView, reflected in its negative, stereotypical portrayals of blacks and women and their i ssues does nothing to fulfill this responsibility. Comedic performa nces should not only reflect the social and political concerns of blacks and women but it should do so in a novel manner that pushes forth an agenda to remedy the situati on instead of trivializing the matter. Another implication of this study is the potential of co medic discourse to aid or impede the efforts of activists. The manner in which comedic discourse is framed either furthers activists’ efforts on behalf of bl acks and women or undermines it, impacting the work of activists like the Reverend Jessie Jackson and the Reverend Al Sharpton, whose work some black comedians trivialize. Another implication of this study relates to the discourse on Africa. Negative discourses about Africa have the potential to undermine positive public sentiments towards Africans and African nations, ultimately impacting efforts for African social, political, and economic liberation. As Sm ith (1980, p. 110) noted, “The struggle to escape from our bad image of the Third World is an essential stag e in its struggle for independence.” In other words, more positiv e discourse about Africa is essential to African liberation. Said another way, it is nece ssary for Americans to shed their negative

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75 image of Africa, particularly those images which portray it as dependent on foreign capital and resources for its liberation. Th is perception becomes very important when one considers the formulation of foreign polic y regarding the continent as it dictates the level of foreign intervention. Mabley’s discourse on Africa also has importa nt implications as it relates to black identity and racial prid e. If there is no re versal by current black comedians of Mabley’s references where she disassociates herself fr om the continent, blacks will continue to internalize this racism, deny th eir African heritage, and conti nue denigrating their African brothers and sisters. And on a broader level, blacks may never understand the larger connection between their oppression and liberati on and that of their African brothers and sisters. One of the most frightening implications of this study is that a failure to recognize how this discourse functions in marginalizi ng Africans could encourage the proliferation of the negative attitudes towards Africa th at permitted the Rwandan genocide in 1994. A positive implication of this research as it re lates to women’s issues is it shows the potential of discourse to subve rt the dominant ideological attitudes toward women. For example, Mabley’s discourse on rape s ubverted the dominant ideology that makes women complicit in their own rapes and pl aces women in control of the situation whereby they are no longer victims. The final implication relates to the disc ourse on gays, lesbians, and transgenders and their quest for liberation. Mabley’s come dic discourse perpetuates traditional notions of what it means to be masculine or feminine further reinforcing the stereotypes of gays and lesbians and discourages the act of “coming out.” It al so ignores the complexity of

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76 sexual identity. Like other forms of entert ainment media, comedy reinforces what is normal in our society. Therefore, Mabley’s representations of the deviant fairy who is ashamed when he enters church reinforces is a contribution to th e dominant ideological beliefs that articulate heterosexuality as natural and homosexuality is unnatural. Limitations of This Study Because this study was limited to studying th e text and its historical context, it was limited in its ability to account for audience us e and response to the material. While this discourse analysis provided invaluable informa tion, it isn’t sufficient, in and of itself, to substantiate the claims argued in this paper that the images and representations of blacks and women in comedic discourse both influe nced societal perceptions of these groups and have important policy implications. As Lewis (1991, p.47, italics in original) argued, “If we are concerned with the meani ng and significance of popular culture in contemporary society, with how cultural forms wo rk ideologically or politically, then we need to understand cultural products (or “texts”) ‘ as they are understood by audience .’ Thus, a study of audience reception would have been necessary. Another limitation is the assumption that the audience is made up of passive members who are incapable of recognizing th e patriarchal and racist workings of ideology on certain topics and resisting it. Active audience research criticizes this assumption (Lull, 2003). Also, an analysis of video recordings of Mabley’s stand-up performances could have further enriched the analysis by an expl oration of the impact the visual images had in the meaning-making making process of the performances. Finally, personal interviews with comedian s that performed in the same era as Mabley, may have offered additional insight into the historical context, the nations’

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77 mood, and the limitations blacks, and partic ularly black women, encountered in the profession. Interviews with Mabley’s male counterparts’ might have shed additional insight into the perceptions of the comedienne’s effectiveness on black political consciousness and the discursive practices of her time. Suggestions for Future Research Analyzing the comedic discourse of Jackie “Moms” Mabley was extremely helpful as it provided an excellent reference for future scholar s to do a comparative study. Whereas this study explored the comedic disc ourse of the 1960s, an analysis of the discourse of Whoopi Goldberg and Mo’Ni que Imes-Jackson, probably the two most commercially successful, contemporary black stand-up comediennes, would allow researchers to observe the recent trends in the profession. For example, scholars could compare the performance styles, topics, th emes, and functions of the discourse of Goldberg and Mo’nique with that of Mable y. It is suggested that with such a comparative study researchers could not only iden tify the trends but they could also act as agents of change by stimulating a discussion on the politics of the present-day discourse and how it advances or hinders the liberation of blacks and women. In addition, a comparative study of the disc ourse of Mabley and, say, Dick Gregory would help reverse the gender bias of comedic research. This is important because Gregory has always been held as the great black satirist of the 1960s, with hardly a mention that Mabley performed during the sa me period. Addressing this is important because black women are always in the bac kground and their contributions are rarely acknowledged, especially by black men. Compar ing the two will also reveal the different performance styles used by women when disc ussing controversial topics so they could make it in this male-dominated profession.

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78 Finally, future work should continue to present marginalized voices like Mabley’s and should continue to highlight the ways that black women are acting as their own agents of change, subverting the status quo a nd challenging the racist patriarchal system in which we live.

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79 APPENDIX A SELECTED WORKS OF JACKIE “MOMS” MABLEY 1. Funny Sides of Moms Mabley, The Chess, LP/LPS-1482. 1963 2. Live at the Greek Theater Mercury, SR-61360. (c. 1971). 3. Live at Sing Sing Mercury, SR-61263. (c. 1970) 4. Moms Mabley at Geneva Conference Chess, LP/LPS 1463. 1962. 5. Moms Mabley at the Playboy Club Chess, LP/LPS 1460. 1961. 6. Moms Mabley at the White House Conference MG 21030/SR 61090. 1966. 7. Moms Mabley—I Got Somethin’ to Tell You! 1963. LP—1479 8. Moms Mabley---Moms the Word Mercury Records SR 60907/MG 20907. 1964. 9. Moms Mabley Onstage MCA Records. Chess, LP/LPS-1447. 1984. 10. Moms Mabley Breaks It Up Chess, LPS 1472. 11. Moms “Her Young Thing. Mercury, SR 61205. 12. Moms Mabley: Now Hear This Mercury, MG 21012/SR 61012 13. Moms Mabley at the UN Chess, LP/LPS-1472. 1960 14. The Best of Moms and Pigmeat (Volume 1) Chess, LPS1487. 15. Out on a Limb Mercury, SR 60889/MG 20889. 1964 16. Young Men Si, Old Men No Chess, LP-1477. 1962. 17. Youngest Teenager Mercury, SR-61229. 1971. Transcripts of th0ese performances were provided in the appendix of The Humor of Jackie Moms Mabley by Elsie Williams, pp. 154-172. Although these transcripts were consulted, none of the actual text s were used in the analysis. ** All other albums were transcribed by the author of this paper.

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80 APPENDIX B WOMANIST DEFINITION Womanist 1. From womanish (Opp. of “girlish,” i.e. frivolou s, irresponsible, not serious). A black feminist or feminist of color. From the black folk expression of mothers to female children, “You acting womanish,” i. e., like a woman. Usually referring to outrageous, audacious, courageous, or willful behavior. Wanting to know more and in greater depth than is c onsidered “good” for one. Interested in grown up doings. Acting grown up. Being grown up. Interc hangeable with another black folk expression: “You trying to be grow n.” Responsible. In charge. Serious 2. Also: A woman who loves other wo men, sexually and/or nonsexually. Appreciates and prefers women’s culture, women’s emotional flexiblility (values tears as natural counterbalance of lau ghter), and women’s strength. Sometimes loves individual men, sexually and/or nonsexually. Committed to survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female. Not a separatist, except periodically for health. Traditionally, univeralist, as in: “Mama, why are we brown, pink, and yellow, and our cousins are white, beige, and black?” Ans.: “Well, you know the colored race is just like a flower garde n, with every color flower represented.” Traditionally capable, as in: “Mama, I’m walking to Canada and I’m taking you and a bunch of other slaves with me.” Re ply: “It wouldn’t be the first time.” 3. Loves music. Loves dance. Loves the moon. Loves the Spirit. Loves love and food and roundness. Loves struggle. Loves the Folk. Loves herself. Regardless 4. Womanist is to feminist as purple to lavender. Definition of a “Womanist” from In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose, copyright 1983 Alice Walker.

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81 APPENDIX C CODING SHEET Name of Album: Copyright Date: Place of Recording: First, go through the text line by line a nd mark those chunks that suggest a category, or topic, based on key words. Use the following questions to assist in grouping the data into categories. 1) What appears to be the meani ngfully cohesive topic unit? 2) What does the unit of discourse describe or what is the subject described as doing? 3) What is the underlying princi ple of this expression? Repeat this process until no new categor ies can be created. Then, after going through all of the texts go back and count the number of incidents, or times this category or topic appeared. Tally up the incidents and identify the major categories. Finally, read through data, make connections between the categories, and determine what major themes emerge from these categories.

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82 APPENDIX D CATEGORIES AND THEMES Categories 1. Integration 2. Segregation/Jim Crow 3. Sexual Innuendo 4. Sexuality 5. Sexual Organs 6. Civil rights and the movement itself 7. Homosexuality 8. Gender Identity/Sexual Orientation 9. Hard times (financially)/ Recession/Depression 10. Discrimination/Treatment of Blacks in the South 11. Hangings/Lynchings 12. Male sexual incompetence 13. International Community 14. Dialogue with Au thority Figures 15. Critiques of government, policies, people, etc. 16. Older Women/Younger Men 17. Miscegenation 18. Vulgar Language 19. Negro Spirituals Themes 1. Legacy of Struggle 2. Activism 3. Sensitivity to Sexual Politics 4. Replacement of denigrating images with self-defined images

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83 LIST OF REFERENCES Abrahams, R. (1970a). Deep down in the jungle : Negro narrative folklore from the street of Philadelphia Chicago: Aldine. Abrahams, R. (1970b). Positively black Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall. Adler, B. (1986). The Cosby wit : His life and humor New York: Critics Choice Paperbacks. Alvermann, D., Commeyras, M., Young, J. P., Randall, S., & Hinson, D. (1997). Interrupting gendered discursive practic es in classroom talk about texts. Journal of Literacy Research 29 (1), 73-104. Arce, H. (1979). Groucho New York: G.P. Putnams Sons. Banks, S., Louie, E., & Einerson, M. (2000). Constructing personal id entities in holiday letters. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 17 (3), 299-32. Barker, C. & Galasinski, D. (2001). Cultural studies and discourse analysis: A dialogue on language and identity London: Sage Publications. Barron, M. (1950). A content anal ysis of intergroup humor. American Sociological Review 15 (1), 88-94. Bart, P. (1965, August 13). New Negro riots erupt on coast; 3 reported shot. New York Times p. 1. ProQuest Historical Newspapers. Bennetts, L. (1987, August 8). The pain behind the laughter of Moms Mabley. New York Times pp. B2. Berger, P. (1976). The last laugh: The world of stand-up comics New York: Ballantine Books. Bogle, D. (1973). Toms, coons, mulattoes, mammies, and bucks: An interpretative history of blacks in American films New York: Viking. Boykin, K. (1996). One more river to cross:Black and gay in America New York: Anchorbooks/Doubleday. Brill, A.A. (Ed.) (1938). The basic writings of Sigmeund Freud. Book IV (pp.633-803). New York: The Modern Library.

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85 Davis, M. (1993). Whats so funny?: The comic c onception of culture and society Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Dines, G., & Humez, J.M. (Eds.). (2003). Gender, race, and class in media (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. Dudziak, M. (2000). Desegregation as a cold wa r imperative. In R. Delgado & J. Stefanic (Eds.), Critical race theory (pp. 106-117). Philadelphia: Temple University Press. Dyson, M. (2004). The Michael Eric Dyson reader New York: Basic Civitas Books. Ebo, B.(1992). American media and African culture. In B. Hawk. (Ed.), Africas media image (pp.15-25). New York: Praeger. Fairclough, N. (2000). Language and power New York: Longman. Fox, T. (1983). Showtime at the Apollo New York: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston. Foxx, R. & Miller, N. (1977). The Redd Foxx encyclopedia of black humor Pasadena, CA: Ward Richie. Franklin, J. & Moss, A. Jr. (1988). From slavery to freedom : A history of African Americans (6th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill. Franklin, J. & Moss, A. Jr. (2000). From slavery to freedom : A history of African Americans (8th ed.). New York: Knopf. Frederickson, B. (1998). What good are positive emotions? Review of General Psychology 2 (3), 300-319. Fry, W. (1994). The biology of humor. Humor: International Journal of Humor Research 7 (2), 111-126. Fry, W. Jr. & Salameh, A. (Eds.). (1986). Handbook of humor and psychotherapy Sarasota, FL: Professional Resource Exchange. Gilliam, D. (1986, July 7). Filming the Howard theatre tale. The Washington Post p. D3. Glaser, B. & Strauss, A. (1967). The discovery of grounded theory: Strategies for qualitative research Chicago: Aldine. Goldin, E. & Bordan, T. (1999). The use of humor in counseling: The laughing cure. Journal of Counseling and Development 77 (2), 405-410. Gramsci, A. (1971). Selections from the prison notebooks New York: International. Gregory, D. (1972). Dick Gregorys political primer (James R. McGraw, Ed.) New York: Harper & Row.

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86 Griffin, H. (2000). Their own received them no t: African American le sbians and gays in black churches. In D. Constantine-Simms (Ed.), The greatest taboo: Homosexuality in black communities (pp.110-121). Los Angeles: Alyson Books. Haig, R. (1988). The anatomy of humor: Biopsychosoc ial and therapeutic perspectives Springfield, IL: Thomas. Hall, S. (1982). The rediscovery of ideol ogy: The return of the repressed. In M. Gurevitch, T. Bennett, J. Curra n, & J. Woollacott. (Eds.), Culture, society and the media (pp. 22-49). London: Methuen. Hall, S. (2003). The whites of their eyes: R acist ideologies and the media. In G. Dines and J. Humez (Eds.), Gender, race, and class in media (2nd ed.). (pp.89-93). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Hawk, B. (1992). Africas media image New York: Praeger. Hazou, W. (1990). The social and legal status of women : A global perspective New York: Praeger. Herring, R. (1994). The clown or contrary figure as a counseling intervention with Native American clients. Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development 22 (3), 153-64. Herring, R., & Meggert, S. (1994). The use of hum or as a counselor strategy with Native American Indian children. Elementary School Guidance and Counseling, 29 (1), 6776. Henry, F. & Tator, C. (2002). Discourses of domination Toronto: University of Toronto Press. Hertzler, J. (1970). Laughter: A socio-scientific analysis New York: Exposition Press. Holtzman, L. (2000). Media messages: What film, tele vision, and popular music teach us about race, class, gender, and sexual orientation Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe. hooks, b. (1989). Talking back : Thinking feminist, thinking black Boston: South End Press. hooks, b. (2000). Homophobia in black communiti es. In D. Constantine-Simms (Ed.), The greatest taboo: Homosexuality in black communities (pp. 67-73). Los Angeles: Alyson Books. Isserman, M. & Kazin, M. (2000). America divided:The civil war of the 1960s Oxford: Oxford Press. Jacobson, M. (1974, October 14). Amazing Moms. New York p. 48.

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87 Jones, L. (1963). Blues people: Negro pe ople in white America New York: William Morrow. Kates, S.A., & Shaw-Garlock, G. (1999). The ever entangling web: A study of ideologies and discourse in advertising to women. Journal of Advertising 28 (2), 33-49. Kellner, D. (1978, November-December). Ideol ogy, Marxism, and advanced capitalism. Socialist Review 42 37-65. Kellner, D. (1979, May-June). TV, ideo logy, and emancipatory popular culture. Socialist Review 45 13-53. Kellner, D. (2003). Cultural studies, multiculturalism, and media culture. In G. Dines and J. M. Humez (Eds.), Gender, race, and class in media (2nd ed.). (pp. 9-20). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. Kennedy, J. (1963, June 12). Transcri pt of the Presidents address. New York Times p. 20. ProQuest Historic al Newspapers. Klein, A, (1989). The healing power of humor Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc. Kerner Commission. (1968). Report of the national adv isory commission on civil disorders Washington, DC: U.S. Gove rnment Printing Office. Lefcourt, H. & Martin, R. (1986). Humor and life stress: Antidote to adversity New York: Springer-Verlag. Lerner, G. (Ed.). (1972). Black women in white America: A documentary history New York: Pantheon. Leveen, Lois. (1996). Only when I laugh: Textual dynamics of ethnic humor. Melus 21 (4), 2955. Levine, L. (1977). Black culture and black consciousne ss: Afro-American folk thought from slavery to freedom New York: Oxford University Press. Lewis, J. (1991). The ideological octopus: An exploration of televi sion and its audience. London: Routledge. Lorde, A. (1984). Sister outsider Traumsburg, NY: The Crossing Press. Lull, J. (2003). Hegemony. In G. Dines and J. M. Humez (Eds.). Gender, race, and class in media (2nd ed.). (pp.61-66). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. News summary and index. The major ev ents of the day. (1963, May 5). New York Times p. 95) Retrieved December 1, 2005 from Proquest Historical Newspapers database. Mabley, J. (1963). The funny sides of Moms Mabley [LP]. Chicago: Chess.

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88 Mabley, J. (1962a). Moms Mabley at Geneva Conference [LP]. Chicago: Chess. Mabley, J. (1961). Moms Mabley at the Playboy Club [LP]. Chicago: Chess. Mabley, J. (1963). I got somethin to tell you! [LP]. Philadelphia: Chess. Mabley, J. (1965). Now hear this [LP]. New York: Mercury. Mabley, J. (1960). Moms Mabley at the U.N. [LP]. Philadelphia: Chess. Mabley, J. (1962b). Young men si, old men no [LP]. New York: Chess. Mabley, J. (1971). Youngest teenager [LP]. New York: Mercury. Maltan, L. (1978). The great movie comedians:From C harlie Chaplin to Woody Allen New York: Crown. Martin, R. (2004). Sense of humor and phys ical health: Theoretical issues, recent findings, and future directions. Humor: International Journal of Humor Research 17 (1/2), 1-19. Martin, R., Kuipier, L., Dance, K (1993). Hu mor, coping with stress, self-concept, and psychological well-being. Humor: International Journal of Humor Research 6 (1), 89-104. Martin, R. & Lefcourt, H. (1983). Sense of hum or as a moderator of the relation between stressors and moods. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 45 (6), 13131324. McCarthy, M. (1983). Dark continent: Africa as seen by Americans Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. McGregor, S. (2003). Critical discourse analysisa primer. Kappa Omicron Nu 15 (1). Retrieved January 1, 2006, from h ttp://www.kon.org/archives/forum/151/mcgregorcda.html Middleton, R. (1959). Negro and white reactions to racial humor. Sociometry 22 (2), 175183. Moritz, C. (1975). Current Biography Yearbook New York: H.W. Wilson. Nanda, S. (2000). Gender diversity: Cro ss-cultural variations Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland. Obrdlik, A. (1942). Gallows humorA sociological phenomenon. American Journal of Sociology 47 715-16. Omi, M. & Winant, H. (1994). Racial formation in the United States : From the 1960s to the 1990s. New York: Routledge.

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90 Strainchamps, E. (1971). Our sexist langua ge. In V. Gornick & B. Moran (Eds.), Women in a sexist society 240-50. New York: Signet. Tavris, C. (1992). The mismeasure of woman New York: Simon & Schuster. Tindall, G. & Shi, D. (1999). America: A narrative history (5th ed.). New York: W.W. Norton & Co. United States Department of Labor. (1965). The negro family: the case for national action. United States Government Printing Office. van Dijk, T. A. (1988). News as discourse Hillside, NJ: Erlbaum. Van Dijk, T.A. (1993). Elite discourse and racism Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications. van Dijk, T.A. (2001). Critical discourse an alysis. In D. Schiffrin, D. Tannen, & H. Hamilton. (Eds.), The handbook of discourse analysis (pp. 352-371). Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers. van Zoonen, L. (1994). Feminist media studies London: Sage. Walker, A. (1983). In search of our mothers gardens: Womanist prose. New York: Harcourt Brace & Company. Wallace, M. (1978). Black macho and the myth of the super woman New York: Dial. Watkins, Mel. (1994). On the real side: Laughing, lying, and signifyingthe underground tradition of African-Amer ican humor that transformed American culture, from slavery to Richard Pryor. New York: Simon & Schuster. Weisenberg, M., Tepper, I., & Schwarzwald, J. (1995). Humor as a cognitive technique for increasing pain tolerance. Pain 63 (3), 207-212. Wentworth, H. & Flexner, S. (Eds.). (1975). Dictionary of American slang (2nd ed.). New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company. Williams, E. (1995). The humor of Jackie Moms Mabley : An African American comedic tradition New York: Garland. Zook, K. (1999). Living single a nd the fight for Mr. right: Latifah don't play. In G. Dines and J. M. Humez (Eds.), Gender, race, and class in media (2nd ed.) (pp. 110-20). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

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91 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH Natasha Patterson graduated with her Master of Arts in Mass Communication and a Graduate Certificate in Latin American Studi es from the University of Florida in August 2006. She received her Bachelor of Arts in communication studies from Florida State University.


Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UFE0014282/00001

Material Information

Title: A Womanist discourse analysis of the comedic discourse of Jackie "Moms" Mabley
Physical Description: Mixed Material
Language: English
Creator: Patterson, Natasha ( Dissertant )
Leslie, Michael ( Thesis advisor )
Publisher: University of Florida
Place of Publication: Gainesville, Fla.
Publication Date: 2006
Copyright Date: 2006

Subjects

Subjects / Keywords: Journalism and Communications thesis, M.A.M.C
Dissertations, Academic -- UF -- Journalism and Communications
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
theses   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )

Notes

Abstract: Over the past few decades, comedy has been a major source of information for how people view current events. Thus, media researchers concerned with the genre's ability to reveal certain truths about society and the way it is structured that normally wouldn't have been able to be told, have begun taking a more serious look at it. This thesis attempts to document comedienne Jackie "Moms" Mabley's discourses on race, class, gender and sexual orientation and compare them to the major events of her times, demonstrating the interplay between the two. In so doing, it provides insight about the culture and era in which the comedy was created and performed.
Subject: Black, critical, Jackie, womanist
General Note: Title from title page of source document.
General Note: Document formatted into pages; contains 98 pages.
General Note: Includes vita.
Thesis: Thesis (M.A.M.C.)--University of Florida, 2006.
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references.
General Note: Text (Electronic thesis) in PDF format.

Record Information

Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: aleph - 003614722
System ID: UFE0014282:00001

Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UFE0014282/00001

Material Information

Title: A Womanist discourse analysis of the comedic discourse of Jackie "Moms" Mabley
Physical Description: Mixed Material
Language: English
Creator: Patterson, Natasha ( Dissertant )
Leslie, Michael ( Thesis advisor )
Publisher: University of Florida
Place of Publication: Gainesville, Fla.
Publication Date: 2006
Copyright Date: 2006

Subjects

Subjects / Keywords: Journalism and Communications thesis, M.A.M.C
Dissertations, Academic -- UF -- Journalism and Communications
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
theses   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )

Notes

Abstract: Over the past few decades, comedy has been a major source of information for how people view current events. Thus, media researchers concerned with the genre's ability to reveal certain truths about society and the way it is structured that normally wouldn't have been able to be told, have begun taking a more serious look at it. This thesis attempts to document comedienne Jackie "Moms" Mabley's discourses on race, class, gender and sexual orientation and compare them to the major events of her times, demonstrating the interplay between the two. In so doing, it provides insight about the culture and era in which the comedy was created and performed.
Subject: Black, critical, Jackie, womanist
General Note: Title from title page of source document.
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A WOMANIST DISCOURSE ANALYSIS OF THE COMEDIC DISCOURSE OF
JACKIE "MOMS" MABLEY















By

NATASHA PATTERSON


A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF ARTS INT MASS COMMUNICATION

UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA


2006

































Copyright 2006

by

Natasha Patterson
















ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

First, I would like to thank my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ who never left my

side during this journey. This finished thesis is a testament that ALL things are possible

to those who believe in Him.

I would like to extend a special appreciation to my thesis chair, mentor, and friend,

Dr. Michael Leslie. He extended every deadline but NEVER lowered his expectations

for quality work. I thank him for pushing me to become a scholar despite my resistance

at every turn. But most of all, I thank him for the genuine interest in my mental and

physical well-being. He is a brilliant professor and I feel privileged to have studied under

him.

Thanks go to Dr. Debra Walker King, for directing me to the womanist literature

and for her initial suggestion that I combine my interests in race and gender. Thanks go

to Dr. Robyn Goodman for believing in my research and writing abilities.

I would like to thank my friends and colleagues for all of their support. Whether it

was sharing a cup of coffee or opening their homes to me for a month at a time, I am

eternally grateful for their assistance along this journey. In particular, I would like to

thank Jorge Aguilar, Abubakar Alhassan, Darius Dock, Fredline M'Cormack, Mwangi

Nj agi, Will and Michelle Thomas, and Roxanne Watson.

I would like to extend a very, special thanks to "Aunt" Frances Smith, the "S"

Avenue Church of Christ of Riviera Beach, Florida, and Pastor Willie Wright and his









wife, Eloise Wright, of the Full Deliverance Church of Jesus in Sanford, Florida. I have

two words for all of them: prayer changes.

I would like to give a special thanks to Rashel Johnson whose daily prayers lifted

me when my body and spirit were weary. Finally, I would like to thank my family for

their understanding, endless patience, and encouragement when it was most required.





















TABLE OF CONTENTS


page

ACKNOWLEDGMENT S ................. ................. iii...__ ....


AB STRAC T ................ .............. vii


CHAPTER


1 INTRODUCTION ................. ...............1.......... ......


African Americans and Comedy .............. .......... .............1
Marginalization of African American and Women Comedians ............... ..............3
Organization of the Thesis ........._.___..... .___ ...............4....

2 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH OF JACKIE "MOMS" MABLEY ................ ...............6


3 LITERATURE REVIEW ................. ...............13................


Theoretical Frameworks ................. ...............13.......... .....
Functions of Humor ............... ............... 13
Critical Culture and Race Theory ................. ...............14........... ...
Feminist Theories .............. ...............15....
Black Feminism/Womanism .............. ...............17....
Overview of the Research on Humor ................. ...............19...............
Social Functions of Humor ................. ...............19................

Physiological Benefits of Humor ................. ...............19................
Psychological Benefits............... ...............20
Approaches to Examining Humor ................. ...............21................
African American Humor ................. ...............23........... ....
Cultural Studies ............... ...............24....
Contribution of this Study .............. ...............25....


4 RESEARCH METHODOLOGY .............. ...............27....


Critical Discourse Analysis .............. ...............27....
Analysis of the Historical Context ................. ...............29........... ...
Data Collection .............. ...............30....

Design and Procedure ................. ...............30........... ....
Historical Context............... ...............32
Civil Rights under Kennedy .............. ...............32....












Civil Rights under Johnson................ ...............34
Illusion of Equality and Urban Unrest ................. ...............35...............
The Black Power Movement .............. ...............35....
Women' sLiberation ........._.___..... .__. ...............37....
Youth Movement ........._.___..... .___ ...............3 8....
Cultural S cene............... ...............39.


5 DISCOURSE ANALYSIS .............. ...............40....


Characteristics of the Comedic Texts .........._.... ....... .. _. .........._.._. ...........4
Mabley's Discourse on Race and Segregation in Historical Context ................... ......40
Social Construction of Africans ............... ......___..... ............4
Social Construction of Gays and Transgender .............. ...............52....
The Black Church and Homosexuality ............... ........ .... ... .......... ..... ...........5
Women's Sexual Needs and Desires and Males' Inability to Fulfill Them ..............58

6 DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION .............. ...............64....


Research Questions Answered .............. ...... ........ ...........6
Epilogue: Present-Day State of Black Female Comedy ............__.. ........_........72
Implications of Thi s Study ........._..... ...._... ...............74...
Limitations of This Study .............. ...............76....
Suggestions for Future Research .............. ...............77....

APPENDIX


A SELECTED WORKS OF JACKIE "MOMS" MABLEY .............. ....................7


B WOMANIST DEFINITION................ ..............8


C CODING SHEET .............. ...............81....


D CATEGORIES AND THEMES ................. ...............82................


LIST OF REFERENCES ................. ...............83........... ....


BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH .............. ...............91....
















Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts in Mass Communication

A WOMANIST DISCOURSE ANALYSIS OF THE COMEDIC DISCOURSE OF
JACKIE "MOMS" MABLEY

By

Natasha Patterson

August 2006

Chair: Michael Leslie
Major Department: Mass Communication

Over the past few decades, comedy has been a maj or source of information for how

people view current events. Thus, media researchers concerned with the genre's ability

to reveal certain truths about society and the way it is structured that normally wouldn't

have been able to be told, have begun taking a more serious look at it.

This thesis attempts to document comedienne Jackie "Moms" Mabley's discourses

on race, class, gender and sexual orientation and compare them to the maj or events of her

times, demonstrating the interplay between the two. In so doing, it provides insight about

the culture and era in which the comedy was created and performed.















CHAPTER 1
INTTRODUCTION

This thesis examines the ideologies and discourses of race and gender in the stand-

up comedy routines of the black female comedienne, Jackie "Moms" Mabley. There are

several reasons why this topic is important to mass communication studies and feminist

studies. By using a womanist analysis, this thesis will add to the discourse on race, class,

and gender. It will discern the ways in which the construction of "the Black female

experience" by this comedienne challenges and resists the process of hegemony by

providing a voice which is critical of the economic, political, social, and cultural status

quo in America. It will explore the role of communication in constructing, disseminating,

and maintaining the values and norm systems that serve the dominant patriarchal class

interests. It will explore the role of humor as a social learning tool and show the genre's

utility in addressing pertinent social and political issues as well as ways to recognize

those discursive practices which cripple the work of activists.

By providing a historical context this study will allow one to see Mabley's comedic

discourse through what Kates and Shaw-Garlock (1999) call textual shifters, which are

historical and cultural influences, such as the women's and civil rights movements,

around which the discourse was created.

African Americans and Comedy

The media's tendency to cast African Americans in comedic roles has been well

documented (Bogle, 2001). During the last 30 years there has been a proliferation of

black characters in situation comedies (Bogle, 2001; Zook, 1999) many of whom had










their start in stand-up comedy. African-American stand-up comedians have garnered

both critical and commercial success, as evidenced by the careers of Eddie Murphy, Chris

Rock, Chris Tucker and Whoopi Goldberg. The 200 1 theatrical tour Queens of Comedy,

which was headlined by four African-American females, demonstrated the genre's

potential to challenge the status quo on specific issues, e.g., female body weight.'

Throughout the years, the creative responses of African-African humor has adapted

to the historical and social context of their environments (Watkins, 1994; Williams,

1995), manifesting itself in four distinct types: the plantation survivalist,

accommodationist, in-group satirist, and integrationist2 (Williams, 1995).

The first type, plantation survivalist, can be traced back to the days of slavery when

it was developed as a mechanism to deal emotionally and psychologically with the effects

of slavery and used as satire against the injustices and dehumanization of the "peculiar

institution" (Watkins, 1994; Williams, 1995). The plantation survivalist was essentially

the slave trickster who used his wit "as barter for some advantage or gain" (Williams,

1995, p. 13). In tales the plantation survivalist, or slave trickster, was often symbolized

by the rabbit. In these tales the rabbit as trickster would often feign weakness, practice

deceit, or simply outwit his opponents (Williams, 1995, p. 12).




SIt must be noted however, that a majority of the discourse impedes the progress of blacks or at least does
nothing to advance a black agenda and continues to proliferate negative images of women.

SIn Elsie Williams, The Hwnor ofJackie Moms Mabley: 4n 4frican 4merican Comedic Tradition. New
York: Garland, 1995. "A plantation survivalist was essentially the slave trickster whose humor expressed
an ingenuity endemic to the survival of enslaved people. Whereas survivalist humor was developed by the
slaves a survival tool, accomodationist humor was first initiated, directed by the slavemasters themselves,
and later appropriated and claimed by the slaves. In-group satirist humor had two functions: conflict and
control. It meant poking fun at the white oppressor, by shedding the victim's mask and appropriating the
stereotypes. And integrationist humor was similar to in-group satirist humor, except that it including
Blacks laughing at themselves, poking fun of others, addressing controversial subjects--all in front of an
integrated audience.










By the 1820s, the plantation survivalist form transformed into the

accommodationist and was appropriated and commercialized through minstrel shows'

creation of "Jim Crow," a racist caricatured portrayal of Blacks by whites in "blackened"

faces (Foxx & Miller, 1977; Watkins, 1994). Although "Jim Crow's" appearance was

reviled by many Blacks it was commonplace by the 1840s (Watkins, 1994) and became

one of the most systematically demeaning and damaging depictions of Blacks (Jones,

1963). Later, blacks attempted to shed the victim's mask and appropriate the stereotypes

(Watkins, 1994). And by the start of the 1960s, particularly during the height of the Civil

Rights movement, African American comedians made efforts to use humor as social

commentary on many of society's ills (Watkins, 1994; Williams, 1995). This is termed

the integrationist stage.

It is this fourth stage/type of African American humor developed in the 1960s that

this paper will depart. Although as the paper will point out, elements of each type of

humor is present in Mabley's humor, this paper will focus on those elements which are

specific to the fourth stage and those which help the efforts of black and women activists.

Marginalization of African American and Women Comedians

While there has been considerable research on the contributions of stand-up

comedians (Adler, 1986; Arce, 1979; Berger, 1976; Burns, 1980; Coleman, 1984;

Gregory, 1972; Maltan, 1978; Sochen, 1991; Watkins, 1994) the contributions made by

African Americans and women has remained marginalized. Of the little research that has

focused on African American humor (Foxx & Miller, 1977; Schecter, 1970; Watkins,

1994; Williams, 1995) only Foxx and Miller (1977) devoted a chapter specifically on

black comediennes.










Despite the accomplishments of comediennes such as Jackie "Moms" Mabley,

Lucille Ball, Carole Burnett, Whoopi Goldberg, Roseanne Barr, Margaret Cho and

Mo'Nique, just to name a few, the maj ority of scholarship on stand-up comedians, has

largely ignored or limited the contributions of women, particularly women of color.

In a maj ority of the above-mentioned research the contributions of black women

are noticeably absent, except in that of Sochen (1991), Watkins (1994), and Foxx and

Miller (1977). Of these, only Sochen (1991) attempted to situate women's humor in their

proper social and historical contexts and used their comedic performances as satirical

protests against the traditional roles relegated to women. There has been a recent trend to

recognize the contributions made by women (Dance, 1998; Sochen, 1991; Williams,

1995). Of these, only Dance (1998) and Williams (1995) focused solely on the humor of

African-American women, particularly as it relates to their use of the genre as a

resistance and empowerment tool.

In conclusion, few scholarly studies have analyzed the way these comediennes have

used humor to critique and mock the hegemonic practices which continue to oppress

them. While there is some literature on the physical, social, and psychological functions

of humor and the analysis of jokes, there is a gap in the literature as it relates to the

discursive practices of the genre.

This thesis focuses on liberationist humor, which uses satire as a means to poke fun

at and question the ideas of the dominant patriarchal system, providing a psychological

and captive opening for progressive political action (Holtzman, 2000).

Organization of the Thesis

The purpose of this thesis is to document the contributions of Jackie "Moms"

Mabley to the national dialogue on race, class, gender and sexual orientation. The










biographical chapter summarizes the life and career of Mabley. The literature review

examines major theoretical approaches to analyzing her work. The research methodology

chapter summarizes the methods used to analyze her work. The historical context chapter

examines the political, social, economical, and cultural context of her time, the 1960s. It

highlights the significance of maj or pieces of civil rights legislation, chronicles the harsh

economic conditions faced by blacks and recaps the discrimination, prejudice, and

violence blacks endured as a result of their race and class.

In the analytical section, the actual discourse of Mabley is examined. This section

is arranged topically and Mabley's four maj or discursive themes are analyzed. In the

final section, conclusions are drawn regarding the implications of her discourse. There is

also a discussion of the implications of this research. It concludes with some reflections

on modern black female comedians Whoopi Goldberg and Mo'Nique and speculates on

the discursive reasons for their respective successes.















CHAPTER 2
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH OF JACKIE "MOMS" MABLEY

Jackie "Moms" Mabley was born Loretta Mary Aiken in the 1890s-she

professed not to know the exact date--in the small town of Brevard, North Carolina,

overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains. She was one of five children born to James P.

and Mary Aiken, an ex-slave (Williams, 1995, p.41). Growing up was not easy for

Mabley. Before she reached the age of 13, she had lost her father to a tragic accident and

been raped twice, the first time by an older black man and the second time by the white

town sheriff (Williams, 1995, p.42). One source reports both of these rapes resulted in

pregnancies and the children were given away. (Bennetts 1987). Whereas another

contends the babies were stolen and Mabley didn't see them again until they were grown

(Brown 1975). Although she never disclosed specific details of her life in interviews,

Mabley did admit to being "raped and everything else" in one of her stand-up routines.

Heeding the advice of her grandmother, who told her to go make something of herself,

Mabley left home at the age of thirteen. She held fast to the spiritual beliefs instilled by

her grandmother, who always stressed the importance of God as the only power who

could move mountains in peoples' lives. Believing that faith could help her overcome

the mountains in her life, both literally and figuratively, Mabley left to earn a living.

Barely three decades shy of slavery herself, Mabley realized the opportunities

available to black women were limited but she was determined to succeed. In general,

opportunities for blacks were slim during this era but they were especially lacking for

black women. As Michelle Wallace noted in Black Macho and the M~yths of the










Supetrontan, slave women were restricted to four roles: excellence in physical labor,

serving the sexual desires of masters, mammy, or providing special house skills such as

laundresses, weavers, or spinners. In contrast, notable careers such as artisans,

mechanics, drivers, butlers, and coachmen were accessible to black men. And while the

opportunities were limited for women, Lerner (1972, p. 15) found that their workload was

greater. In Black Women in White America: A Docuntentary History, Lerner found that

although they worked alongside men in the fields black women's gender afforded them

no special treatment. This same fate awaited them in film as Bogle (1973) detailed their

continued relegation to subservient roles as mammies and servants while males enjoyed a

little more diversity. While slavery confined black women's work to four primary

domains, vaudeville and minstrelsy seemed to improve their prospects. So much so, that

Jones (1963, p. 93) credited both vaudeville and minstrelsy with providing additional

professional opportunities for black women. Thus, they now had more opportunities

available to them than that of mammy, servant, or whore.

Mindful of these improved prospects, Mabley packed her bags and left home at

the age of thirteen. She joined the Theater Owners Bookers Association (TOBA) and

connected with the husband and wife team of Susie and Butterbeans in Houston, Texas

(Moritz, 1975, p. 262; Williams, 1995, p. 43). The majority of her time in show business

was not easy as she struggled to care for her family and pursue a career in a male-

dominated profession. Her struggles reflect the plight African American women

experienced, as they were doubly burdened by their race and gender. During the Jim

Crow era, which lasted from the 1890s to the 1950s, race presented a maj or burden to

Mabley as well as other black entertainers as they often struggled to find work.










Explaining the challenges her race presented, Mabley remarked, "I don't care if you

could stand on your head; if you was colored, you couldn't get no work at all [outside the

segregated black nightclub and theatrical circuits]" (Moritz, 1975, p.262).

It was in these segregated black nightclubs and theaters, like the Howard Theater

in Washington D.C. and the Apollo Theater in New York, that comedians like Mabley

found employment and acceptance. These segregated theaters provided not only steady

employment for emerging black performers but it also granted them acceptance

frequently denied them in other venues. Fox (1983, p. 7) reported that they felt so

accepted almost all of the entertainers that he interviewed for his book insisted "the

Apollo was home." Scoey Mitchell, who was quoted in Fox's book,.ll rhou nin at the

Apollo, echoes this sentiment in his statement about what the Apollo meant to black

entertainers:

If things weren't going well, you just stayed there---went into the dressing room
and went to sleep. I'm sure a lot of white performers wanted to know what it was
that was so special about this place. It was a coming together, a community of
what we all had there. (as quoted in Fox, 1983, p. 7).

These black theaters temporarily abolished the social caste system that existed

among blacks and whites, especially in D.C. A Washington Post columnist underscored

this sentiment in his remembrance of the Howard Theater as "the one place in

Washington where blacks and whites, school teachers and domestics, doctors and

laborers, mingled as equals" (Gilliam, 1986). And finally, these black theaters served as

training grounds for comedians like Mabley and Dick Gregory to sharpen their acts

before taking their messages to integrated audiences (Williams, 1995).

While performing on the vaudeville circuit, Mabley became known for her caring

personality and her tendency to look after others. Regarding her as a motherly figure,









friends like Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong (Moritz, 1975, p. 262) bestowed the

moniker "Moms" on Mabley. And from the 1920s until her death she used this moniker

and granny persona, which was most likely modeled after her maternal grandmother,

whom she claimed hipped her. While it is known how she earned the moniker "Moms"

the source of her stage name, Jackie Mabley, is a little less clear. One version contends

she met a Canadian, became engaged, and then changed her name. It was also said that

she chose the name Jackie because of her affinity for it and because it was the Canadian' s

surname (Williams, 1995, p. 2). In another more humorous version, which can be heard

on many of her albums, Mabley insists that it came from her boyfriend Jack who took so

much off of her that the least she could take was his name.

Donning an old frumpy housedress, a floppy hat, and clodhopper shoes, Mabley

wowed her audience or "children", with topics ranging from fairy tales to operettas. This

maternal identity proved successful and served Mabley well throughout her career,

endearing her to blacks and whites. For the black community it established an almost

immediate bond. As Williams (1995, p.48) observed, using this persona allowed Mabley

to draw on the reverence and adoration bestowed upon the elderly in black communities.

And as Levine (1977, p. 366) observed, by using the mask Mabley, "dealt with her

audience not as a professional entertainer but as a member of their community." Using

this matriarchal character licensed Mabley to speak the truth without fear, granted her

protection, and permitted some artistic freedom in the male-dominated profession. For

example, according to Stoddard (1975) evoking the granny persona allowed Mabley to

draw boundaries between her and her audiences in a profession that was long thought to

be a man's world. Evoking the granny persona allowed Mabley to draw boundaries









between her and her audiences (Williams, 1995, p. 49) which meant certain things, such

as violence and direct verbal assaults, were prohibited. Like her counterparts Ma Rainey

(Gertrude Pridgett), Big Mama Blues (Lillie Mae Glover), and the last of the Red Hot

Mamas (Sophie Tucker), Mabley capitalized on the nickname (Williams, 1995, p. 49).

Mabley effectively used this matriarchal persona as a refuge to address political topics,

race relations, and sexual relations---issues women normally avoided. Interestingly,

while Mabley discussed some taboo topics, Stoddard (1975) maintains that she still did so

through a form endorsed by our patriarchal society. According to Stoddard, "Before the

most recent wave of the women' s movement, the cultural taboo on women being funny in

public kept a firm hold on the number of female comics who existed and who received

national attention; those who did receive attention generally engaged in a humor that was

acceptable to a patriarchal society--the depiction of women in socially sanctioned roles"

(Stoddard, 1977, p. 14).

As Williams (1995) noted, if black audiences loved her because she was like a

member of the family then white audiences cherished her as she reminded them of a

Eigure/role with which they were most familiar and comfortable with, the black woman as

mammy. Besides how could they get mad at a character that was so endearing?

Mabley made more than 25 recordings, with her first album, M~oms Mabley: The

Funniest Woman in the World, selling more than 1 million copies. (Williams, 1995, p. 51;

Moritz, 1975, p. 262). Although her career spanned more than 60 years, Mabley didn't

experience the same commercial success as that enjoyed by her white and black male

colleagues. In her good-humored way Mabley had this to say about her late found

success, "Wouldn't you know it? By the time I Einally arrived at the big money, I'm too









old and sick to enjoy it" (Schiffman, 1984, p.121). And in another tone she said, "I try

not to be bitter; I would like to have gotten my chance earlier, but that' s the way things

were in those days...better times are coming" (Jacobson 1974). And she was right as

better times arrived in 1961 when she earned $1,000 for one engagement at the Apollo

(Schiffman, 1984, p. 121). By 1962 and 1963 she had upgraded to headliner status and

commanded $5,000 per week, which was a far cry from the $85 beginning salary she

received in the 1930s and 1940s (Fox, 1983, p. 96). After appearing on the Mery Griffin

show, her rates exceeded $5000 per week (Sasso as cited in Williams, 1995, p. 52). And

after a 10-day stint in 1968 with B.B. King in Chicago's Regal Theater in 1968 she

grossed $91,000 (Williams, 1995, p. 52)

Towards the latter part of her life her career began to take off. She appeared on

the Smothers Brothers, Comedy Hour, Mery Griffin, Bill Cosby Show, Mike Douglas, Ed

Sullivan, Garry Moore, and Flip Wilson shows. She also performed at the Kennedy

Center, the Playboy Club, Carnegie Hall, and Copacabana (Moritz, 1978, p. 263). She

performed on black and white college campuses, was invited to the White House

Conference on Civil Rights in 1966 and she even visited the governor's mansion in

Georgia to talk with the then-governor Jimmy Carter (Williams, 1995, p. 50).

Foxx and Miller (1977, p.98) maintain Mabley was the first female to emerge as a

"single stand-up act." And although black and white women went into the profession at

about the same rate, black women were mostly unable to transcend the fat black mammy

and Aunt Jemima stereotypes and roles. Feminist scholars have argued that one of the

main reasons that women weren't successful in the field of stand-up comedy is the

aggressive factor that' s typical of most stand-up humor. For example, Stoddard (1977)










contends that while aggressive behavior is acceptable for men it is not for women. One

must remember that the dominant roles for women have always been that of a virtuous

woman or whore.

In spite of this Mabley was able to make it. Perhaps how she made it may lie in a

quote by Johnny Carson (as quoted in Williams, 1995, p. 69) in which he said it required

a lady not being a lady for a little while to make it in show business. While it was

probably a combination of stratagems that resulted in her success, Mabley found the

formula and was able to succeed, comparatively speaking. But although she received a

considerably larger salary than when she started, she never earned the same amount as

her male colleagues. It is her legacy that Mabley made it on her own negotiated terms

and paved the way for contemporary black comedians like Whoopi Goldberg, Marsha

Warfield, and Mo'Nique.

In 1974, Mabley realized a long-time career goal when she starred in the motion

picture Amazing Grace alongside Slappy White, Moses Gunn, and Rosalind Cash

(Williams, 1995, p. 52). While on the film set she suffered a heart attack, and shortly

after the film's completion she died, on May 23, 1975. Her popularity and lasting

influence were evidenced by the hundreds who paid their final respects to a woman who

had nursed their crying souls.l









i Although other resources were consulted, the author of this research relied heavily on the material,
organization, and structure contained in The Hwnor ofJackie Moms Mabley written by Elsie Williams to
compile the biographical sketch. Given the difficulty in following the life of a historical figure like
Mabley, the bibliography and discography in Williams' book proved invaluable.















CHAPTER 3
LITERATURE REVIEW

Theoretical Frameworks

To explore the research questions presented in the introduction, this study

integrated several theoretical frameworks. The first group of theoretical frameworks,

referred to as humor theories, explain the social, physical, and psychological functions of

humor. In addition, this review incorporates two theoretical frameworks that explicate

the marginalization of African-American women based on the "double burden" of their

race and gender: critical culture and race theory and womanist theory.

Functions of Humor

According to humor theories, humor usually functions at three levels: physical,

psychological, and social. Some of the physical functions of humor include an anesthetic

effect (Cousins, 1979), exercise for the cardiovascular and respiratory systems, tension

relief in muscles, opiate release into the blood system, and laughter (Fry & Salameh,

1986). The psychological functions cited by Freud include humor as ego assertion and as

a mechanism of aggression and displacement (cited in Brill, 193 8), encouragement,

empowerment, and balance (Klein, 1989). Finally, the social functions of humor have

chiefly been explained in terms of intergroup conflict resolution and social control

(Burma, 1946; Haig, 1988; Obrdlik, 1942). Understanding these functions explains how

black women have used its physical (laughter instead of crying), psychological

(empowerment), and social (control and resistance) functions to cope with and transcend

the oppression caused by institutional sexism and racism.









While the academic community has been hesitant to regard comedy as a "serious

discipline," several sociologists have persisted in studying this "disreputable" research

topic because it shows its possibility of revealing certain truths about society and human

existence (Davis, 1993).

What truths? Humor reveals the truth about the way individuals order themselves

into communities. As noted by sociologist Joyce Hertzler in the text, Laughter: A Socio-

Scientific Analysis, the study of humor can serve "as a kind of sociocultural index of the

culture or society, the groups and population segments, the communities or localities, and

the eras in which it occurs." Hertzler goes on to argue that "what a people laugh at at any

given time can reveal what they perceive socially, what they are interested in, concerned

about, amused by, disgusted with, preoccupied with" (1970, pp. 58-59).

Yet despite its ability to tell us about society's values and social relations, the study

of humor as a "serious" discipline has stirred quite a debate. Critics contend it is an

unsuitable academic topic and thus feel time and financial resources would be better

spent on other subj ects However, proponents maintain that researchers "can use the way

humor deconstructs the social world to comprehend more precisely how people have

constructed it" (Davis, 1993, p. 313).

Critical Culture and Race Theory

Critical race theory suggests that we live in a society that privileges whiteness (Omi

& Winant, 1998) and makes whiteness the societal framework whose goal is to maintain

existing power relations between the races (van Dijk, 1993). Critical race theorists view

the mass media as not only a powerful source on ideas about race but also "a place where

these ideas are articulated, worked on, transformed, and elaborated" (Hall, 1981).

Because one of the ways that the racist system maintains social control is through










omission of voices that are critical of racist ideology, it is important to explore the

discourse of these critical voices in the mass media.

Our racist capitalistic society uses the mass media to disseminate information and

to normalize whiteness and everything else as "otherness." This normalization results in

two things: a belief of entitlement to certain privileges for whites in the United States

and a justification for exploitation and violence toward nonwhites (Kivel, 1996). Critical

race theorists have argued that racist ideology is used as a technique to obstruct

nonwhites' power (van Dijk, 1993)

Included in much of the critical theories of race is the concept of hegemony.

Hegemony is the process by which the dominant group gains and maintains power over

the subordinate classes (Lull, 2003) and normalizes race relations and views of people of

color. Hegemonic racism helps explain the purpose of the racist ideology (to keep

nonwhites out of power as well as to serve the dominant group's economic interests) and

media' s use of racist ideology (to serve and preserve the dominant classes since they own

it). The concept of hegemony and counterhegemony, or its resistance, are particularly

helpful in exploring and explaining black comedians' approach to white supremacy and

oppression.

Feminist Theories

Feminists contend that we live in a patriarchal society that privileges males and

makes maleness the yardstick against which women's behaviors, bodies, and abilities are

measured (Tavris, 1992). They also maintain that our patriarchal society uses this male

privilege to maintain power relations between the sexes. Feminist theorists argue that the

media construct and disseminate gender ideology and thus are a maj or socializing agent

(van Zoonen, 1994).









Like the critical race theories, included in much of the feminist theories is the

concept of hegemony. The concept of hegemony and its counterpart counterhegemony is

the process by which the dominant group secures the consent of the socially subordinated

to system to the system that oppresses them (Gramsci, 1971). These power relations are

naturalized and made to appear almost common sense through institutions like religion,

education, and the media and thus overt force from institutions like the police isn't

necessary (Dines & Humez, 2003, p.731). Although Gramsci didn't include gender in his

model of hegemony, his concept of power relations is helpful to feminist studies in

explicating male domination over females and helps to explain the purpose of sexist

ideology.

Another concept important to understanding feminist theories and to understanding

how hegemony works is the notion of ideology. Ideology works to reproduce systems of

domination and subordination (Kellner, 1978; Kellner, 1979) by what Hall (2003, p. 89)

says are "images, concepts, and premises which provide the frameworks through which

we represent, interpret, understand, and "make sense" of some aspect of social

existence." Because ideology is essential in reproducing hegemony, both concepts will

be particularly helpful in examining and explaining black women' s negotiation of

dominant discourses on race and gender.

Feminist theory is comprised by the two key constructs of gender and power (van

Zoonen, 1994, p. 4) which are critical to the analysis of this paper. Gender can be

thought of as both a social concept and a type of discourse. According to the definition

offered in the glossary of Gender, Race, and Class in Media gender is what "society

defines as "masculine" or feminine" one particular set of characteristics and behaviors,









and then socializes children (or adults, author's note) accordingly" (Dines & Humez,

2003, p. 730). The definition goes on to explain that these characteristics are not fixed

and they can vary across time and between cultures and even within cultures (Dines &

Humez, 2003, p. 730). Contemporary scholars have even proposed that gender and its

extension, sexual identity are best understand as occurring along a continuum, rather than

as being binary (Nanda, 2000; Schwartz & Rutter, 1998).

As a discourse, gender can be thought of "a set of overlapping and often

contradictory cultural descriptions and prescriptions referring to sexual difference, which

arises from and regulates particular economic, social, political, technological and other

non-discursive contexts (van Zoonen, 1994, p. 33).

Black Feminism/Womanism

While there are many typologies of feminist theory, this paper will use a black

feminist/womanist approach because according to Collins (2000) it allows black women

to use an alternative epistemology to interpret their own oppression and to rearticulate

black women's standpoint through authorities validated by them as opposed to what she

calls the Eurocentric masculinist process (Collins, 2000).

Although there have been debates with the academy surrounding the distinctions

between womanism and black feminism (Collins, 1996) in this paper the terms will be

used interchangeably. As Barbara Omolade noted, "black feminism is sometimes

referred to as womanism because both are concerned with struggles against sexism and

racism by black women who are themselves part of the black community's efforts to

achieve equity and liberty" (Omolade, 1994, xx).

Developed out of their frustrations with not having their needs adequately

addressed by either the feminist movements or the black liberation movements, black










women decided developed their own "voice" or standpoints about black womanhood in

the 1980s and 1990s (Collins, 1990). Thus, they developed their own standpoint to

define themselves and articulate their life experiences. Defining themselves was critical

as Audre Lorde noted, "it is axiomatic that if we do not define ourselves for ourselves, we

will be defined by others---for their use and to our detriment" (1984, p. 45). Following

Lorde's notion that "the master' s tools will never dismantle the master's house" (1984, p.

112) black women began using their self-defined standpoint as a tool and started "talking

back" against the dominant discourses about them and black womanhood (hooks, 1989).

According to Alice Walker, who coined the term, womanist derives from

"womanish," a word used by Black women to describe the boldness of some black girls.

It refers to a "black feminist or feminist of color." Also, it can be used to reference "a

woman who loves other women, sexually and/or nonsexually," or someone who is

"committed to survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female."

This thesis seeks to combine Walker' s (1983) multiple definitions of womanism

with the Afrocentric feminist epistemology suggested by Collins' (2000) to analyze and

rearticulate the everyday experiences and oppression experienced by black women as

expressed in humor from the period of 1960-1971. Although this study will use the

discourse of Jackie "Moms" Mabley to narrate the era, it is assumed that it embodies

other black women' s struggles, given the shared experiences of black women.





SAccording to Collins, Afrocentric epistemology is knowledge that accounts for the blacks' shared
experiences as a result of colonialism, imperialism, slavery, apartheid, and other forms of racial
domination. And feminist epistemology is knowledge of women' shared history of patriarchal oppression
which transcends race, social class, sexual orientation, religion, and ethnicity. And as Collins noted,
because black women have access to both of these standpoints it only seems logical that they combine them
to reflect their own viewpoints of their oppression.









Overview of the Research on Humor

There has been much research conducted on humor (Barron, 1950; Brill, 1938;

Burma, 1946; Coleman, 1984; Dance, 1974\8; Davis, 1993; Hertzler, 1970; Haig, 1988;

Leveen, 1996; Middleton, 1959; Stephenson, 1951; Obrdlik, 1942; Watkins, 1994;

Williams, 1995). This research has spanned the disciplines including communications

(Potter & Warren, 1998), counseling (Goldin & Bordan, 1999; Sluder, 1986; Herring,

1994; Herring & Meggert, 1994), folklore studies (Dance, 1978; Abrahams, 1970a;

Abrahams, 1970b), psychology (Brill, 1938; O'Quin & Aronoff, 1981) and sociology

(Barron, 1950; Burma, 1946; Obrdlik, 1942; Stephenson, 1951). Other studies have

explored the physical, psychological and social functions of the genre (Burma, 1946;

Cousins, 1979; Fry & Salameh, 1986; Haig, 1988; Obrdlik, 1942).

Social Functions of Humor

Studies examining the functions of humor have documented its use as a social tool

used for control and resistance. For example, Watkins (1994) documents how African

Americans have used it in various ways like for survival during slavery to criticizing

bigotry and racial discrimination, particularly during the civil rights movement. Williams

(1995) documents how Mabley used it to challenge and even resist society's double

standards regarding women's roles and behaviors.

Physiological Benefits of Humor

Whereas earlier studies documented the presence of humor in various literary

forms, such as folklore, (Dance, 1978; Abrahams, 1970a; Abrahams, 1970b), with

focuses on an analysis at the joke level and its social functions such as control. However,

there has been a recent trend to highlight the physical and psychological functions of the

genre, specifically as it relates to health (Bruehl, Carlson, & McCubbin, 1993;









Frederickson, 1998; Fry, 1994; Lefcourt & Martin, 1986; Martin, 2004; Martin, Kuipier,

& Dance, 1993; Martin & Lefcourt, 1983; Stone, Cox, Valdimarsdottier, & Neal, 1987)

Since Cousins (1979) published Anatomy of an Illness, noting its physiological

benefits, researchers have been hypothesizing on the relationship between humor and

health. Martin (2000) suggested humor has various aspects including physiological,

emotional, social, and psychologically. Fry (1994) found that laughter increases the

production of endorphins which acts as a pain reliever, serves as a muscle relaxer, and

helps stimulate circulation. Other researchers have suggested it improves the body's

immunity (Stone et al., 1987), generates positive emotions which enhance pain tolerance

(Bruehl et. al., 1993), and combats the cardiovascular consequences of negative thinking

(Frederickson, 1998).

Psychological Benefits

Researchers have also noted its psychological benefits, particularly as it relates to

counseling. (Goldin & Bordan, 1999; Sluder, 1986, Herring, 1994; Herring & Meggert,

1994).

Sluder (1986) studied the use of counseling among elementary students. The

researcher found that humor can be used to build rapport, self-disclose information about

one's own imperfections to put the child at ease, and as a coping mechanism by the

children. And Herring (1994) and Herring and Meggert (1994) studied the way humor

has been used as a strategy in counseling Native American children. Herring and

Meggert (1994) suggested that while Native Americans differed among groups and

individuals in what was perceived humorous, activities such as story telling, story

reading, images, puppets, games, tongue twisters and rhymes could be used to convey









emotionally-laden messages which might otherwise be unacceptable if directly

acknowledged.

Goldin & Bordan (1999) studied the diagnostic and therapeutic uses of humor in

the client-counselor relationship. The researchers relate through transcripts of counseling

vignettes the ways in which a counselor uses humor in variety of ways (i.e. to convey

understanding, assess depression, identifying the humor in a patient' s situation, etc).

They found that when humor is utilized in counseling, the counselor offers an alternative

frame to the client' s reports of his or her experiences, which is meant to have therapeutic

value. And they found this value of humor benefits both the counselor and client--it

allows the counselor to strengthen the rapport with the patient and makes light of very

painful experience for the patient.

Approaches to Examining Humor

The maj ority of the research reviewed for this paper attempted to approach the

study of humor from one of three approaches: a humor function perspective (Burma,

1946; Cousins, 1979; Fry & Salameh, 1986; Haig, 1988; Obrdlik, 1942), a correlational

lens, and/or an experimental approach across various disciplines. Research from the

humor function perspective tends to highlight the social, physical, and psychological

functions of the genre and spans across disciplines such as communications, sociology,

psychology, and counseling as highlighted in the previous section. Martin (2004)

maintains that studies that have focused on sense of humor and health have usually used

an experimental design or what he calls a "correlational" approach in which subj ects use

scales to self-report sense of humor and perceived pain. Of these three approaches,

empirical evidence for the benefits of humor continues to be the weakest (Martin, 2004).










Using an experimental design, Cogan, Cogan, Waltz, & McCue (1987) tested

whether laughter is a pain antagonist. In the first experiment, the researchers conducted

tested their subj ects' thresholds for pressure-induced discomfort after having them listen

to an audiotape that was either laughter-inducing (Lilly Tomlin), relaxation-inducing,

audiotape, a dull narrative, or no audiotape at all. They found the discomfort thresholds

increased for subjects in the laughter and relaxation-inducing conditions. In the second

experiment, they again tested their subj ects' thresholds for pressure-induced discomfort.

However, this time they sought to determine whether it was the laughter itself or simply

the distraction associated with attending to humorous materials that leads to reduced

sensitivity to discomfort. So this time participants either listened to a laughter-inducing

audiotape (Bill Cosby), an interesting narrative (Edgar Allan Poe), an uninteresting

narrative, or completed a multiplication task, and one group received no treatment at all.

They found that laughter, and not simply distraction, reduced a subj ect' s sensitivity

to discomfort. Thus, suggesting the potential to use laughter as intervention for easing

discomfort.

Their research concluded that because laughter is naturally-occurring and doesn't

require training to be effective, it might be a useful technique in decreasing pain

sensitivity .

Citing it was difficult to draw a firm conclusion that humor has an advantage over a

boring stimulus condition from the conducted by Cogan et. al (1987), Weisenberg,

Tepper, & Schwarzwald (1995) conducted their own study. Using an experimental

design also, Weisenberg et al. (1995) sought to find out whether humor was superior to

other methods of distraction when the interest level was comparable. They contrasted










humor with a repulsive and neutral stimulus which was controlled for interest level.

Although the stimuli were distracting, they did not possess what they called the unique

aspects of humor. They used four groups where three were shown a film which was

either humorous, repulsive, or neutral. The fourth group was not shown a fi1m. They

found that when compared to the other groups, both the humor and repulsive groups

showed a significant increase in pain tolerance. They concluded that on a theoretical

level, besides merely being a distraction, humor doesn't hold any special advantage in

pain tolerance. The researchers agreed that any conclusion about humor should be

regarded as preliminary.

African American Humor

Research by Watkins (1994) and Williams (1995) demonstrates that the creative

responses of African American humor were adapted throughout the years to the historical

and social context of their environments and manifested through four types: the

plantation survivalist, accomodationist, in-group satirist, and integrationist.2 The first

type, plan2tation survivalist, can be traced back to the days of slavery when it was

developed as a mechanism to deal emotionally and psychologically with the effects of

slavery and as satire against the injustices and dehumanization of the "peculiar

institution" (Watkins, 1994; Williams, 1995). This type of humor, which was primarily

used by the slaves to direct their course of life in a hostile environment, was later used by



SIn Elsie Williams, The Hwnor ofJackie Moms Mablev: 4n 4~frican 4merican Comedic Tradition. New
York: Garland, 1995. A plantation survivalist was essentially the slave trickster whose humor expressed
an ingenuity endemic to the survival of enslaved people. Whereas survivalist was developed by the
slaves a survival tool, accomodationist humor was first initiated, directed by the slavemasters themselves,
and later appropriated and claimed by the slaves. In-group satirist humor had two functions: conflict and
control. It meant poking fun of the white oppressor, by shedding the victim's mask and appropriating the
stereotypes. And integrationist humor was similar to in-group satirist humor, except that it included Blacks
laughing at themselves, poking fun of others, and addressing controversial subjects--all in front of an
integrated audience.









slave masters for their own amusement during the accomodationist stage. Although later

appropriated by blacks, humor during the accomodationist stage was initiated, directed,

and shaped by slavemasters. Donning blackened faces and performing in outlandish

costumes, white performers appeared onstage singing popular songs while enacting racist

caricatured portrayals of blacks. (Foxx and Miller, 1977; Watkins, 1994). With these

minstrel shows, whites had ushered in a form of entertainment of blacks as a comic figure

that permanently etched in the minds of America. Later, black entertainers working the

minstrel shows attempted to shed the victim's masks and appropriate the stereotypes

(Watkins, 1994). Although reviled by many blacks, these minstrel shows, which were

commonplace by the 1840s, provided j ob opportunities and social status, not available

elsewhere during the period, for many black entertainers.

The third type of African American humor, in-group satirist, was popularized on

the segregated vaudeville circuits. The comedians during this stage used the liberty

afforded by the segregated audiences to not only sharpen their humor against outsiders

but also as a form of internal control to keep the black community in check.

In contrast to the comic antics, funny costumes and folk speech used by the in-

group satirists, comedians during the integrationist stage performed their satiric material

for integrated audiences (Williams, 1995, 25). Performing during the height of the Civil

Rights movement, the comedians of the 1960s provided social commentary on many of

society's ills (Watkins, 1994; Williams, 1995). The third and fourth stages are the focus

of this study.

Cultural Studies

Because humor serves as a "kind of sociocultural index of the culture, groups or

populations, and the eras in which it occurs (Hertzler, 1970, pp. 58-59), using the way it









"deconstructs the social world can help one better understand how people have

constructed it" (Davis, 1993). As Kellner (2003) observes, one way to fully grasp this

relationship between discourse (comedic discourse) and culture is through the use of a

cultural studies approach. This study deploys cultural analysis with discourse analysis to

explore the meanings of the text in cultural context.

This multifaceted method, when applied to the study of mass communication, looks

at how mass communication functions within culture and how it helps to produce and

reproduce the ruling class's social domination through the establishment of social

ideologies, norms, values, and representation of "Others." It also shows how

communication enables resistance through subversive cultural work (Kellner, 2003). Key

to cultural studies, as well as this thesis, is a critical theory approach which highlights the

dominant role of culture in shaping individual responses to social systems.

Contribution of this Study

Because of the scant literature on the contributions of black female comediennes,

their contemporary commercial success, and their performances critical of the dominant

patriarchal system, I will use this study to examine how Mabley, a maj or exponent of this

group, used humor to defy society's rules in what has traditionally been a male-

dominated field. This examination of Mabley's work informs our understanding of how

black women articulate their beliefs and experiences to combat the "double burden" of

their oppression.

The field of stand-up comedy is male-dominated and as a result the endeavors of

female comedians, in general, and black females in particular, have been overlooked.

Although my study examines the functions of humor as a social tool, it does so in novel

manner. Not only will its primary focus be the work of black comediennes from a black






26


female perspective, it will show the genre's utility in advancing pertinent social and

political issues as well while interrogating those discursive practices which cripple its

effectiveness.















CHAPTER 4
RESEARCH METHODOLOGY

This thesis will use critical discourse analysis and analysis of the historical context

to explore the following research questions:

1. What are the prevalent themes of comedienne Jackie "Moms" Mabley?

2. What range of representations does this comedienne offer to her audiences? Which
elements and themes are excluded?

3. What is the economic, political, social, and cultural function of these themes and
ideas in American society and in particular for women and blacks in America? Are
they hegemonic or counter-hegemonic in their ideology? How?

4. How are the comedic performances (i.e. dress, behavior, language) influenced by
the social, cultural, and historical context during which they were created?

The goal of this methodological approach is to elucidate how the comedic

discourse of Jackie "Moms" Mabley constructs, disseminates, maintains and/or resists the

values and norms that characterize our white, male, supremacist, capitalist culture.

Critical Discourse Analysis

Before discussing the details of a discourse analysis, it is important to first describe

what discourse means. Although the term discourse is slippery, elusive and often

difficult to define (Henry & Tator, 2002), the following succinct definition offered by

Henry & Tator (2002) will be used to form my theoretical approach:

A discourse is a way of referring to or constructing knowledge about a particular
topic or practice: a cluster or formation of ideas, images, and practices that provide
ways of talking about forms of knowledge and conduct associated with a particular
topic, social activity, or institutional site in society. (Henry & Tator, 2002, p. 26)

Although most discourse is dominant and serves the particular interests of those in

power not all discourse articulates the ideology of the dominant class. As Lull (2003, p.










65) observed "expressions of the dominant ideology are sometimes reformulated to assert

alternative, often completely resistant or contradictory messages." It is these resistant or

counterhegemonic tendencies of communication that are the focus of this thesis.

So what exactly is critical discourse analysis (CDA)? van Dijk (2001) defines it as
a type of discourse analytical research that primarily studies the way social power
abuse, dominance, and inequality are enacted, reproduced, and resisted by text and
talk in the social and political context. With such dissident research, critical
discourse analyses takes explicit position, and thus want to understand, expose, and
ultimately resist social inequality (p. 352)

This approach extends beyond highlighting dominance and power abuse by seeking

to show ways this dominance can be resisted (van Dijk, 2001). It also goes beyond the

abstract language to see how meaning of discourse is made in the economic, political and

social order in which it circulates.


Critical discourse analysis was the best method to analyze the comedic discourse

presented in this paper for two reasons. First, it allows the researcher to address the two

maj or problems in analyzing talk, positionality and evidence, as identified by Barker and

Galasinski (2001, p. 22). Barker and Galasinski's concept of positionality, or the belief

that knowledge is never neutral but instead a reflection of the social position of the

speaker, the audience, and the purpose, is accounted for by a rigorous analysis.


This rigorous analysis will consist of the three levels on which most discourse

occurs as identified by Fairclough (2000): (a.) the actual text (micro level) (b.) discursive

practices (intermediate level) and (c.) the larger social context which influences the text

and discursive practices. McGregor' s (2004) definitions of the terms actual text,

discursive practices, and social context were used for the analysis. The actual text is the

transcript of the audio recordings of Jackie "Moms" Mabley and as McGregor (2004)









noted "often involves the presentation of facts and beliefs, the identities of participants

discussed in the communication, and the strategies that are used to frame the message."

Discursive practices refers to those "rules, norms, and mental modes of socially

acceptable behavior in specific roles or relationships" which are used in producing,

receiving and interpreting the message (McGregor, 2004). According to Alvermann,

Commeyras, Young, Randall, & Hinson (1997) these codes of behavior govern the way

individuals learn to act, think and speak.

Finally, the larger social context refers to the settings where the discourse occurs

(i.e. comedy club, segregated audience, the segregated society)--each with a set of rules

and obligations that governs what individuals occupying these places are permitted and

expected to do (McGregor, 2004).

The second reason critical discourse analysis is the best research method is its

compatibility to the cultural studies approach. Critical discourse analysis is ideal to use

with cultural studies as both are concerned with language and power, or ideology and

hegemony (Barker & Galasinski 2001)

While critical discourse analysis can focus on body language, symbols, visual

images and other forms of semiosis, this thesis will be limited to analyzing the talk text

with a womanist critical perspective as the main perspective.

Analysis of the Historical Context

In addition to the recordings of the comedienne's performances, this study used

primary and secondary sources to leamn about the past and to develop a context of the

economic, social, and political environment from the period of 1960-1971. To do this,

the researcher used commentaries, reviews, newspaper articles produced during the

period, and reference materials, including but not limited to, biographical dictionaries and










chronologies to obtain facts about the key figures and maj or events of the period (1960-

1971). These sources helped the researcher summarize the historical and political

context. The History ofAmerican Life series edited by Schlesinger and Fox and James

Trager' s The People 's Chronology were consulted for descriptions and assessments of

the nation's social and cultural environment during the period, which included the

influence of events such as the Women's and Black Liberation movements.

Finally, to provide a context of the economic environment, income statistics and

indices for the quality of life, crime and cost of living of U. S. cities were obtained from

various sources.

Using this information as a framework, the researcher was able to critically

interpret Mabley's discourse in regards to the contemporary social and political

conditions of her times, including the limitations and barriers faced by black comedians

in general and black female comediennes in particular. It also allows us to more justly

measure Mabley's professional achievements and commercial success in light of the era' s

standards for women' s, particularly black women's, behaviors and roles.

Data Collection

The researcher analyzed and extracted data from seventeen comedy albums

recorded by Jackie "Moms" Mabley. Photographs and descriptions from The Humor of

Jackie M~oms Mabley: An Afr~ican American Comedic Tradition, were viewed and used to

describe the comedienne's physical comedy, dress, nonverbal behaviors and to compile

the biographical sketch.

Design and Procedure

This study analyzed Mabley's audio recordings between the years of 1960 1971.

Over a four-week period, the researcher transcribed each album, then listened to the










albums while reading the transcript to ensure accuracy. The researcher listened to the

albums a total of three times in an effort to ensure all words were deciphered correctly. If

after three times the word or phrase was still unclear, the word or phrase was labeled

inaudible by the researcher.

To analyze the data, the author initially went through the texts line by line and

marked those chunks of material that suggested a category. For example, using the

above-mentioned example from the critical discourse analysis the excerpt was coded into

the category of "Shortage of living quarters for blacks." After all categories were

identified, a codebook was created that listed all of the categories, the code names for

each category, the number of incidents coded, and the location of the incident in the data

records.

Using the coding process developed by Banks et al. (2000), the following questions

were asked to assist in grouping the data into categories: 1) "what appears to be the

meaningfully cohesive topic unit?" 2) "What does the unit of discourse describe or what

is the subj ect described as doing?" 3) "What is the underlying principle of this

expression?"

Next, connections were made between the categories. And finally, new categories

or themes that connected several categories were created. These two processes were

repeated until the categories were "theoretically saturated", or until new categories added

little value to the themes or concepts (Glaser & Strauss, 1967, p. 110). Finally, richly

detailed excerpts were quoted as supporting evidence to answer the initial research

questions.









Historical Context

To understand the comedic discourse of Jackie "Moms" Mabley it is necessary to

look back at the 1960s, a time when African American comedians used their humor to

challenge the status quo and advance social and political issues pertinent to the black

community. This was a tumultuous decade in which the nation was forced to scrutinize

its fundamental beliefs and institutions regarding issues of race, class, gender roles, and

political philosophy.

When the decade began, a wave of energetic optimism permeated everything. But

few sensed the dramatic changes that were about to occur. President Kennedy's idealistic

promises for a 'new frontier', the creation of a new birth control pill which heralded a new

freedom for women, and the civil rights movement which blacks and whites supported---

all seemed to signal a new age. However, the early optimism couldn't be sustained and

by the decade' s end, despair began to set in among many of the groups that were Eighting

for social justice. While the civil rights movement won many legal and political battles,

economic and social equality was still far from reality for blacks, particularly those

residing in urban ghettos. Frustrated by the pervasive racism which affected their

housing and employment prospects, urban blacks began rioting. The assassination of

national leaders John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X brought

disillusionment for African Americans and the country as a whole. Furthermore, the

United State's involvement in the costly (both in dollars and deaths) Vietnam War began

destroying the Americans' confidence in the nation's economic and moral fitness.

Civil Rights under Kennedy

Initially, Kennedy was reluctant to address the civil rights issue because he feared

the political clout of southern Democrats, many of whom had helped him win election in









1960. Before long, however, he was forced to confront the issue. In 1961, the Congress

of Racial Equality (CORE) sent a group of black and white "freedom riders" to the Deep

South to test the court ruling which banned segregation on buses and trains (Tindall &

Shi, 1999, p. 1511). When whites in Alabama assaulted the freedom riders, Kennedy

sent in federal marshals to protect them.

In the fall of 1962, Kennedy again sent the federal marshals when Governor Ross

Barnett and an angry mob of students attempted to prevent James Meredith, a black

student, from enrolling at the University of Mississippi ("Crisis in Mississippi," 1962).

Despite opposition, black activists and white supporters continued to challenge the Jim

Crow system that was prevalent in the South.

In 1963, the centennial anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation

Proclamation, Martin Luther King, Jr. led a series of nonviolent demonstrations in

Birmingham, Alabama. At the local level, King wanted to desegregate the downtown

businesses. However, the overarching goal was to secure federal enforcement and new

legislation by provoking racists to display their hatred and violence publicly (Tindall &

Shi, 1999, p. 1512). King believed that nonviolent protests would force the president's

hand. Television and newspaper coverage of the young demonstrators being hosed by

water and mauled by dogs galvanized support for King and the movement throughout the

nation.

In June of 1963 Governor George Wallace literally stood in the doorway, blocking

the entrance of Vivian Malone and James Hood as they tried to register for classes at the

University of Alabama (Sitton, 1963). Determined not to have a repetition of what

happened at Ole Miss, Kennedy mobilized the Alabama National Guard who asked









Wallace to step aside. Wallace eventually left and the students were able to 'integrate'

the campus. The recalcitrance of a public official of Wallace's stature as well as the

horrifying images of black children being attacked by dogs in Birmingham provoked

Kennedy to draft a comprehensive Civil Rights legislation. Also, Kennedy was

concerned about how these images might affect America's image abroad, particularly

since the United States was promoting democracy.

On the same night (June 11, 1963) of the incident at the University of Alabama,

Kennedy addressed the nation about the state of race relations and announced his plans to

draft legislation that would guarantee equal rights for blacks (Kennedy, 1963). Later that

night, after Kennedy's address, NAACP Hield secretary of the Mississippi branch, Medgar

Evers was killed as he returned home in Jackson, Mississippi (Perlmutter, 1963).

In support of this legislation, more than 200,000 blacks and whites gathered in

Washington, D.C. on August 28, 1963 and listened as Dr. King gave his "I Have a

Dream" speech which spoke optimistically about racial harmony. Known as the "March

on Washington," this was the largest demonstration in history on the nation's capital

(Franklin & Moss, 2000, p. 537).

Two weeks after the march it became painfully evident that the country was far

from achieving racial brotherhood when a bomb exploded in a Birmingham, Alabama

church, killing four black girls as they made their way to Sunday school (Sitton, 1963).

A month later on November 22, 1963, President Kennedy was killed in Dallas, Texas,

Selling blacks with more despair.

Civil Rights under Johnson

When President Lyndon Johnson assumed onfce he made it known his strong

support for Kennedy's civil rights program. In January of 1964, Congress ratified the









Twenty Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, outlawing the poll tax in federal

elections, long a means to disenfranchise blacks in federal elections. And in June of 1964,

Johnson pushed the Civil Rights Act through Congress. The most far-reaching and

comprehensive legislation in support of racial equality, this act prohibited discrimination

in voting, education, and the use of public facilities (Franklin & Moss, 2000, p. 539).

Illusion of Equality and Urban Unrest

For many urban blacks living outside of the South, the civil rights movement

brought little tangible improvements or benefits. For example in 1963, the

unemployment rate for blacks was 1 14 percent higher than that of whites. And where

blacks were employed, more than 80 percent worked in the lowest paid menial jobs as

compared to only 40 percent of employed whites. In 1964, the unemployment rate

among blacks was 9.6 percent versus 5.4 percent among whites. Five years later, in

1969, the median income for blacks with eight years of schooling was $4,472 whereas it

was $7,018 for whites with the equivalent amount of schooling. (Franklin & Moss, 2000,

p. 545). Racial discrimination combined with labor union discrimination and meager

opportunities for apprenticeship training limited blacks' chances for moving up (Franklin

& Moss, 2000, p. 545).

The Black Power Movement

In the mid-1960s, the nonviolent phase of the civil rights movement began to

fragment and the new "Black Power" phase began. On August 11, 1965, less than a week

after the passage of the Voting Rights Act, riots broke out in Watts the poor and

predominantly black neighborhood in Los Angeles (Bart, 1965). When the rioting ended,

there were thirty-four dead, almost 4,000 in j ail, and property damage exceeding $3 5

million (Tindall & Oshi, 1999, p. 1532). But this was just the beginning. In the summer










of 1966, Chicago, Cleveland, and forty other cities experienced racial riots. And the next

summer Detroit and Newark burst into flames. About 70 percent of America's black

population lived in urban areas that had been bypassed by postwar prosperity (Tindall &

Shi, 1999, p. 1533). These areas were characterized by high unemployment, poor

schools, police brutality, inadequate housing, a lack of access to health care and chronic

poverty.

A special Commission on Civil Disorders noted that unlike earlier race riots which

were caused by white perpetrators, blacks instigated these riots which reflected their

frustrations with the racism embedded in American society.l Just one month after the

report appeared in 1968, Dr. King was assassinated and the riots resumed.

By 1966, "Black Power" had become the rallying cry of blacks. Radical members

of the SNCC who had risked their lives to increase voter registration became

disillusioned with the slow pace at which blacks were gaining their equality. And under

the leadership of Stokely Carmichael, they began insisting that "black power" must be

used to combat "white power" which had subjugated blacks for years (Franklin & Moss,

2003, p. 547). H. Rap Brown, who succeeded Carmichael in 1967, urged blacks to "get

you some guns" and "kill the honkies" (Tindall & Shi, 1999, p. 1533)

Meanwhile, on the west coast, a group of young black militants under the

leadership of Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale organized the Black Panther Party. The

organization called for full employment, decent housing, black control of the black

community and an end to every form of repression and brutality (Franklin & Moss, 2000,

p. 553).

SKerner Conunission (1968). Report of the National Advisory Conunission on Civil Disorders. New
York: Bantam Books.









One of the maj or proponents of black nationalism and its most articulate

spokesman was Malcolm X. Malcolm was a convert to the Black Muslims (Nation of

Islam) which was led by Elij ah Muhammad. Malcolm didn't believe blacks could

achieve full status as citizens by integration and thus he encouraged a separation of the

races and he motto for achieving this was "by any means necessary" even it meant

violence. He wanted blacks to be self reliant and have their own community in the

United States. By 1964, Malcolm had broken with Elij ah Muhammad and began to

moderate his stance and embrace the concept of racial cooperation. Muslim assassin

killed him in early 1965.

Women's Liberation

Inspired by the successes of the early civil rights movement and the antiwar

protests, women began launching their own movements to redress perceived wrongs.

Frustrated with their marginalized treatment organizations like the SNCC and the Black

Panther Party and the ubiquity of messages urging them to be stay-at-home mothers like

June Cleaver of the popular television show Leave it to Beaver, women began to form

their own organizations. Betty Frieden's 7lhe Feminine M~ystique urged them to break

free from the domestic role and do something more than marry and have kids.

The Commission on the Status of Women, authorized by Kennedy and chaired by

Eleanor Roosevelt documented the discrimination that women faced in the workplace and

helped to legitimize public debate over women' s roles and rights (Davis, 1991, pp.34-3 8).

Sylvia Plath (The Bell Jar)JJJJJ~~~~~~~JJJJJJ and Mary McCarthy (The Group) were instrumental in raising

awareness about the unhappiness with which women lived in their "domestic roles" and

resisted the image of the happy mother and housewife prevalent in the 1950s. And

feminists Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan (The Feminine M~ystique) began to pave the










way for the feminist movement. Black women writers like Maya Angelou, Gwendolyn

Brooks and Margaret Walker Alexander contributed to the movement by writing about

black women's experiences regarding race and gender.

Youth Movement

The youth movement of the 1960s sprang from the college-age population who

finally free from the responsibilities of family and career could now experiment with

their minds and bodies in ways that usually shocked and enraged the older generation

(Isserman & Kazin, 2000, p.150). Although, it is probably best remembered for its focus

on sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll, some of the participants engaged in political action such

as protests and sit-ins. Hugh Heffner' s Playboy magazine marketed female nudity to

them. Lenny Bruce's comedy shocked censors that allowed violence in films but forbid

depictions of sexual intercourse and in her book Sex and the Single Girl, Helen Gurley

encouraged women to have sex whenever "her body wants." As a result, many gays and

lesbians "came out" to their family and friends during this period. (Isserman & Kazin,

2000, p. 151).

Leading the political arm of the movement was the Students for a Democratic

Society founded in 1962. The SDS aimed to create a "New Left" movement throughout

the U.S. which endorsed "leftist" goals such as increased spending on social welfare

programs, decreased spending on military, and civil rights legislation (Isserman & Kazin,

2000, p. 169). Throughout the decade they sat-in, marched, protested the Vietnam War,

among other things. In April 1965, they sponsored an antiwar march in Washington,

D.C. that attracted 20,000 to protest U. S. involvement in Vietnam. (Isserman & Kazin,

2000, p. 170).









Cultural Scene

On the cultural scene, musicians, artists, and comedians, were using their artistic

talent to offer commentary on the events of the decade. For example, comedians Jackie

"Moms" Mabley and Dick Gregory used humor as social commentary on issues ranging

from society's double standards for gender roles and racial relations. Folk musician Bob

Dylan' s album The Freewheelin Bob Dylan2 which was released in May of 1963 had

clear messages of political outrage, particularly, "Blowin' in the Wind" and "Oxford

Town" which is about white Mississippians who rioted to prevent integration of state

university (Isserman & Kazin, 2000, p. 96). Writers like Harper Lee wrote about race

relations in a small town in To Kill a M~ockingbird.

As the decade drew to an end, the Vietnam War was costing hundreds of lives per

week and American communities were in racial conflict. The political and cultural gap

also seemed to be widening as Americans grappled with issues like religious and moral

values and homosexuality.















CHAPTER 5
DISCOURSE ANALYSIS

Using a discourse analysis, the researcher analyzed the topics of the comedic texts

of Jackie "Moms" Mabley. The discourse analysis included 17 comedy albums that were

recorded from 1960-1971. The purpose of this study was not only to explore the topics

and themes of Mabley's discourse, but also to evaluate whether there were any

counterhegemonic tendencies in her texts.

Characteristics of the Comedic Texts

Coding categories for the discourse analysis included topics such as integration,

segregation/Jim Crow, sexual innuendo, women's sexuality, sexual organs, civil rights,

homosexuality, gender identity/sexual orientation, hard times (which included a recession

and the Depression), lynchings/hangings, male sexual incompetence, international

community, general criticisms of government, people, etc, older women/younger men

relationships, and manner of speech with authority figures. It is important to note that

these categories are descriptive of Mabley's work as a whole. While there were hundreds

of topics, these were identified as the maj or ones.

Mabley's Discourse on Race and Segregation in Historical Context

Mabley's discourse on race and segregation spoke to African Americans'

discontent with the government's "with all deliberate speed" stance in granting them full

civil rights and its broken promises to live up to its ideal. Her discourse condemned

racism and the marginalization of blacks and articulated the hardships they faced as an










oppressed group. Before exploring this discourse, a brief summarization of the incidents

that informed the heated 1960s debate regarding segregation is included.

Throughout history many legal battles were waged as America struggled with the

crucial issues of equality and civil liberties for blacks. One of these famous battles

occurred in 1896, when the Supreme Court upheld the "separate but equal" doctrine in

Plessy v. Ferguson. This ruling had far-reaching implications and for more than seven

decades affected almost every aspect of American life. It legitimized the system of

segregation known as "Jim Crow" and justified whites' antipathy toward blacks. In

Brown v. Board of Education (1954) the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that

segregation of public schools was unconstitutional. Although this ruling was a sign of

hope, blacks were not overly ecstatic, as they were all too familiar with the broken

promises of white America. Despite its narrow ruling, the decision signified progress and

provided blacks with legal a remedy to combat segregation.

Several of Mabley's texts present a construction of segregation from the viewpoint

of blacks. One of these j okes unfolds from the perspective of a black Congolese male

who is refused a hotel room.

One them Congo men walked up to the desk in Little Rock and said, "I'd like to

reserve a room please." The man said, "We don't cater to your kind." He say, "No, you

misunderstood me. I don't want it for myself. I want if for my wife. She's your kind"

(Mabley, 1960).

This passage illustrates what critical race theorists describe as the "normalization"

of their own race by whites, whereby everyone else is seen as the 'other.' The white

antagonist in this joke perceives himself and the Congolese as belonging to two different










species. His word choice (kind) underscores his belief that he and by extension, the white

race, belong to the "normal" human species while the Congolese and other blacks belong

to a different kind of species. This belief that blacks and other nonwhites are the 'other'

and inferior is central to the racist ideology which legitimizes the dominant group's rule

over the 'other.'

Representing blacks as the "Other" has had, and continues to have, serious

implications. First, defining blacks as subhuman provided the rationale for the legitimacy

of segregation. And this in turn fostered ideas of caste and inferiority as Justice Harlan

prophetically said it would in his dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). And as Holtzman

(2000, p. 174) contends "once the steps are taken to see other humans as inferior, all of

the potential for racism and subsequent dehumanization and violence becomes possible"

One need not look far, as the tumultuous events of the 1960s particularly as it relates to

the civil rights movement, provide extensive evidence. This hegemonic racism reared its

ugly head in the Alabama church bombing which killed four little black girls ("Connor

holds court," 1963 and justified public safety commissioner Eugene "Bull" Connor' s

order to firefighters to turn their fire hoses on young black demonstrators in Birmingham,

Alabama ("The Maj or Events," 1963).

Continuing the analysis of this j oke we are told the protagonist' s ethnicity is

African, which here signifies dark skin, when the narrator says, "One them Congo men

walked up to the desk in Little Rock." (Mabley, 1960). Given the history of whites'

preferential treatment of light-skinned and mulatto blacks (as they were easier for whites

to identify with), the Congolese's darker hue and ethnicity (he's not even American)

becomes significant as this increases white antipathy toward him.









Closer inspection yields an interpretation of the j oke as an act of resistance and

self-empowerment by the Congolese. Aware of his social status as a second-class foreign

visitor, the Congolese attempts to maintain some dignity by challenging this ideology

with a reference to miscegenation by saying, "No, you misunderstood me. I don't want it

for myself. I want if for my wife. She' s your kind" (Mabley, 1960).

Given that simply speaking to or maintaining eye contact with a white woman

could be used as grounds for lynching (Chafe & Korstad, 2001), this is interpreted as a

bold act of defiance. Frequently subj ect to harsh beatings and other forms of cruel

treatment, humor provided blacks with a means to cope with everyday forms of

oppression and allowed them to somehow chart their survival in a volatile environment

(Williams 1995). Finally, the fact that the "Congolese" resorts to using his white wife as

a bargaining chip in negotiating for a hotel room by appealing to white sensibilities points

to how shrewd black people had to be in order to survive Jim Crow laws and practices

and challenge white inhumanity.

In another j oke Mabley parodies the Jim Crow institution by stressing its absurdity.

For example, she extends the institutions' illogical reasoning to running a traffic light.

Mabley describes being stopped in South Carolina for running a red light. When asked

why she ran the red light, she tells the officer, "I thought the red light was for us"

(Mabley, 1961). Mabley uses the metaphor of the red light to emphasize that blacks were

so often blocked from achieving their goal by whites, that it would seem normal for

blacks to believe that "stop" lights were intended exclusively for them.

While Mabley's humor served as a form of resistance, she also used it as a tool to

attack issues, like white's resistance to integration and voter disenfranchisement to the










political forefront. For example, in her "operas," which were usually sung to a medley of

popular tunes, Mabley sounded off on issues like segregation, integration, and ghetto life.

In one of her operas, which showed her consciousness of current events, she recounted

the opposition James Meredith encountered when he integrated the University of

Mississippi. In the first stanza of the opera she sets the scene by referencing the places

and institutions Jim Crow affected:

Now I ain't gone sit in the back of no bus
And I'm going to the white folks' school
And I'm gone praise the Lord in the white folks' church
And I'm gonna swim in the white folks' pool
I'm gonna vote and vote for whoever I please
And I'll thumb my nose at the Klan
And I double dare 'em to come out from behind them sheets and face me like a man
They don't scare me with their bomb threats
I'll say what I wanna say!
And ain't a damn thing they can to about it
'Cause I ain't going down there no way! (Mabley, 1962b).

Holding true to the womanist tradition, Mabley displays guts when she invites the

cowardly Ku Klux Klan to a confrontation and dares them "to come out from behind

them sheets and face me like a man." (Mabley, 1962b). In the second stanza she details

Mississippi's opposition to the integration of Ole Miss as she sings:

And you know why, "cause it took the marshal, the army too, JFK and I don't

know who

Every law and every rule
To try to get one boy in the Mississippi school (Mabley, 1962)

Here Mabley describes the scene as Meredith walked onto the campus. Historians

deemed this event, which resulted in a riot, two deaths, and the National Guard being

dispatched as one of the most violent and dramatic efforts to prevent integration (Franklin

and Moss, 1988, p. 443).









School days, school days Barnett said,
"To hell with the congressional rule days!"
Lead pipes and black j acks and pistols, too
Those are the books that they take to school
They don't study science or history
They only study hate and bigotry
They be scaring the heck out of you and me
Since we was a couple of kids
What kind of school is this?
This school they call Ole Miss
I know that sticks and stones will break my bones
But this is ridiculous
How can we pretend we love our foreign friends
When they can plainly see what kind of fools they've been
So, take me out to the ballgame (to the campus)
If we don't win it' s a shame
But with our trust in the Lord and the nation of God
We'll get in just the same
Keep on knocking
They'll open that door after awhile (Mabley 1962b)

Mabley's description not only shows the physical opposition Meredith faced from

the lead pipes, black j acks, and pistols but it also describes whites' opposition laws

mandating integration in then-Governor Ross Barnett' s statement, "To hell with the

congressional rule days!" (Mabley, 1962b).

Another point of interest in this opera is Mabley's critique of the U. S. government.

Invoking the spiritual aspect of womanism, Mabley plays on the nation' s founding

principle of a belief in God and the often-cited Biblical scripture which condemns as liars

those who "love God whom they cannot see, yet hate their neighbors whom they can

see." Thus in a similar vein, she too questions the nation's spirituality by asking "How

can we pretend we love our foreign friend, when they can plainly see what kind of fools

they've been?" (Mabley, 1962b). In other words the United States was hypocritically

professing to love its foreign friend while dehumanizing its black population. This

statement is significant as it probably also reflected international sentiments toward the









United States. According to legal scholar Mary Dudziak (2000), the United State's

foreign policy during this time focused on containing communism and promoting

democracy. Yet, stories and images frequently showed blacks living in substandard

housing and living conditions. (Dudziak, 2000) Nevertheless, these incriminating reports

of racial inequity tarnished the United States' integrity and undermined the democratic

ideal it espoused.

To summarize, black comedians like Jackie "Moms" Mabley entered the debate by

lampooning race relations with non-threatening humor. Comedy, both a public and

popular form of entertainment--which was also accessible to most people--became a

forum where African-American comedians debated social issues like race and class.

Similar to other entertainment professions, stand-up comedy provided blacks with steady

employment (Watkins, 1994) and granted them freedom to voice their dissent against

racial discrimination without fear of punishment. Mabley used this genre as a tool of

resistance, like her ancestors did during slavery, to challenge oppression.

Social Construction of Africans

While Mabley pushed the envelope on hegemonic racial and gender norms in a

maj ority of her work, her perspectives on Africans, and helped perpetuate the dominant

ideology. Through stereotypical representations, Mabley's dialogue constructs a

disparaging image of these groups that undermines their struggles for liberation.

To inform the analysis of Mabley's discourse on Africa and its meaning, several

things must be pointed out. First, while most Americans have never visited and will

probably never visit Africa there is already an image of Africa in the American mind

(Hawk, 1992, p. 3). This image is derived from school textbooks, the media, church

missionaries, the entertainment media, family, and friends. Of these sources, the media is










most important, as it is ubiquitous and it's the place where most individuals look to be

informed.' These images paint Africa as an uncivilized and barbaric region where half-

naked people run around dancing in leaves (McCarthy, 1983).

Defining Africa in this manner had and continues to have several functions. First,

we must remember that defining others helps us to define ourselves. Thus Europeans'

characterization of Africans as subhuman, inferior, and dumb is telling of how they

viewed themselves, which was essentially the opposite of how they defined Africans:

human, superior, and intelligent. Thus, Africans represented the antithesis of Europeans.

Second, this classification of Africa as the uncivilized "Other" provided justification for

Europeans' slavery and colonization of Africa and persons of African descent.

According to McCarthy (1983), these images of Africa were widely accepted by

blacks and whites. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries a majority of black

Americans subscribed either consciously or subconsciously to these dangerous and

fallacious ideas of African identity. One of these black Americans was none other than

"Moms" Mabley.

In Mabley's discourse on Africa, which always elicited laughter from her

predominantly black audiences, she constructs a view of Africans based on her

perception of their dietary habits, languages, and conflicts. For example, on her Youngest

Teenager album Mabley talks about returning from a trip to the United Nations in her

role as "adviser" to President Kennedy. In one of her j okes she talks about being on the



SWhile an argument can be put forth about the purposes of different kinds of media, i.e. the news media
inform and entertainment media, just that entertain, I would argue differently. Whether it is news media or
not, most people get their information, particularly about racial groups with whom they are not familiar
from the media. So whether the information is factual or not, people see the images as authentic
representations of those it portrays.










plane with an African representative to the United Nations. When the flight attendant

asks the African diplomat what he would like for dinner, he replies, "Bring me the

passenger list" (Mabley, 1969). Through this comment by the African representative,

Mabley paints an image of Africans as cannibals.

On her 1963 album I Got Sainethin il' to Tell You! Mabley again references Africans'

dietary habits when she talks about returning from a mission trip to the Congo. She says

she has to have a lunch prepared before her departure because she says, "I can't eat that

stuff like they eat over there. I ain't used to it:" (Mabley, 1963). She continues by saying

Africans eat "crocodile dumpling, you know, and lizard casseroles and things like that"

(Mabley, 1963).

These descriptions of Africans' diet reflect racist attitudes of them as "Others" who

feast on crocodiles, lizards, and even humans. This discourse interprets the consumption

of these foods as deviant behavior because the items aren't the "normal" delicacies

consumed by westerners like chicken, cows, and pigs. The comment that she "ain't used

to" these types of foods not only reinforces the notion of Africa as the "Other" compared

to Europeans but it also alienates the continent from African descendants in America

(Mabley, 1963).


Mabley's word choice--they and over there--suggests a desire to detach herself

from Africa. Further evidence of this detachment is seen in the comment, "I'm born

here. I'm American...Damn it if I don't know nothing about over there (italics is

Mabley's emphasis) (Mabley, 1969).

This practice whereby African-Americans deny or distance themselves from their

African heritage and any thing Afrocentric is a manifestation of internalized racism. This









internalized racism is defined by Holtzman (2000, p. 161) as "the taking in of negative

messages of overt and covert racism, superiority and inferiority, and white privilege."

Holtzman maintains internalized racism is a reaction to racism and therefore can only be

eliminated when society ends racism.

Mabley's discourse in the opera communicated insensitivity to the sounds produced

by African languages and minimized Belgium' s role in the Congo crisis of the 1960s by

couching the conflicts in racial terms. For example, Mabley said Tshombe told her,

"Vinga vagabondo what's the matter with the Congo" (Mabley, 1963). Here Mabley

mocks the sound of African languages as she hears it. When Mabley says "vinga

vagabondo" she gives the impression that Tshombe's talk is more like "noise" than

intelligible speech (Mabley, 1963).

Mabley further derogates the continent and its peoples with one of her famous

operas to Moise Tshombe, then-President of the Katanga province of the Congo

Republic. The main message of the opera is that the United States and the UN are there

to help save Africa from the fighting and killing caused by Tshombe and more

importantly communism.

In another line Mabley says, "You got brother fighting brother and they killing one

another and that stuff s got to go (Mabley, 1963). Hawk (1992, p. 9) argues that phrasing

African conflicts in terms like black-on-black violence or in this case "brother fighting

brother" serves the purpose of dehumanizing the conflict and casting it in racial terms

(Mabley, 1962). It also ignores the complicated colonial history of the Congo and

absolves Belgium of its role in the republic' s political situation at that time.









While Mabley and her audiences may have had the opinion that these jokes and

gross depictions were merely for a good laugh, in truth they're harmful and have

important implications as the j oke continues to be on Africa. First, these images, which

are often accepted at face-value, influence others' perceptions and treatment of Africans.

Second, these depictions sanction prejudice, discrimination, and even violence. And

finally, the implications are alarming when we consider their potential to influence

policy, as it is the media (whether that be news or entertainment) where policymakers

look for their information. A perfect and appalling example of this is the 1994 Rwandan

genocide. In the span of one hundred days an estimated 800,000 Rwandans were

slaughtered ("Rwanda: How the" 2004). And although this catastrophe could have been

prevented with aid from the United Nations' peacekeepers, no help was dispatched

because the victims were black. Finally, and what may be the most serious implication,

is that these depictions and this type of discourse impede and thwart African nations'

efforts to become economically independent. Although he was referring to journalism or

news media specifically, another more serious implication was pointed out by Smith

(1980) when he said:

The struggle to escape from our bad image of the Third World is an essential stage

in its struggle for independence. In this sense the j ournalism of the West is helping

to arrest the historic process of development, and if there is any point at which the

vicious circle of dependence can be broken, it is there, in the intractable issue of

information. (p. 110)

As black racial pride was gaining momentum, Mabley detached herself (at least

through her "Moms" persona) from the Motherland. Although it seems odd that Mabley









would engage in a hegemonic discourse which could be used to denigrate her ancestors'

birthplace, a couple of explanations will be offered. One explanation sounds something

like this: "I may be a black but at least I'm not African." Although it sounds

preposterous, many blacks subscribed to this rationale, both consciously and

subconsciously, and used it for social mobility and leverage and to cope psychologically

with their perceived inferior social status. Denying their African heritage placed African-

Americans on a higher social status of at least one group (even if this group included their

own ancestors). So African Americans simply appropriated the psychology they learned

from their colonizers and used it to subjugate another group. Mabley's adoption of these

hegemonic racist views regarding Africa illustrates the powerful effects colonization

continues to have on the colonized no matter how progressive or revolutionary they

appear to be. It shows the behaviors an oppressed "outside"group engages in as it tries to

assimilate and become a member of the normal "inside" group. It also underscores the

subtle, hegemonic ways in which the media obtains the consent of those it marginalizes

and subjugates.

Another possible explanation for Mabley's complicity in propagating this ideology

is the argument that she was simply a historical figure who spoke the dominant discourse

and adopted an unquestioned ideological position (Kates & Shaw-Garlock, 1999) that

presented Africans in her comedic texts as the "Other." As Stuart Hall (1982, p. 88,

italics added) noted "ideology is a function of the discourse and of the logic of social

processes, rather than an intention of the agent" (emphasis as it appears in text)









While her reasons for portraying Africa in this light aren't clear, what is apparent is

Mabley's cognizance of the stigma and inferiority associated with blackness in general

and an awareness of the comparatively higher status of blacks here in the U. S.

Social Construction of Gays and Transgender

Mabley's depictions and social construction of sexual orientation, particularly gays

and transgenders, perpetuate the hegemonic ideology of them as "Others." An

examination of these representations found narrow depictions of sexuality which were

often stereotypical in nature. Three jokes which best reflect this ideology have been

chosen for this analysis.

In one of Mabley's j okes, two men are walking down the street when they happen

to meet another fellow. This fellow says to the first, "Hi fellow" (Mabley, 1962a). Then

he says to the other fellow, "Hi Queen (Mabley, 1962a). The man addressed as "Queen"

gets mad and punches the third man who calls him this. He then tells the other fellow

with whom he was walking, in a high-pitched voice, "Now, when he come through, tell

him I'm no queen. And tell him my mother and father are still living. I'm a princess"

(Mabley, 1962a).

This elicits laughter from the audience which suggests either the character or his

behavior (high-pitched voice) was deviant. The text implies that either this is an

effeminate heterosexual male or an effeminate gay/transgender male. However, given the

narrow understanding of sexuality during this period and Mabley's recurrent talk about

gay males, whom she referred to as fairies, the character in this joke is probably a gay

male. The most important elements in this construction of gay males are the referent

word "queen" and the high-pitched voice. Here "queen" is an example of Mabley's use

of double entendre. Not only was "queen a street term for an effeminate gay male it was









also a referent for woman. Thus, the combination of the high-pitched voice, which is

usually associated with a female and the notion of femininity, and the visual imagery

evoked by the word "fairy" and all its connotations--is essentially a social construction of

gay males for Mabley's audiences. It is also a narrow, controlling perspective on gender.

Thus, under this classification of gender, masculine males aren't allowed to have

feminine traits such as high-pitched voices. For if they do, they are deemed less-manly,

or fruity, and even run the risk of being labeled a homosexual.

As noted in the theoretical framework section, gender and sexual orientation are

both social constructions that are best understood as being fluid or occurring along a

continuum rather than being bipolar. And the characteristics that belong to gender and

sexual orientation can vary tremendously over time and between cultures.

In another j oke, a fairy or gay male walks and sits down in the back of the church.

We are told he is ashamed and puts a $100 bill in the offering plate. We are led to

believe this shame is the reason he takes a seat in the back of the church and gives so

much money. To show the church's appreciation of the fairy's large donation, the usher

tells the fairy that the choir will give (sing for) him any hymn he wants. To which the

"fairy" replies, "I want him and him and him and you" (Mabley, 1961). The audience

laughs.

The key tools of construction of sexual orientation and the accompanying

heterosexist views in this j oke are the "fairy" image, the concept of shame, and religion,

which is represented by the church. Fairy was a colloquial term used during the 1960s to

refer to a homosexual male who usually assumed the feminine role or had effeminate

qualities (Wentworth & Flexner, 1975, p. 176). This metaphor appealed to the










audience's pre-existing notions of gay males. The word fairy also functioned as a code to

indicate to Mabley's audiences that something was different and perhaps even abnormal

about this guy. Another thing about the word "fairy" which might be the most significant

is that it is an example of the use of a female referent to deride a man, particularly a

"deviant" man. This is a perfect illustration of how our language reflects and conveys the

interests of the dominant group--which in this case is heterosexual males. A linguist once

wrote of the English language: "Emotive words acquire their connotations by reflecting

the sentiments of the dominant group in our society---in our case white Anglo-Saxon

males" (Strainchamps, 1971, p. 252). Thus heterosexual males' sentiments about

women---that they are inferior and the blame for everything----is extended to homosexual

males in this joke. Through the exploitation of a female referent, women are made the

scapegoats and a connotation between female traits, decadence, and homosexuality is

established. Although the original denotative meaning of "fairy" was associated with

positive images like Disney and the tooth fairy, those in power co-opted the word and

gave it the connotative meaning conveyed in this joke. This co-opting of female words is

not new however. As Hazou (1990, p. 22) noted other female referents like nymph,

bitch, dame, and broad--which previously had no negative connation are now used to

denigrate women. That there aren't as many male equivalents applied to describe deviant

individuals further suggests that we live in a society which privileges "maleness." As

underscored in the methodological chapter of this paper, language reflects the ideology of

the ruling class. And although Mabley has an affinity for presenting alternative readings

of the dominant ideology, this particular discourse endorses patriarchal views of women

and sexual orientation.










The second and third key elements in this joke are the concept of shame and the

institution of religion, which is symbolized by the church. Since religion is central to the

homosexuality debate and religious institutions teach that homosexuality is a sin and an

abomination, which essentially makes homosexuals feel shame the two will be discussed

together.

The Black Church and Homosexuality

Let' s examine the institution of the church, particularly the Black church, as it has

a vital function in the black community. Given that Mabley's audience was

predominantly black it only seems appropriate. Although the church's function in the

black community has evolved throughout the years from being an institution where

escape routes were discussed during slavery to being a political agent during the days of

Martin Luther King, it has always been a place of moral instruction (Dyson, 2004). And

more important than religious instruction has been its role as a center of social

interaction. This becomes particularly important as homosexuals are not only chastised

for moral reasons but they are also alienated from the social community and social

activities---which is a lifeline for most people. While there's no difference in the

teachings against homophobia between black and white churches, the influential role that

the church plays in the black community may be why homophobia is more of a taboo

(Boykin, 1996, p. 126). In other words the church has the power to not only give moral

instruction but it also influences one's social life and thus support systems. Although

some critics like bell hooks challenge the assumption that homophobia is more of a taboo

2 While it is common for people to talk about the Black church as if it is one unified entity, it is not. Rather
it is composed of a variety denominations including, Baptist, Methodist, and Pentecostal which serve
various African-descendant communities. Instead, by Black church I am making a direct reference to the
notion of church (religion) and its importance in the black community. Consequently, black is just an
adjective used to describe the membership.










in black communities than in other communities (hooks, 2000, p.68) "there are few areas

where the dread and condemnation of homosexuality is more noticeable than in black

church settings" (Griffin, 2000, p. 110).

Holtzman (2000, p. 293) outlines four positions the church can take on

homosexuality.3 Of these positions the Black church takes the rejecting but nonpunitive

position which essentially hates the "sin" or act of homosexuality, and not the "sinner" or

the person.

Mabley's joke makes the following association: homosexuality is a sin for which

one should feel shame. Referring back to the j oke about the gay male in church, we are

explicitly told he is ashamed and that he makes large offering we might infer that there is

a correlation between this shame and the amount of the offering. We might conclude that

the large offering was an attempt to atone or as the Biblical expression says "cover his

sins." Ironically, despite his shame the "fairy" acknowledges his affinity for men when

he says, "I want him and him and him and you (Mabley, 1961).

On another level this entire exchange between the "fairy" and the ushers and

deacons, can be seen in church can be seen as a metaphor for the paradoxical relationship

that exists between homosexuals and the Black church. As noted by Dyson (2004) the

black church is known for its open denunciation of homosexuality, yet simultaneously its

choir and music director can be led by an openly gay male whose performance receives

applause and from the congregation. It's easy to see why the Black church would



SThe i ~. I... ?. r,, and punitive position holds that homosexuality is a sin explicitly prohibited in the Bible.
The i ~. ... r,,e but nonpunitive position separates the act of homosexuality from the person, essentially
condemning the sinl' but not the "sinner." The qualified acceptance position holds heterosexuality as
superior and maintains that gars and lesbians are born with that sexual orientation and thus shouldn't be
condemned for something they have no control over. And the fudl acceptance position is based on the idea
that there is a rich diversity of creation which homosexuality is a part.










participate in such contradictory behavior---it has openly stated its position, which allows

it to condemn the sin, yet exploit the sinner for his talent. But why would gays

participate in signing their own demonization? One reason goes back to the importance

of the church in the black community, particularly in one's social life. Many black gay

males may feel they want and need the support of their communities and want to be

included in the social activities, so they tolerate the weekly messages condemning their

sexual orientation, as it is worth the benefit. Another reason might have something to do

with what Boykin describes as homosexuals' multiplicity of identities. Multiplicity of

identities implies homosexuality is only one part of a person's identity and therefore

things like race and class are other aspects of a person's identity. Thus for black gays and

lesbians' their racial identity might be more salient than their sexual orientation in certain

situations like church settings which would explain why they tolerate homophobic

attitudes in church.

In another j oke, a black man named Willie from Harlem has the j ob of driving a

white woman home after she gets drunk. When they reach the door she tells him to pull

off her coat. He does it. She then tells him to pull off her dress. Willie pulls off her

dress. She then tells him to pull off her girdle. After he pulls that off, we hear the punch

line when she tells him, "And never let me catch you with 'em on again you understand."

4 The audience's laughter at the punch line confirms cross dressing as deviant behavior.

Until the punch line is delivered the audience is titillated by the possibility of a sexual

taboo act between a black man and white woman. However, by the joke' s end we see a

construction of a transgender male who wears dresses, girdles, and women' s jackets. The


SMabler, Now Hear This










only thing the audience is told about this male character is he wear's women's clothing.

There is no mention of the word "fairy" or any others which might indicate we are to

assume this is a female character such as a high pitched voice, thus we have to consider

the male to be transgender. This was yet another denigration of an effeminate male.

The analysis of Mabley's jokes on sexual orientation found a narrow range of

depictions of sexual orientation. And all of the representations were of effeminate gay or

transgendered males. Mabley's discourse offered no representations of lesbians. This

omission, especially when viewed with the unsubstantiated rumor that Mabley herself

was a lesbian, might be explained by a desire not to bring attention to her sexual

orientation. Or it could be read as her struggle to reconcile her strong religious beliefs

with her sexual orientation.

Women's Sexual Needs and Desires and Males' Inability to Fulfill Them

In one joke Mom uses a conversation between a man and a widow to contest the

belief that widows should remain celibate and alone after their husbands died. When the

widow says she has had another child the male responds by saying, "Your husband's

been dead 20 years." (Mabley, 1960).

This statement is typical of the prevailing social attitudes regarding widows. He

not only questions that she has had another child he seems to be surprised at even the

possibility that she could be with someone else. Mom's response, "He's dead. I ain't," is

a classical womanish response (Mabley, 1960). Considering the era this was not only

courageous of Moms to say but it also shows her willful behavior in that she was going to

do what she wanted to do. Women were not expected to be with anyone other than their

husbands and certainly not expected to have sexual relations with anyone else. Because

widows are usually older, unless an untimely death happens, on another level this joke










makes a comment concerning older women's sexuality. Mabley's "I ain't" response

expresses her belief that she's still living so why shouldn't she have fun. In other words,

just because her husband's dead doesn't mean her life, particularly her sexual life, has to

stop. Here the widow is seen as having power because Mabley wants to challenge the

idea of what women are expected to do.

In another j oke, Mabley takes a feminist position and challenges society's double

standards which had allowed men to date younger women but frowned when females

exercised this freedom.

Let me tell you girls something. George took me home to the other night and

kissed me. My big toe shot up in the air, just like that. My big toe shot up in the

air, just like that (Mabley, 1960).

Mabley is bold in this joke and takes her feminist approach a step further when she says

her "big toe shot up." Restricted by the era and her gender to make direct sexual

references, Mabley uses the "big toe" as an allusion for sexual arousal and to suggest that

the job was done.

Another analysis of this j oke is to consider it from the "boldness" perspective of

which Walker also defines as womanist. Considering Mabley was in her 60s and her on

stage granny persona, just the mention of her sexuality would be considered a daring

statement. Especially since there's the notion by some that age adversely affects or at

least hinders one's sexual desires.

As the j oke continues again Mabley addresses the notions of what it means to be a

proper lady:










He, he's a nice boy though. Goes home, he goes to bed every night at 9:00. And

he gets up at 4:00 and goes home. George makes me so mad. He knows I like him, you

know. And he makes me so mad. I met, you know, I first met him, we was out West,

you know (Mabley, 1960).

One gets the impression that George is a "nice boy" because he goes to bed at 9.

Here playing on the "good girl, good boy" image, Mabley goes on to show how he's not

as good as we think he is because he goes home at 4 in the morning, implying he stayed

the night at her house. Thus she is implicating them both, but especially herself, because

during this era especially, but even now, a nice girl doesn't stay overnight with a man

who isn't her husband. Thus without any apparent shame for her behavior Mabley is

again challenging the notions of what it means to be a proper lady.

And finally by the joke' s end, Mabley manages to tackle another social taboo,

cohabitation:

So he was going on his vacation. I said, "Baby, you gone take me." He say, "Have
gun, will travel." I say, "Yeah, have knack and will shack, until gun gets back!"
(Mabley, 1960).

Here the big toe is a connotation or reference to libido or sexual pleasure. And thus

a signal for the job was done. Mabley's comment that he's a nice boy though would

suggest that nice boys don't have or give sexual pleasure to/with women. This contrast is

put in to highlight the taboo of nice girls/guys having sexual pleasure. Mabley continues

to draw on the good boy image by saying that he goes to bed at 9:00 which is a

respectable hour. Thus, he's not out in the wee hours of the morning. Then she says he

gets up at 4:00--she turns this "good' boy image on its head---4:00 in the morning is not

an acceptable hour for a good girl/boy to be going home. The fact that he gets up

suggests that he stayed overnight at her home. This overnight staying, especially










sleeping in the same bed with a man/woman to whom you were not married was highly

frowned upon, particularly for women. Next, the guy says, "Have gun, will travel"

(Mabley, 1960). To which Mabley responds, "Yeah, have knack and will shack until gun

gets back" (Mabley, 1960).

It is important to make a note that he references a gun. This could be seen as a

reflection of the measure some men would have taken to keep women in their place.

Here the suggestion is that he would use a gun to control and keep her there while he

traveled. She says have "knack"---the knack here is the tendency or ability for sexual

relations. That's why she says will shack. Here Mom has a female challenge this idea of

women remaining faithful to men. Here she shows that she knew that the gun would be

used and that she knew her place. But she insists that would still shack until the gun got

back. In other words like the old saying 'while the cat was away Moms would play.'

In another j oke Mom uses a supposed misunderstanding of a word j aw (she heard it

as drawers) to express sexual innuendo. Mabley retells the incident by saying the other

passenger said, "Mom, drop your jaws. And I misunderstood her. I-I did. I-I did. (short

pause) I caught a terrible cold. I did." (Mabley, 1984).

We know it is drawers that she heard because she says she caught a cold. In order

for here to catch a cold she had to not be wearing a particular clothing item. We know

this code to be drawers (a slang term for undergarments). They sound alike. This joke is

bold in the womanist way because Moms drops them without hesitation. Although she

gets out of it by saying she misunderstood. If she couldn't hear, why would she take off

her underwear (that's not going to solve the hearing problem), unless she wanted to. As

the joke continues, Mabley has difficulties hearing due to air pressure and says to the









other passenger, "Honey do something. I'm dying. I can't hear nothing. "(Mabley,

1984). This difficulty in hearing causes her to hear the word j aws as drawers, which is a

slang term for panties. This is a malapropism which is often employed by comedians.

Here the granny persona allows Mom to feign ignorance as an old lady with hearing

problems while managing to use sexual innuendo. Sexual innuendo is suggested by her

catching a cold because she wasn't wearing any undergarments. Also Moms would be

committing a taboo by taking off her undergarments in a public place.

While onstage, Mabley, in the granny mask, expressed her desire to sexually satisfy

or "take care" of a young boy, when she says, "Let me take care of that little boy...I like

the way that boy beats that drum. And I got an old beat up drum" (Mabley, 1962a).

Here Mabley challenges the perception of granny figures as sexually active. Not

only does she proclaim her sexual active status she displays bravado and insists that she

can still please a man, even a young one. Because Mabley often used double entendre

"take care" could be interpreted as she would take care of him financially especially since

wasn't shy in telling her audiences she paid her younger boyfriends to be with her. This

possible interpretation is ruled out when we consider her use of the word drum. Mabley

used drum to signify her female organ, the vagina. And her use of the colloquial term

"beat" which refers to some type of sexual act or penetration as in "beat her drum" we

know that this joke is sexual innuendo.

In another j oke, Mabley makes a direct reference to her husband' s inability to

satisfy her sexually Mabley when admits, at his funeral, that she had him cremated when

she says, "I burnt him up. I was determined he was gonna get hot one time anyhow"

(Mabley, 1984).









The word "hot" is a connotation for sexual arousal. Mabley addresses this taboo

topic of sex. Here she takes a direct j ab at a male' s sexual inability to become sexually

aroused and thus to please her. She also dealt a blow to males' egos.

Mabley was stepping outside the expectations for her. The other female

comediennes during this time often took puns at themselves or focused on domestic

chores. But Mabley took a direct stab at males' pride, egos, and sexual competence. This

is a womanist attitude because of Mabley's audacity to not only talk about a taboo subj ect

but to also reference a man' s greatest pride, his sexual prowess. In this joke women are

depicted in power. Mabley has the power to validate her late husband's sexual

competence. On the other hand, the male is shown to be powerless in the literal sense,

not only because of his sexual incompetence but also because he is dead and can't

counter her claims. Mabley is exerting power to say that women have a say in evaluating

male's sexual incompetence. Also she is countering the belief that just because they say

they are skilled in bed doesn't mean it's true. One must remember when evaluating this

joke that Mabley was the lone black female comedienne in a field dominated by

testosterone. Also this was the time during which the image of Mrs. June Cleaver was

popularized and being circulated as the woman all others should emulate.















CHAPTER 6
DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION

As was stated earlier, there were two objectives of the present research. First, it

sought to discover the ways in which the comedic discourse of Jackie "Moms" Mabley

maintains and/or subverts the hegemonic values and norms reflected by our white, racist,

patriarchal society. Second, it sought to identify the ways in the discourse furthered or

crippled the advancement of a progressive, liberationist agenda by activists.

Using a womanist perspective this thesis analyzed the comedy albums of Jackie

"Moms" Mabley produced from 1960-1971 to identify the prevalent themes and the ways

in which Mabley framed her discourse on race and gender. Ultimately, it sought to

recognize the counter-hegemonic tendencies present in the texts and the ways in which

Mabley used them to articulate her viewpoints on their everyday experiences with racism

and sexism and how she ultimately subverted the hegemonic discourse to rearticulate her

own identities. Identifying the hegemonic and counter-hegemonic elements present in

her comedic discourse opens up a discussion about how its elements function to create,

maintain and disseminate the values and norms of our dominant patriarchal racist system.

The findings of this study reveal that the comedic discourse of Jackie "Moms"

Mabley was largely progressive in advancing a liberationist agenda/perspective for blacks

and women. Mabley's discourse had several strengths as it related to promoting a

liberationist agenda for blacks. For example, one of the obvious strengths of her

discourse is that it reflected the current social and political concerns of blacks during the

1960s and included discussions on topics such as unemployment, housing shortage,









racism, and integration. An outgrowth of this strength is that it kept black issues on the

national agenda and forced the nation to face them. Another strength of her discourse on

blacks is that she went beyond espousing a progressive perspective about black issues

and actually outlined an agenda for how black liberation could be achieved. In other

words, she took the liberationist ideas about progression for blacks and summarized the

areas in which improvement was needed and thus challenged blacks and whites to

become social agents for remedying these problems or issues at hand. No doubt

influenced by her faith in God and her country, she adopted an integrationist liberal

perspective that was comprehensive in nature as it included political, economic, social

and educational aspects. For example, in her discourse she frequently spoke about how

education, suffrage (so that blacks could participate in the political process), employment

and housing accommodations were needed to address the needs of blacks in addition to a

call for a status for full citizenship and equality. Yet another strength of her discourse on

race is she forced blacks to critically evaluate their own complicity in impeding their

progress. Likewise, she revealed the absurdity of whites' behaviors and attitudes on

racism and toward blacks so they could evaluate their own prejudices, hypocrisy and the

practices and institutions such as Jim Crow and the school system that were used to deny

blacks equal rights.

Although Mabley's discourse was largely strong in promoting a liberationist black

agenda, it failed in her discourse on Africa. Essentially her discourse on Africa upheld

the notorious colonial image of Africans as savages and effectively served to distance her

from Africa and thus denied the strengths of her African heritage. This discourse

indicated a lack of racial pride and is particularly important because it goes against one









the main principles of liberation theory which encourages individuals to embrace who

they are and establish their own self-identity. Not only does this discourse hinder the

social liberation of Africans it also has broader implications as it has the potential to

hinder their economic liberation by reinforcing cultural images of blacks as incompetent

buffoons. This discourse also undermines the connection between African Americans'

liberation and that of blacks across the Diaspora. Mabley undermines the black unity

agenda through her decision to separate herself from over there, thus evoking an

impression that she is not proud of her ethnic identity. This is a perfect illustration of the

powerful effects of negative internalization and shows how agents of change themselves

are affected by dominant culture racism.

Nonetheless, Mabley's discourse on women advanced a liberationist perspective.

For example, Mabley discussed topics such as women's physical liberation from the

restricting corsets, sexual liberation, and black women's liberation from the mammy

image. One of Mabley's strengths in advancing a liberationist perspective for women

was her mere presence in the male-dominated profession of stand-up comedy. Another

strength was her consciousness-rai sing. She articulated and challenged society's double

standards regarding women's behaviors. She encouraged women to explore their

sexuality. Mabley's discourse reflected the current of the emerging women's movement

which voiced the women's dissatisfaction with their subordinate status and their gender

roles. Mabley's appropriation of the matriarchal character, which historically has been

seen as a stereotypical representation of black women served as yet another strength.

This matriarchal mask effectively allowed her to subvert the politics of race and gender.










On the other hand, her weakness lies in the fact that she never called for a course of

action. However, given the mores, culture, and opportunities available to women,

Mabley's mere articulation of a liberationist agenda was a feat in itself because it really

was forward thinking and very progressive behavior for the era.

Another strength of Mabley's discourse is her total rej section of the mammy image.

This was particularly important to the liberation of black women as it not only liberated

black women from a stereotypical image but it also helped them to articulate a new self-

identity .

Mabley's discourse was weak in specifically addressing the topic of gender roles.

While her career spoke directly to the issue of gender roles, it wasn't specifically

referenced in the discourse analyzed for this paper. Perhaps her total refusal to focus on

such issues is a statement in itself on the limited acceptable roles available to women of

her time.

Mabley's humor reflected elements of all four stages/types of African American

humor as identified in the introduction. However, it can mostly be characterized as in-

group humor with an integrationist theme. Mabley's humor was characteristic of the

third stage of African American humor in that it was performed mostly for segregated

audiences and included elements of conflict and control as identified in humor theories.

Like the slaves, Mabley used her humor as a survival tool to overcome personal tragedies

such as the death of her parents and rape. She also used it as an emotional tool to deal

with the humiliating and often volatile circumstances that existed during Jim Crow. And

she used her humor to barter for gain or advantage as in her example of avoiding a

speeding ticket. Although, the accommodationist elements aren't readily apparent in the









discourse analyzed here (and this may be due to the blacks insistence on condemning

these practices and showing themselves in a new light), it can be assumed that if she

performed on the TOBY circuit, her acts included some such elements. For example, her

use of slapstick humor reflected the accommodationist stage as well as her use of comic

antics, nonstandard English, and elements of conflict control reflect the third, in-group,

stage of African American humor.

Using comedy as a vehicle, Mabley was able to enter the national dialogue on race

relations and keep civil rights issues at the forefront of the American minds. Mabley

presented her discourse on racism as one of absurdity.

However, the findings also indicate complicity with dominant ideology as it relates

to the depictions of Africans and sexual orientation. Of the few examples where she did

comment on homosexuality, Mabley offered very narrow depictions, choosing to only

comment or give images of effeminate gay males. And there were no representations of

lesbians. This seems somewhat of interest, that Mabley, who is rumored to have been a

lesbian herself, chose not to even mention lesbians.

One possible explanation for her exclusion of lesbians in her discourse is that

Mabley may not have wanted to "out" herself or bring undue attention to her sexual

orientation. And she may have felt a sense of shame about her sexual orientation. She

alludes to the shame some homosexuals may experience in her joke about the "fairy"

attending church service where she comments "he felt shame you know." Also, being

that she was very spiritual as evidenced in her discourse, this may have been an area of

her life where she may not have been able to reconcile her religious beliefs with her

personal feelings. And finally, when one considers the racial climate and society's










limited notions and constructions of homosexuality and gender during the era, Mabley's

race may have been more salient than her sexuality. Another study where information is

collected about Mabley's "private persona" is required to fully understand why Mabley

wasn't progressive or counterhegemonic on this topic.

Research Questions Answered

The Eindings of the research revealed that the themes of Mabley's discourse reflect

those articulated by Maria Stewart (cited in Richardson, 1987) as being characteristic of a

black woman's standpoint. These four themes were a legacy of struggle, activism,

sensitivity to sexual politics, and a replacement of denigrating images with self-defined

images through topics such as the civil rights movement. Mabley represented these

themes through topics such as difficult economic times, the civil rights movement, and

women's sexuality.

The first research question asked about the range or representations offered in the

discourse. The study found that Mabley offered a range of representations of black

women, however, it was done so through her granny "mask." For example, she depicted

a nurturing matriarchal "mother" Eigure who defied culturally sanctioned notions of

womanhood. In other jokes, she spoke about a granny figure who not only acknowledged

but also enjoyed her sexuality through explicit talk. And she offered images of a "lady"

advisor to the president who confronted world leaders and bigots on their policies and

practices. Although these representations varied, they were consistent in defying the

culturally-sanctioned behaviors and roles of the pious, pure, virtuous and submissive

woman.

It is significant that Mabley used the image of the caring maternal figure especially

considering this image pathologized black women as being the cause of black families'










poverty and as the reason for a lack of black male leadership in the family. (U. S.

Department of Labor 1965). This stereotype of black women effectively penalized

aggressive women, stigmatized them as unfeminine, and in many cases causes their

abandonment by black men.

Interestingly, however, she excluded representations of domesticity. This

exclusion of the domestic sphere is noticeable for a couple of reasons. First, domesticity

was considered "women's territory" and thus deemed a suitable and appropriate topic for

women to discuss in public. Second, Mabley's counterparts such as Erma Bombeck and

Phyllis Diller were using domestic themes in their routines. Mabley's refusal to talk

about domestic topics exemplifies her resistance and reflects her will to define her own

career path.

Another topic that Mabley omitted was a discussion the Black Nationalist

movement. This absence is conspicuous especially since she performed during the height

of Malcolm X' s popularity. Also, for the years examined during this study the civil rights

movement had ended and the rise of the counterculture black nationalist movement was

the order of the day. A closer examination highlights the omission as somewhat odd and

perhaps even intentional, especially being that many of her albums were performed in the

Harlem, New York area. This is especially true as the paper has noted that Mabley was

abreast of the current events as reflected in her material. One reason for this may be that

because she was very spiritual, she may not have shared the views espoused by Malcolm

X. Or it could be a reflection of the discourse that was allowed and that which was

censored. Although Mabley's discourse was certainly counterhegemonic, Malcolm's









discourse was considered radical and even dangerous by many, particularly his call for

the separation of races.

The third research question asked what were the functions of these themes for

blacks and women and the ways in which they were hegemonic and/or

counterhegemonic. The study found that economically, it helped Mabley earn a living

and to make profits. This is important, as noted in the biographical sketch, the

opportunities for black women were very limited. Politically, it informed and

influenced the thoughts and perceptions of her audiences and indirectly the national

government as it challenged it to make true on its promises and it kept the important

political issues on national conscious. Thus she used it to criticize those in office and

their actions and then gives the black communities response. She usually attacked the

administration on policy or character (image). In terms of policy, she attacked the

administration in three areas, future plans, general goals, and past deeds. For example,

she often criticized the government about the delay in the passage of the Civil Rights Bill

and about its failure to live up its promise of 40 acres and a mule.

Culturally, Mabley's humor exposed the double standards regarding acceptable

occupations and roles for women and to challenge the double standard regarding

women's sexuality. It set new standards for how women and society viewed their

sexuality and the preconceived notions of women. Most importantly, it provided inroads

for black women to enter the profession on their own terms, or at least with a model that

they could emulate which did not follow the traditional role expected of them and gave

them a model of success and a model that challenged the cult of true womanhood.









The fourth research question asked how the comedic performance was influenced

by the historical context during which it was produced. The study found that the events

of her times definitely provided the material for her comedy as they were its main topics,

particularly the civil rights movement. The limitations and restrictions placed on women

were also evident in Mabley's discourse. This helps explain why she made use of a lot of

double entendre, as there were many things she could not say because of her sex. The

attitudes of the day regarding race, gender and sexual orientation also spilled over in her

material. For example, the limited thinking regarding sexuality and the social

construction of gender was evident in the discourse analyzed.

Epilogue: Present-Day State of Black Female Comedy

Jackie "Moms" Mabley is probably the best known and most successful of African

American stand-up comediennes. And while there exists no major national figure with

which to compare Mabley, there are a couple of contemporary comediennes whose work

is of a similar vein and thus deserves mention. These comediennes are Whoopi Goldberg

and Mo'Nique Imes Jackson, better known as Mo'Nique, who like Mabley have

struggled to Eind their voices and balance themselves against the constraints of

mainstream society. And while trying to strike this balance, they like Mabley often give

inconsistent messages that although intended to be counter-hegemonic, aren't.

Comedienne Whoopi Goldberg has been on the scene and worked the comedy

circuits since approximately 1975. In the womanist tradition, Goldberg draws upon the

legacy of struggle. Goldberg, like Mabley, overcame poverty and used her past

dependency on public assistance as material in her performances. Goldberg's humor,

unlike Mabley's, is performed mostly for integrated audiences and her material often

takes aims at mainstream social issues. Recently, however, Whoopi has alienated many









audiences with her strong political views during a stand-up comedy routine at Kerry-

Edwards fundraiser in which she allegedly made an off-color remark about President

Bush. Whoopi, like many blacks in her comedic career has struggled to find the balance

between artistic freedom and social responsibility to her gender and race.

Mo'Nique who had her own sitcom, 7Jhe Parkers, on UPN and who was the

headliner of the Queens of Comedy Tour, has found outlets for her comedy mainly in

heavily-populated African-American venues. Like Mabley, she evokes the womanist's

tradition through her defiance of society's stereotypes of women through by aggressively

dismissing society's preoccupation with thinness. It is evident in her comedic routines

that she embraces her "fatness" at every opportunity. During the summer of 2004,

Mo'Nique hosted the BET2~usic Awards. During this show, she made frequent

wardrobe changes, emphasizing her voluptuous body. Many of her j okes during this

show emphasized her pride with her body size. Currently Mo'Nique is hosting

"Mo"Niques Fat Chance" on the television station Oxygen, a beauty contest for plus size

woman. Mo'Nique's subversive humor is at best when she talks about the emphasis

society places on thinness. Monique's comedy works and finds an audience because of

her willingness to reject society's ideology of the perfect woman' s body size. However,

the humor is double-edged in that she alienates those persons who are not as voluptuous

with her criticisms of "skinny bitches." Instead of Monique's material simply valuing

plus size woman, her preoccupation with "skinny bitches" and vulgar language,

effectively does the same thing to skinny women as society does to big women, e.g., it

discriminates against them.










Implications of This Study

The rising commercial success and increasing popularity of stand-up comedy

performances as a source of information for Americans places a great responsibility on

African American comedians to be mindful of the discourses and representations they

transmit about the everyday experiences of blacks and women. This responsibility

becomes even more significant when we consider many policymakers and elected

officials rely on the media for information (Ebo 1992, p. 22). The nonchalant attitude of

the producers of comedy shows like Black Entertainment' s ComicView, reflected in its

negative, stereotypical portrayals of blacks and women and their issues does nothing to

fulfill this responsibility. Comedic performances should not only reflect the social and

political concerns of blacks and women but it should do so in a novel manner that pushes

forth an agenda to remedy the situation instead of trivializing the matter.

Another implication of this study is the potential of comedic discourse to aid or

impede the efforts of activists. The manner in which comedic discourse is framed either

furthers activists' efforts on behalf of blacks and women or undermines it, impacting the

work of activists like the Reverend Jessie Jackson and the Reverend Al Sharpton, whose

work some black comedians trivialize.

Another implication of this study relates to the discourse on Africa. Negative

discourses about Africa have the potential to undermine positive public sentiments

towards Africans and African nations, ultimately impacting efforts for African social,

political, and economic liberation. As Smith (1980, p. 110) noted, "The struggle to

escape from our bad image of the Third World is an essential stage in its struggle for

independence." In other words, more positive discourse about Africa is essential to

African liberation. Said another way, it is necessary for Americans to shed their negative










image of Africa, particularly those images which portray it as dependent on foreign

capital and resources for its liberation. This perception becomes very important when

one considers the formulation of foreign policy regarding the continent as it dictates the

level of foreign intervention.

Mabley's discourse on Africa also has important implications as it relates to black

identity and racial pride. If there is no reversal by current black comedians of Mabley's

references where she disassociates herself from the continent, blacks will continue to

internalize this racism, deny their African heritage, and continue denigrating their African

brothers and sisters. And on a broader level, blacks may never understand the larger

connection between their oppression and liberation and that of their African brothers and

sisters.

One of the most frightening implications of this study is that a failure to recognize

how this discourse functions in marginalizing Africans could encourage the proliferation

of the negative attitudes towards Africa that permitted the Rwandan genocide in 1994.

A positive implication of this research as it relates to women' s issues is it shows the

potential of discourse to subvert the dominant ideological attitudes toward women. For

example, Mabley's discourse on rape subverted the dominant ideology that makes

women complicit in their own rapes and places women in control of the situation

whereby they are no longer victims.

The final implication relates to the discourse on gays, lesbians, and transgenders

and their quest for liberation. Mabley's comedic discourse perpetuates traditional notions

of what it means to be masculine or feminine, further reinforcing the stereotypes of gays

and lesbians and discourages the act of "coming out." It also ignores the complexity of









sexual identity. Like other forms of entertainment media, comedy reinforces what is

normal in our society. Therefore, Mabley's representations of the deviant fairy who is

ashamed when he enters church reinforces is a contribution to the dominant ideological

beliefs that articulate heterosexuality as natural and homosexuality is unnatural.

Limitations of This Study

Because this study was limited to studying the text and its historical context, it was

limited in its ability to account for audience use and response to the material. While this

discourse analysis provided invaluable information, it isn't sufficient, in and of itself, to

substantiate the claims argued in this paper that the images and representations of blacks

and women in comedic discourse both influenced societal perceptions of these groups

and have important policy implications. As Lewis (1991, p.47, italics in original) argued,

"If we are concerned with the meaning and significance of popular culture in

contemporary society, with how cultural forms work ideologically or politically, then we

need to understand cultural products (or "texts") 'as they are understood by audience.'

Thus, a study of audience reception would have been necessary.

Another limitation is the assumption that the audience is made up of passive

members who are incapable of recognizing the patriarchal and racist workings of

ideology on certain topics and resisting it. Active audience research criticizes this

assumption (Lull, 2003).

Also, an analysis of video recordings of Mabley's stand-up performances could

have further enriched the analysis by an exploration of the impact the visual images had

in the meaning-making making process of the performances.

Finally, personal interviews with comedians that performed in the same era as

Mabley, may have offered additional insight into the historical context, the nations'










mood, and the limitations blacks, and particularly black women, encountered in the

profession. Interviews with Mabley's male counterparts' might have shed additional

insight into the perceptions of the comedienne' s effectiveness on black political

consciousness and the discursive practices of her time.

Suggestions for Future Research

Analyzing the comedic discourse of Jackie "Moms" Mabley was extremely helpful

as it provided an excellent reference for future scholars to do a comparative study.

Whereas this study explored the comedic discourse of the 1960s, an analysis of the

discourse of Whoopi Goldberg and Mo'Nique Imes-Jackson, probably the two most

commercially successful, contemporary black stand-up comediennes, would allow

researchers to observe the recent trends in the profession. For example, scholars could

compare the performance styles, topics, themes, and functions of the discourse of

Goldberg and Mo'nique with that of Mabley. It is suggested that with such a

comparative study researchers could not only identify the trends but they could also act as

agents of change by stimulating a discussion on the politics of the present-day discourse

and how it advances or hinders the liberation of blacks and women.

In addition, a comparative study of the discourse of Mabley and, say, Dick Gregory

would help reverse the gender bias of comedic research. This is important because

Gregory has always been held as the great black satirist of the 1960s, with hardly a

mention that Mabley performed during the same period. Addressing this is important

because black women are always in the background and their contributions are rarely

acknowledged, especially by black men. Comparing the two will also reveal the different

performance styles used by women when discussing controversial topics so they could

make it in this male-dominated profession.






78


Finally, future work should continue to present marginalized voices like Mabley's

and should continue to highlight the ways that black women are acting as their own

agents of change, subverting the status quo and challenging the racist patriarchal system

in which we live.















APPENDIX A
SELECTED WORKS OF JACKIE "MOMS" MABLEY

1. Funny Sides of2~ontsMabley, The. Chess, LP/LPS-1482. 1963
2. Live at the Greek Theater. Mercury, SR-61360. (c. 1971). *
3. Live at Sing Sing. Mercury, SR-61263. (c. 1970) *
4. M~ots Mabley at Geneva Conference. Chess, LP/LPS 1463. 1962.
5. M~ons Mabley at the Playboy Club. Chess, LP/LPS 1460. 1961.
6. M~ons Mabley at the White House Conference. MG 21030/SR 61090. 1966.
7. M~ons Mabley--I Got Sallr~linehi' to Tell You! 1963. LP--1479
8. M~ons Mabley---M~ons the Word. Mercury Records SR 60907/MG 20907. 1964.
9. M~oas 2abley Onstage. MCA Records. Chess, LP/LPS-1447. 1984.
10. M~onas abley Breaks It Up. Chess, LPS 1472.
11. Moms "Her Young Thing. Mercury, SR 61205.
12. M~ons2abley: Now Hear This. Mercury, MG 21012/SR 61012
13. M~oas 2abley at the UN. Chess, LP/LPS-1472. 1960
14. The Best of~onts and Pignzeat (Vohenze 1). Chess, LPS- 1487.
15. Out on a Limb. Mercury, SR 60889/MG 20889. 1964
16. Young Men Si, Old Men No. Chess, LP-1477. 1962.
17. Youngest Teenager, Mercury, SR-61229. 1971.

* Transcripts of these performances were provided in the appendix of The Humor of
Jackie Moms Mabley by Elsie Williams, pp. 154-172. Although these transcripts were
consulted, none of the actual texts were used in the analysis.

** All other albums were transcribed by the author of this paper.















APPENDIX B
WOMANIST DEFINITION

Womanist

1. From womanish. (Opp. of "girlish," i.e. frivolous, irresponsible, not serious). A
black feminist or feminist of color. From the black folk expression of mothers to
female children, "You acting womanish," i.e., like a woman. Usually referring to
outrageous, audacious, courageous, or willful behavior. Wanting to know more and
in greater depth than is considered "good" for one. Interested in grown up doings.
Acting grown up. Being grown up. Interchangeable with another black folk
expression: "You trying to be grown." Responsible. In charge. Serious.

2. Also: A woman who loves other women, sexually and/or nonsexually.
Appreciates and prefers women's culture, women's emotional flexiblility (values
tears as natural counterbalance of laughter), and women's strength. Sometimes
loves individual men, sexually and/or nonsexually. Committed to survival and
wholeness of entire people, male and female. Not a separatist, except periodically
for health. Traditionally, univeralist, as in: "Mama, why are we brown, pink, and
yellow, and our cousins are white, beige, and black?" Ans.: "Well, you know the
colored race is just like a flower garden, with every color flower represented."
Traditionally capable, as in: "Mama, I'm walking to Canada and I'm taking you
and a bunch of other slaves with me." Reply: "It wouldn't be the first time."

3. Loves music. Loves dance. Loves the moon. Loves the Spirit. Loves love and
food and roundness. Loves struggle. Loves the Folk. Loves herself. Regardless.

4. Womanist is to feminist as purple to lavender.


Definition of a "Womanist" from In Search
of Our Mothers' Gardens: Womanist Prose,
copyright C 1983 Alice Walker.















APPENDIX C
CODING SHEET



Name of Album:
Copyright Date:
Place of Recording:

First, go through the text line by line and mark those chunks that suggest a
category, or topic, based on key words. Use the following questions to assist in
grouping the data into categories.

1) What appears to be the meaningfully cohesive topic unit?
2) What does the unit of discourse describe or what is the subj ect described as
doing?
3) What is the underlying principle of this expression?

Repeat this process until no new categories can be created. Then, after going
through all of the texts go back and count the number of incidents, or times this
category or topic appeared. Tally up the incidents and identify the major
categories. Finally, read through data, make connections between the categories,
and determine what maj or themes emerge from these categories.















APPENDIX D
CATEGORIES AND THEMES

Categories
1. Integration
2. Segregation/Jim Crow
3. Sexual Innuendo

4. Sexuality
5. Sexual Organs
6. Civil rights and the movement itself
7. Homosexuality
8. Gender Identity/Sexual Orientation
9. Hard times (financially)/ Recession/Depression
10. Discrimination/Treatment of Blacks in the South

11. Hangings/Lynchings
12. Male sexual incompetence
13. International Community
14. Dialogue with Authority Figures
15. Critiques of government, policies, people, etc.
16. Older Women/Younger Men
17. Miscegenation
18. Vulgar Language
19. Negro Spirituals


Themes

1. Legacy of Struggle
2. Activism

3. Sensitivity to Sexual Politics
4. Replacement of denigrating images with self-defined
images
















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BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH

Natasha Patterson graduated with her Master of Arts in Mass Communication and a

Graduate Certificate in Latin American Studies from the University of Florida in August

2006. She received her Bachelor of Arts in communication studies from Florida State

University .