Brooks and the Combination of Racism and Southern Femininity

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In “A Bronzeville Mother Loiters in Mississippi. Meanwhile, a Mississippi Mother Burns Bacon,” Gwendolyn Brooks bases her poem off the murder of Emmett Till. She touches on the ideas of Southern racism and Southern femininity to blame and deconstruct a dysfunctional system in society, which excuses the violence and hatred towards black people in the South.

In her poem, Brooks portrays the effects of Southern racism and racial segregation on society through the privilege that Carolyn Bryant and her husband were given after the murder of Emmett Till. Carolyn Bryant had the desire of fulfilling a fantasied dream that most women in the south had, which is why she accused an innocent black child of something he did not do. In her mind, she portrayed Emmet as a villain who “possessed undisputed breadth, undisputed height, and harsh kind of vice.” However, the more Carolyn thinks about what happened, the more responsible she felt for the death of an unwary child. She felt that there was “something about the matter of the Dark Villain.” He was “of fourteen, with eyes still too young to be dirty,” and she started to find it increasingly difficult to justify her actions with this fairytale story. Instead, all the qualities she thought the Dark Villain should possess were found in the Fine Prince. She had realized that “there may have been something ridiculous in the picture of the Fine Prince.” Carolyn feels “a red ooze […] seeping, spreading darkly, thickly, slowly, over her white shoulders,” signifying her guilt and role in the death of Emmett.

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Gwendolyn Brooks portrays racial inequality and the effects of racial segregation in this poem when Carolyn Bryant was quick to assume that Emmett was the “Dark Villain” she needed to be saved from. This depicts the racial inequality between blacks and whites in the United States because even though Emmett was a little boy, he was still accused of something he did not understand just because of his skin color; he was still an innocent, young child who thought that “grown-ups were supposed to be wise.” Brooks argues that many African Americans were thought to be these monstrous villains that did not deserve to be treated like human beings just because of their race. They were given unfair punishments for petty crimes and targeted by society for things they had not done, but because they were black, they were never given the benefit of the doubt. The word of a white man who brutally murdered a fourteen-year-old boy was admissible in court over the word of a childless mother who grieved for her son. The racial segregation only enhanced the effects of the flawed mindset that people had in the mid 1950s.

In the poem, Gwendolyn Brooks argues that this mindset was adopted by women who were seeking to be saved by a man in a heavily patriarchal society. In the eyes of Bryant, she was this “milk-white maid” who was rescued from the “Dark Villain” by a “Fine Prince.” Brooks paints this picture of Southern femininity in the 1950s revolving around this fairytale idea of being “saved” by a man. Women badly wanted to be rescued by a “Fine Prince,” so they put themselves in situations of helplessness. Brooks argues that because Carolyn Bryant wanted to feel like a “damsel in distress” who was saved by strong, capable white man, she accused the first black person she saw- Emmett- of harassing her when he walked into the store. However, readers can see Brooks does not directly blame Bryant for the death of Emmett because she also creates a sense of sympathy towards her by writing in her perspective. Carolyn just wanted to achieve the thing that was considered to make a woman feminine, which was why she falsely accused Emmett. I think that Brooks does so, because she felt that the direct blame was to be put on a system that was used to justify racism and violence towards black people. Women in the south were expected to be weak and the men were expected to solve all their problems. Carolyn’s desire to be a southern belle who was helpless and vulnerable, needing a man to rescue her, portrayed the patriarchy in society and the desire for women to adopt this as an ideal of femininity in the 1950s. Because of the existing prejudice against black people in the south, black men were an easy “villain” to be saved from. Carolyn Bryant was just another woman, among the countless others, who did something wrong.

Gwendolyn Brooks uses the murder of Emmett Till to expose the real problem behind the persecution and killing of black Americans. In the poem, I think Brooks argues that a combination of 1950s Southern patriarchy and the racial inequality is the actual reason why Emmett Till and so many others like him were lynched. By writing in the perspective of Carolyn Bryant, she was able to show the effects of the two combined. Carolyn’s image of herself as weak woman who needed to look pretty for her husband and be saved from all her problems was the result of the patriarchal society in the South. The consequences of using Emmett Till as a villain in her narrative, depicted the hate and disrespect that was essentially fueled by racism, segregation and racial inequality in the South. Both of these issues went hand-in-hand to create a larger, underlying social issue, where the combination of southern patriarchy and racism proves to be lethal. “Gwendolyn Brooks uses the murder of Emmett Till to expose the real problem behind the persecution and killing of black Americans.

In the poem, I think Brooks argues that a combination of 1950s Southern patriarchy and the racial inequality is the actual reason why Emmett Till and so many others like him were lynched. By writing in the perspective of Carolyn Bryant, she was able to show the effects of the two combined. Carolyn’s image of herself as weak woman who needed to look pretty for her husband and be saved from all her problems was the result of the patriarchal society in the South. The consequences of using Emmett Till as a villain in her narrative, depicted the hate and disrespect that was essentially fueled by racism, segregation and racial inequality in the South. Both of these issues went hand-in-hand to create a larger, underlying social issue, where the combination of southern patriarchy and racism proves to be lethal.

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