Miss Ann’s Revenge

With 53 percent of white women ages 45 to 64 voting for Donald Trump, was it a deliberate act meant to put blacks in their place?

Sarah Anne Paulson as Mary Epps in the film 12 Years a Slave Fox Searchlight

It’s time to talk about the “Miss Ann effect.”

In the wake of the stunning news that more than half of white women who voted on Nov. 8 opted for Donald Trump, I have concerns—and questions.

I’m aware that not all white women are racist. But given the significant number of white women who supported Trump, it is legitimate to at least question their motives—especially the thinking of those who are college-educated and middle-class.

Exit-polling data from CNN tells the tale:

  • Total percentage of white women who voted for Trump: 42 percent;
  • White women ages 30-44 who voted for Trump: 42 percent;
  • White women ages 45-64 who voted for Trump: 53 percent;
  • Percentage of white women with college degrees who voted for Trump: 45 percent.

Were they responding to Trump’s sickening call to “take back our country”? If so, take it back from whom, exactly? And bring it where?

For college-educated white women, especially those who are in their 30s or 40s and who have jobs; for white women who have benefited from affirmative action, you have to wonder why they felt it a good idea to support a man who is not smart and who demeans people of color, the disabled and even white women.

If you are driven by fear, we would like to know: Exactly what you are so afraid of?

I’m on the record—unironically, and without snark—as saying that many of my best friends are white women. I don’t feel obliged to spend a lot of time here outlining my bona fides on this front. But it is obvious that millions of white women whom I probably would not ever have identified as racist or even “racism-blind” betrayed me and mine by voting for Trump.

And adding to the disillusion I am now experiencing is that fact that many of the white women who helped the untested, boorish, stunningly ignorant 70-year-old white man in his mad quest to replace our nation’s first black president were stealthy if not downright deceptive about their reasons.

I’m here now to call it out.

What Drives Miss Ann? I’m Glad You Asked

In black America, the shorthand for women who harbor virulent fear and resentment of black people—however covertly it is expressed here in the 21st century—are known as “Miss Anns.” It is our not-so-secret vernacular description of white women who were the wives, sisters, daughters and mothers of slave owners in the Deep South.

This figure, and her sometimes sly, always pernicious way of expressing her fear and resentment of blacks, is a recurring theme in black American literature, because Miss Ann was with us hundreds of years before Barack Obama was born to a white woman from Kansas. Her sense of entitlement blends with incipient curiosity about blacks in general and about black men in particular, and suggests, in all probability, an attraction that she cannot readily articulate. The resulting defining character trait of Miss Ann is the unacknowledged passion that seemingly drives the anger she will inevitably express.

If you’ve ever read Zora Neale Hurston or Maya Angelou, you have seen this reference. If you viewed the Academy Award-winning film 12 Years a Slave, you have seen the “Miss Ann” type embodied in the terrific performance of Sarah Anne Paulson as Mary Epps, the wife of the owner of a plantation where the protagonist, Solomon Northup, was held.

I’ll take this moment to remind you that while creative license was taken by filmmakers, and undoubtedly by the original publishers, Northup’s story is real. The Mary Epps portrayed by Paulson, with a cataclysmic range of hate expressions from seething silence to explosive violence, is based on women that Northup dealt with during his horrific journey from freedom to slavery and back again. The invoking of their privileged status; their belief, however inchoate, that their “virtue” must be protected at all costs, and certainly at the expense of black, brown or other marginalized folks, is a key Miss Ann trait.

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