The Maid Narratives
September 29, 2013 § 1 Comment
A new book from the Louisiana Press, The Maid Narratives: Black Domestics and White Families in the Jim Crow South “shares the memories of black domestic workers and the white families they served, uncovering the often intimate relationships between maid and mistress. Based on interviews with over fifty people—both white and black—these stories deliver a personal and powerful message about resilience and resistance in the face of oppression in the Jim Crow South.” The authors, Katherine Van Wormer, David Walter Jackson, and Charletta Sudduth deftly address the conflicts, paradoxes and realities of African American women who worked in white homes and adds significantly to the sparse information about African American domestics.
Lewis R. Gordon, an Afro-Jewish philosopher, political thinker, educator, and musician, features the book in his blog and writes a beautiful tribute to ancestors who worked as domestics. “The Maid Narratives tells a story with which many of us are familiar and one that continues to be misrepresented in so many ways, as the movie 2011 movie The Help (which I found unbearable) attests.
Van Wormer and her co-authors offer a corrective to such misrepresentations. There is a wider picture today, as we think about a world that locks women in the role of domestics and servants. Black women in particular have made great strides, as we see in the achievements of such icons as Angela Davis, Marian Wright Edelman, Michelle Obama, and even Condoleezza Rice (for the conservatives out there), to name a few. But we don’t want to collapse into the presumption that those women who worked as domestics should somehow be degraded and forgotten. Their labor, often alienated, served as the backbone for the survival and future of all of us, and many of them, by working inside, enabled other women to work outside. I don’t know any black professional who could claim to have no domestics in her or his ancestry. Their work, their sacrifice, brought shelter over our heads, food on the table, and investments in the future. Many of them worked under precarious circumstances and challenging conditions—in many cases with little distinction from the days of in-house slavery. So, today, I simply say to our domestic ancestors, and those who continue to toil for us to have a better tomorrow, thank you.”