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February 29, 2012

Real Help discussed great books. More people need to be aware of the history they tell.

I grew up in a southern white world like that portrayed in “The Help.” I could appreciate white girl’s “coming of age” story. But the author’s assumption that she knew about black women’s lives was simply off base. So often we make assumptions like that. That’s why we need to read books like those suggested by the Association of Black Women Historians. We simply don’t always know what we think we know.

See Amanda’s blog for a fuller review of the readings.

Last Saturday, Melissa Harris Perry had a long section about “The Help” on her new show. It is worth watching. Her guest was Micki McElya, Clinging to Mammy: The Faithful Slave in Twentieth-Century America. MHP said it was hewr favorite book on black women and domestic service. They discussed how many whites still want to believe that black women love them sacrificially—even at the expense of the black women’s own children. The problems with that idea came up in the readings and discussions.

All the books we read were historical. With the passage of laws in the 1970s ending overt racial discrimination in hiring, black women could get sales and clerical jobs and were less forced into private domestic service. But they and immigrant women are still most likely to hold jobs in hospitals, nursing homes and daycare facilities doing some of the same work. For ambitious professional women, a maid or nanny may make the difference between success and failure at work. Sometimes we can hire an anonymous cleaning team to come and clean, but that isn’t always sufficient if someone you love needs real care. Especially for someone young, sick or aged, having a person in your home or hospital room makes you vulnerable.

So of course we still want to believe that those on whom we depend love us. But is that realistic? And what do we give in return? Another of MHP’s guest was a woman who organizes domestic servants to get fair working conditions. Their first demand was still full, fair payment on a regular basis.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 6, 2012 8:10 am

    Thanks so much for joining us on this! It was great having more opinions on the books. I missed that show so am off to catch it now – thanks for the link.

  2. March 6, 2012 8:13 am

    Oohhhh I love Melissa Harris-Perry 😀 The show is fantastic, isn’t it?

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