NOLA Black Women and Domestic Service in Yes, Ma’am

Brenda Flora of the Amistad Research Center discusses the 1981 documentary Yes, Ma’am, a look at domestic service, labor, and race in New Orleans. The documentary was sponsored by the Amistad:

“A group of White teenagers discussing the domestic workers in their homes claim that they are “taken care of,” and that their wages include their parents bailing the workers’ children out of jail and extra money at Christmas for vacations, “not to mention the clothes and food.” The workers, on the other hand, make it clear that they are not working for favors and cast-offs. They need “more money… not all that junk.” In some instances, conventions of compensation have become so blurred that employers expect their employees to do work out of love. In one scene, as housekeeper Marguerite points out the extra work she is doing to help prepare for her employer’s upcoming party “for her husband, not mine,” her employer insists, “You wanted to do something special for him though… if you weren’t so devoted you wouldn’t do things like this.” “Sure, sure,” she answers, “put it in the paycheck, honey.”

“The conflation of employment with friendship is understandable when one considers the intimate terms on which the parties interact. In many ways, the domestic worker functions as a member of the family. “Men and women historically filled household jobs,” the discussion guide tells us, “but the ubiquity of the black maid gave testimony to the fact that domestic service was a female-dominated occupation.” Indeed, most of the workers we meet in the film are women, and these women serve the role not only of friend and confidant to the lady of the house, but also of surrogate mother to her children…”

Read it All: Flora | Yes, Ma’am at the Amistad Research Center

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One thought on “NOLA Black Women and Domestic Service in Yes, Ma’am

  1. Pingback: Thinking about domestic service, bots and techno-racial categories – afrofuturesuk

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